With the rumour mill spinning around like crazy in Formula One at the moment, there has been one possible replacement which has surprised me arguably more than any other. Red Bull appears likely to throw in their young up-and-coming superstar Carlos Sainz Jr into the seat at Caterham which is currently occupied by Kamui Kobayashi perhaps as early as the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Carlos Sainz is a name which some of you may remember – he was a double World Rally Champion in the early nineties and holds the record for most starts. His son, also called Carlos Sainz, is currently leading the standings in the highly competitive Formula Renault 3.5 series; which was won by Kevin Magnussen last year and features some very good drivers this year including Sergey Sirotkin, Will Stevens and fellow Red Bull Junior Pierre Gasly. Sainz was considered for the second seat at Scuderia Toro Rosso this year to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo, but oddly the team chose Daniil Kvyat even though Sainz’s record in junior Formulae looked better on paper.
Jumping in mid-season could hurt Spaniard Sainz. There is currently no more in-season testing until after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and a similar move badly hurt Romain Grosjean in 2009 after Renault axed Nelson Piquet Jr. There have been other cases, however, where it hasn’t been a bad thing at all. Take Sebastian Vettel for example: he got a one-off drive for BMW at the United States Grand Prix and delivered a point. He was later brought into Toro Rosso to replace Scott Speed mid-season, and delivered the team’s best result to date that year in China.
The biggest question is whether Sainz is ready or not. Aged just 19, he would be the youngest driver in the field and being a teenager in Formula One is not necessarily easy, but some have been highly impressive; like Kvyat this year. Sainz does have experience driving a Formula One car, having done show runs and testing in a Red Bull before, but he has never driven a Caterham, nor has he driven the new 2014-style Formula One cars with more power and less downforce.
Sainz’ situation is a pretty tough one. In theory, he would be better staying in Formula Renault and winning the title before getting a call up from Toro Rosso or Caterham for 2015, but then again he isn’t guaranteed to win the 3.5 title this year. After a few shaky rounds he finds himself with a healthy lead in the standings, but he is not the driver on form – fellow Spaniard Roberto Merhi is with two wins and a further podium in the last three races. Sainz has a 39-point advantage with just six rounds to go and it may be a tall order for Merhi to beat the younger Spaniard, but it’s not out of the question, and not winning the title could prove very costly given how very tough it is to be a Red Bull Junior.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Red Bull has thrown a young driver into a team that isn’t Toro Rosso; they did it to Daniel Ricciardo in 2011, throwing him into the woeful HRT team. It is always tough to spot true talent when you’re in a bad car, but Ricciardo at least beat his team mate on a number of occasions and it turns out that he isn’t a that bad a driver. Caterham isn’t as bad as what HRT was arguably, but as they’re languishing down at the very bottom of the standings and with their new investors in and Christijan Albers as team principal, would they want another rookie in when they need to deliver results? I don’t see it happening just yet.
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