Just days after Fernando Alonso’s decision to leave F1 at the end of the season, McLaren have announced that Carlos Sainz has joined the team in a mulit-year deal from 2019.
With Renault confirming Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo for 2019, the Spanish driver had been forced into looking elsewhere for Formula One seat.
A friend and compatriot of Alonso, Sainz had been linked to the McLaren team throughout the summer, either alongside or as a replacement for the two-time champion.
“I’ve been a McLaren fan for as long as I can remember,” said Sainz.
“It’s a great name in the sport with an incredible heritage, and the list of drivers that have raced for McLaren over the years are among the heroes of Formula 1.
“Fernando is of course one of them, so it’s particularly special that I’ll be taking his seat as part of the next generation of Spanish racing drivers behind the wheel of a McLaren.”
He was also a candidate for the second Red Bull seat alongside Max Verstappen, but the Milton Keynes team are believed to be favouring their standout Toro Rosso driver, Pierre Gasly, who has now become the firm favourite for the seat.
The state of the driver market
A long-time member of the Red Bull driver academy, Sainz made his Formula One debut in 2015, racing at Toro Rosso alongside fellow debutante Max Verstappen.
He compared relatively well to the Dutchman, but when Daniil Kvyat was demoted by Red Bull it was Verstappen who got the nod and was promoted to the senior team.
Sainz had the upper hand throughout his time against Kvyat, and a strong 2017 season resulted in him switching to Renault on loan.
He might have initially been the number one choice for a Red Bull drive if either Ricciardo or Verstappen left the team, but his inability to assert any dominance over Hulkenberg – along with some stellar performances from Gasly – appear to have hindered his chances of a drive at the senior team.
Given Red Bull’s tendency to promote from within, Gasly is now the firm favourite to take the vacant Red Bull drive.
This could be the lifeline for Brendon Hartley, who has been under pressure at Toro Rosso for most of the season. The New Zealander could stay on as the slightly more experienced driver whilst the team assess another development driver. Formula Three racer Dan Ticktum is linked with the seat and Jake Dennis has tested for the team during this season.
As for McLaren, at the moment their choice seems to be between Stoffel Vandoorne and Lando Norris.
Vandoorne has struggled to match Alonso this season and his job security might depend on how well he competes over the second half of the season. A chassis change brought race pace improvements in Hungary, but the Belgian will be looking to start beating his team-mate in the final nine races of the season.
McLaren development driver Norris is currently in second place in Formula Two championship, but McLaren have been cautious about the idea of promoting the Briton to a race seat next year. A deal to give him Friday practice sessions in 2019 has been talked about.
By: Luke Murphy
All Images: Motorsport Images
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