Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto could be “re-evaluating” Carlos Sainz’s role at the team after his strong debut season with the Scuderia, former Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer has suggested.
Palmer also tipped Sainz to become a “top-tier” driver and praised the Spaniard’s efforts in a superb first season with Ferrari.
Sainz secured four podiums in 2021 and scored points in 20 of the 22 grand prix contested last year.
He also managed 15 straight points finishes between the Styrian Grand Prix and the season finale in Abu Dhabi – it was a run that encapsulated three of his four podiums, the last of which arrived at the curtain-closer in the UAE capital.
The Spaniard has arguably slipped under the radar in Formula 1 since his arrival in 2015 alongside Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso, but he was one of the standouts of last year, having out-scored team-mate Charles Leclerc.
The Monegasque has 13 podiums in red, the first 10 of which arrived in his opening season with the Scuderia in 2019.
He then managed two in 2020, with Ferrari’s third that year coming by way of Sebastian Vettel, who passed his team-mate with two corners remaining while they battled Racing Point’s Sergio Perez in Istanbul to finish P3.
As a result, going up against a driver of Leclerc’s prodigious talent was a tough ask, but Sainz’s efforts last year made him Palmer’s most-improved driver of the season.
“A tough call for most-improved given Sainz has been in the top six in the standings for the last three years now,” Palmer said.
Lando Norris out-scored a team-mate for the first time in his career last season, having been beaten in both of his two years alongside Sainz at McLaren.
The Brit managed to beat new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, out-qualifying the Australian 15-7.
Palmer was as such torn between the pair – who became good friends during their time together at Woking – as to whom he would select as his most improved.
“On the face of it, the fact that Sainz and Norris would both jump out as improved drivers this year demonstrates that they were probably underrated as McLaren team-mates, at least by me.
“But I do think Sainz has stepped up at Ferrari wonderfully, with the culmination being his podium in Abu Dhabi to take him to ‘best of the rest’ in the standings, and become the first driver to outscore Charles Leclerc as a team-mate in any car racing series.”
The former Renault driver, who raced in 84 Formula 1 grand prix with the team, conceded that Sainz took some time to adapt but once he did, he was a force to be reckoned with.
“Like many drivers who changed teams, he started slowly, but finished fast and improved well throughout 2021 as well.”
Palmer admitted that he believed Sainz would be playing a support role to his young team-mate when he initially joined Ferrari, but now reckons that team principal Mattia Binotto will need to re-think this.
“When Ferrari signed him early in 2020, it seemed he would be a great second fiddle to Leclerc, but perhaps they might just be re-evaluating that assessment now. I think this year he has shown the potential to be an absolute top tier driver,” he explained.
Sainz and Leclerc finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in the Drivers’ Championship last season, and they guided the Scuderia to third in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Sainz’s former McLaren team.
Ferrari have been waiting for a championship since 2008, when the team beat McLaren to that season’s Constructors’ Championship.
Kimi Raikkonen remains their last Drivers’ Champion, claiming his success with Ferrari in 2007.