Marko claims Carlos Sainz ‘disenchanted’ Charles Leclerc at Ferrari

Carlos Sainz left the Red Bull programme at the end of 2018 when he signed with McLaren.

Dr Helmut Marko has praised the job Carlos Sainz has done with both McLaren and Ferrari since he left the Red Bull junior programme, but concedes that Max Verstappen’s pace cut his longevity in their system.

Sainz out-qualified Verstappen 10 times in 19 races at Toro Rosso in 2015 during what was a debut Formula 1 season for both, but the Dutchman’s remarkable pace in races – coupled with marvellous overtaking manoeuvres – saw him end the season 31 points ahead of the 27-year-old.

Four races into 2016, Red Bull sent Daniil Kvyat back to Toro Rosso following a crash with Sebastian Vettel at his home Russian Grand Prix, and a choice was to be made as to whether it would be Verstappen or Sainz who would move up to replace him.

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In the end, the then-18-year-old and son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen would be the chosen star of the future, and he won on his Red Bull debut at the Spanish Grand Prix.

19 more race wins and a world championship last season have fully justified Red Bull’s choice, but it might have easily been the now-Ferrari driver had he not come up against the young talent when he did.

“Sainz was unlucky to meet Verstappen at a crucial moment,” Dr Marko told Autorevue.

“We already saw in the first test at Silverstone he was super-fast right away. He was almost at the same level as Verstappen. Almost.”

Ultimately, the Austrian had no doubt as to whom he would send up to the main fold to replace Kvyat.

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“But when we had the choice between Verstappen and Sainz, it was clear,” he explained.

The 78-year-old sympathises with Sainz as well as his father and two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz Sr following what naturally would have been a dejecting decision, and he would later loan Sainz to Renault to replace the struggling Jolyon Palmer in 2017.

“Both were disappointed, but his father the most. We loaned him out to Renault first because our contract was still running,” he added.

The six-time podium finisher then signed with McLaren ahead of the 2019 season, leaving the Red Bull junior programme for the first time.

After two seasons partnering Lando Norris, he moved to Ferrari as Sebastian Vettel headed to Aston Martin and out-scored Charles Leclerc to finish his debut year in red an impressive fifth in the Drivers’ Championship.

Dr Marko has previously claimed that the Spaniard “debunked” the reverence around the Monegasque, and he again reaffirms the point that the 27-year-old is able to compete with the very best in the sport.

“Sainz is definitely one of the top people. He’s proven that. In my eyes, he disenchanted Leclerc,” he stated.

“Sainz was there in terms of speed, Leclerc just had a lot of accidents.”

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Norris displayed his undeniable speed when he out-qualified Sainz 20 times in 38 races during their time as team-mates at McLaren in 2019 and 2020, but the Spaniard ended both seasons ahead in the championship.

The Red Bull advisor reinforces Sainz’s dexterity in keeping pace with a prodigious young talent in the 22-year-old.

“And at McLaren you saw Norris is the one of the boys who has established himself best. Sainz absolutely kept up with him.”

Following an impressive season with Ferrari, team principal Mattia Binotto has said he would like to sit down with Sainz to discuss an extension to his contract which expires at the end of 2022.

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