2016 Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg does not believe that Carlos Sainz currently has the credentials to be a world champion after his rocky start to the 2022 season.
Undeniably, the Spaniard has shown glimpses of brilliance so far this year, but they have been intertwined with mistakes and, at times, a clear lack of pace compared to team-mate Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc has out-qualified the 27-year-old eight times in 2022, with the Canadian Grand Prix last weekend being the first time this year that the former Toro Rosso and McLaren driver has qualified ahead.
That was partly due to the fact that the Monegasque had an engine penalty that saw him start 19th anyway, although Sainz did go quicker than him by three tenths of a second in Q1 before Leclerc opted not to take part in Q2.
Sainz is yet to win a race in the pinnacle of motorsport, but has twice come close – in Monza 2020 when he was beaten by Pierre Gasly, and last weekend when Max Verstappen survived his late onslaught.
Though the Spaniard’s performance last weekend was one of his more solid displays of the year, Rosberg does not quite see enough there yet to satisfy him that Sainz can challenge for the title.
“Sainz has got it in him to be a good, decent driver within Ferrari, but at the moment he has not got it in him to be a world champion,” he said on Sky Sports’ Any Driven Monday.
“On performance, Charles Leclerc has been outdriving him every single race this year; he still needs to find quite a bit of progress which comes as quite a surprise after last year.
“Of course, the car is completely different so maybe it takes him more time to get on top of things.”
Verstappen blew the field away in Baku when he beat team-mate Sergio Perez to the win by 20 seconds, and there was intrigue over whether he would have caught Sainz on fresh tyres before the Ferrari pitted under a Safety Car caused by Yuki Tsunoda.
What was certain was the incredible defending in the closing stages of the race from the reigning world champion.
“It has been a couple of super-impressive races from Max, he is so confident and driving at such an impressive level,” added Rosberg.
“He drove to perfection in difficult circumstances in qualifying and the pressure from Sainz in the race is not to be underestimated.”
Verstappen leads Perez by 46 points in the Drivers’ Championship after nine rounds, with Leclerc a further three back after recovering from 19th to fifth on Sunday.
Sainz remains P5 in the standings behind Mercedes’ George Russell, and is now 73 points adrift of the Dutchman.