The 2019 Formula 1 season starts with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Melbourne this weekend (March 14-17 2019). McLaren is a marque team which has been on a downward slide since the 2013 season.
In 2018, when the Woking-based team ended their partnership with Honda and signed up with new engine partner Renault, there was much hope that the team would atleast start its journey towards recovering past glory.
But those hopes were belied last season. For three seasons, Fernando Alonso had waited patiently for McLaren to turn things around. McLaren ended their three-year partnership with Honda and joined hands with Renault last season to achieve this.
The Renault-engine powered MCL33 was beset by many aerodynamic-related issues. The team only improved to sixth position from the ninth position of the previous season. The team was no closer to even securing a podium finish during the season. The two-time world drivers’ champion Alonso decided to move to other motorsport series to get back to championship winning ways.
Stoffel Vandoorne entered the sport as a young driver with great potential after a glittering career as a junior. The Belgian was part of the McLaren Young Driver Programme and was guided by the team in the lower formulae. But like many young drivers associated with McLaren in recent years, Vandoorne came a cropper in Formula 1. After two full seasons, McLaren announced they were not re-signing him for 2019.
A New Driver Lineup
With Alonso departing and Vandoorne forced out, McLaren has a brand new driver pairing for 2019. Carlos Sainz Jr. was announced as a replacement for fellow Spaniard Alonso. Lando Norris, a 19-year old McLaren protégé, was announced as the driver to partner Sainz.
The 24-year old Sainz has already spent four seasons in Formula 1. He entered the sport as a much touted junior and has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career. The Spaniard is up against the promising rookie Norris. The Sainz and Norris intra-team battle could breathe fresh air into the McLaren campaign for 2019.
#55 Carlos Sainz
81 GP Starts | 171 Points
The Toro Rosso Years
Carlos Sainz, a Red Bull junior driver, started his career with the Toro Rosso team in 2015. Sainz entered the sport after winning the Formula Renault 3.5 championship the previous season.
The Spaniard made his debut that season along with an equally promising young driver Max Verstappen. Sparks flew on and off the track as the teammates set about establishing themselves in Formula 1.
Sainz lost the teammate battle to Verstappen as he was outscored (18 points to 49 points). Sainz secured fifteenth position compared to Verstappen’s twelfth position in the drivers’ championship.
In 2016, after four races Verstappen earned a promotion to the senior Red Bull team to replace the under-performing Daniil Kvyat. This was a blow to Sainz as his teammate had earned the much coveted promotion to the senior team. Sainz outscored Kvyat over the next 17 races (42 points to 4 points) and finished in twelfth position in the drivers’ championship.
In 2017, the Toro Rosso team was in turmoil as Kvyat suffered a meltdown and was replaced by Pierre Gasly after 14 races. The Russian scored just four points compared to Sainz’s 48 points in those races. A couple of races later, Sainz himself was loaned to the Renault team and was replaced by Brendon Hartley.
The Renault F1 Years
For the last four races of 2017, Sainz drove for the Renault team alongside Nico Hulkenberg. Sainz finished in seventh position in his first race for the French team. But he was outscored by new teammate Hulkenberg in the final four races (6 points to 9 points). Sainz finished in ninth position in the drivers’ championship.
In 2018, Sainz partnered the experienced Hulkenberg at Renault. The Spaniard lost the teammate battle to Hulkenberg as he was outqualified (9-13) and outscored (53 points to 69 points) by him. Sainz secured tenth position compared to Hulkenberg’s seventh position in the drivers’ championship.
During the season, Sainz’s hopes of securing a Red Bull drive for 2019 slowly evaporated. He was further dealt a blow when Renault signed Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo to partner Hulkenberg. Sainz then signed with McLaren to replace fellow Spaniard Alonso for 2019.
#4 Lando Norris
0 GP Starts
Lando Norris was guided by McLaren through the junior formulae and was a member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme. Norris had a glittering career in karting becoming the youngest world champion at the age of 14. After his single-seater debut the next year, Norris won the MSA Formula championship.
In 2016, the Briton had a stellar year as he participated in three motorsport series and won them all. Norris won the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and the Toyota Racing Series Championship in New Zealand. This earned him the coveted McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award.
In 2017, Norris won the European Formula 3 championship with an impressive record that included eight poles, 20 podiums with nine wins in 32 races.
In 2018, Norris finished runner-up to George Russell in the FIA Formula 2 championship. Norris’s meteoric rise through the ranks saw him clinch the role of McLaren’s test driver from 2017.
The Briton has been impressive in his free practice and testing duties for McLaren. This has earned him a coveted drive with the McLaren team for 2019.
Sainz vs Norris in 2019
The new driver pairing of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris carry a heavy burden on their shoulders. There is a lot of expectation that this will be the season the once great McLaren team will turn things around. The performance at the winter tests showed that McLaren will be in the thick of the tight midfield battle in the new season.
In pre-season testing, McLaren occasionally topped the timesheets. The team downplayed expectations and said lap times in winter tests do not mean much. But the new MCL34 challenger was reliable and performed much better than recent McLaren cars.
Sainz will be the team leader at McLaren. His performance this season in that role and against his teammate will enhance or harm his reputation as one of the best young drivers on the grid.
Norris with his superb pedigree in the junior motorsport series’ will surely challenge Sainz. In 2007, another Spaniard Alonso came up against the talented rookie Lewis Hamilton and scripted one of the most gripping and tumultuous teammate battles in Formula 1 history.
Another intense battle like that would surely light up McLaren’s season and provide Formula 1 fans with a great spectacle.