Dr Helmut Marko, the Red Bull Racing Motorsport Advisor, has said he has no regrets over letting Carlos Sainz leave the Milton Keynes-based team as “he is no Verstappen”. Sainz was an integral part of the Red Bull Racing junior driver development program for many years.
In 2015, the Spaniard made his debut with Toro Rosso, the junior Red Bull team, with Max Verstappen as his team-mate. Both promising young drivers had a hotly contested first season with reportedly some acrimony between the two sides of the garage.
Verstappen earned a quick promotion to the senior Red Bull Racing team in the fifth race of the 2016 season. For good measure, the Dutchman won his very first race for the team at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Since then, Verstappem has recorded seven more wins with the team.
In contrast, Sainz was loaned by the Red Bull team to the Renault F1 team for the last four races of the 2017 season and continued with them in 2018. When Daniel Ricciardo made his momentous decision to leave Red Bull and sign with Renault, Sainz had to make way for the Australian.
Red Bull had the option to bring back Sainz from Renault to replace Ricciardo or promote Pierre Gasly to the senior team. They opted for Gasly and chose to let Sainz leave. The Spaniard joined the McLaren F1 team for the 2019 season and put in a stellar performance that saw him finish sixth in the drivers’ championship and clinch the first podium of his career.
The events that unfolded with the Red Bull driver changes during the season raised questions about the team’s decision to let Sainz go. Gasly was demoted to the Toro Rosso team after the summer break after a series of underwhelming performances.
Alexander Albon had to be promoted to the senior team after just twelve races with Toro Rosso. Though Albon performed consistently for Red Bull Racing after his promotion, surely Red Bull would have wanted him to have a longer apprentice period.
Dr Marko manages the Red Bull junior driver program and is known for his ruthless handling of the careers of the junior drivers. Marko when asked by Autosport.com about Sainz said he had no regrets about the Sainz decision.
Marko said: “No. Sainz was comforted with one Max Verstappen [at Toro Rosso], and later we had to choose which one of the two to promote [to the main team in 2016].
“And when you get right down to it – Carlos is quick, we would not have signed him otherwise, but he is no Verstappen.
“We helped Carlos with his career and we didn’t have to let him go. But we allowed the move to Renault and then to McLaren.
“We have a good relationship, but at that moment there was a Verstappen there, and there’s a [performance] difference between the two.”
During the Sainz and Verstappen partnership at Toro Rosso, the team management had to contend with the strong presence in the garage of the fathers of the two drivers, Jos Verstappen (former Formula 1 driver) and Carlos Sainz Sr (WRC champion).
Marko speaking on Sainz’s father’s role said: “I wouldn’t say he has a political father, rather one of those motorsport fathers who doesn’t look at it objectively – which is understandable – and just always does what he thinks is best for his son. But it’s not an isolated case, and by far not the worst.”
Red Bull Racing has extended Verstappen’s contract until 2023 and has in recent years built the team around him. The drivers who partner Verstappen have to contend with his formidable talent and his No. 1 status in the team.
It falls on Albon to tackle this difficult job next season. Even as Sainz thrives at McLaren, surely Red Bull and the Spaniard will ponder from time to time about what might have been if they had continued their partnership.