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With Daniel Ricciardo having stunned many by making the sensational move from Red Bull Racing to Renault for 2019, the focus is now upon Red Bull junior and Renault incumbent Carlos Sainz and what he’ll do next season.
Ricciardo’s signing by the French manufacturer alongside Nico Hulkenberg has left the 23-year-old Spaniard looking for a drive elsewhere beyond this season and it appears that there is more than one option available.
The simplest of moves would be to see Sainz return to the Red Bull fold, having been loaned out to Renault in the first place. Ricciardo’s vacancy at the Milton Keynes squad could see Sainz be buddied up with his old Toro Rosso teammate in Max Verstappen again – though it might not be as straightforward as that.
Their pairing at the Red Bull junior outfit during the 2015 season did see tension build between the two very exciting talents. Verstappen has been deemed a once-in-a-generation talent and Sainz in a way had been consigned to the Dutchman’s shadow from the outset.
Both were then separated a quarter of the way through the 2016 campaign, with Verstappen elevated by the Red Bull hierarchs to replace the luckless Daniil Kvyat – while Sainz spent the next year and a bit stuck at Toro Rosso.
The Spaniard made it no secret in that time that if Red Bull weren’t going to promote him sooner than later, that he would look for success elsewhere on the grid. This created acrimony between the Sainz family and Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko and acrimony may sour a potential return to the energy drinks giant.
So, it is best to look beyond Red Bull then for Sainz’s future in Formula One and the one option that screams out his name is that of McLaren. While the team are currently fledgeling, the opportunity is there for the young Spaniard to help rebuild the team and prove his talent – which since his Renault switch has been questioned by some.
Sainz could slot into the Renault-powered McLaren alongside his compatriot and childhood idol in Fernando Alonso, making for a strong pairing that could be challenging at the pointy end of the mid-field – depending on where the Woking team are performance wise in 2019.
There is still the possibility that the two-time world champion in Alonso could walk away from Formula One at the end of this season, which would see the junior Spaniard partner with the struggling Stoffel Vandoorne.
It has been firmly stated by Sainz that he is looking “forward to signing a two-year deal with my future team to make sure that next year, I’m not in this position again.” Meaning that wherever he lands a drive, it’ll be a pivotal one in his career so far.
As Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle coined, it would be a ‘travesty’ if Sainz did not have a top drive on the grid in 2019. The possibility to go to Red Bull is there, but would it be the best, as far as career progression in concerned?
McLaren may not be considered a team that is exactly churning out race wins and championships currently, but an illustrious team like they are will surely return to that echelon by 2021 when the regulations are set for a shakeup.
And for Sainz, who will still only be 26 by the time the 2021 pre-season begins, moving to McLaren now may see the prodigious Spaniard in that winning position come the changing of the Formula One landscape.