As well as providing spectacular racing for the past 70 years, Formula One has also been at the pinnacle of innovation for global motorsport and the wider automotive industry.
It’s fascinating how athletes and their narratives are intertwined with one and another, with the movements of one often having an impact on the other.
This is no different in the tales of Formula One drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz, whose paths have crossed again.
The announcement of Sebastian Vettel’s split from Ferrari at the end of 2020 has pulled the trigger on the F1 silly season before any racing has actually taken place due to the pandemic.
First believed to be a frontrunner in replacing Vettel at Ferrari, Ricciardo was announced by McLaren on Thursday on a multi-year deal from 2021 to join incumbent Lando Norris at Woking.
This then led to the inevitable reveal of outgoing McLaren driver Sainz as Vettel’s replacement at Ferrari, joining Charles Leclerc at the Scuderia for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Big opportunity for Sainz
The 25-year-old Sainz has been Formula One’s quiet achiever since making his debut in 2015 alongside the eminent prodigy that is Max Verstappen at the Red Bull development squad in Toro Rosso.
Having been unceremoniously shown the door by Renault in 2018 in favour of Ricciardo, the Spaniard ended up in McLaren, where he was able to mature through the 2019 season en route to finishing a career-best sixth in the championship.
Scoring McLaren’s first podium since 2014 in Brazil was the feather in Sainz’s cap for 2019 and big things were on the cards for 2020, having played a key hands-on role in the development of the MCL35.
Enough to put the no-nonsense, clean-cut and fast Sainz on the radar for Ferrari to complete their youngest driver line-up in 50 years by announcing him on a two-year deal next to Leclerc.
Supposedly Sainz was a much more financially desirable option than Ricciardo and perhaps a tamer choice for Maranello to maintain a harmonious stable.
It’s intriguing to see Ferrari opt for two younger drivers, ultimately signalling the shift into the next generation. Regardless of choice, though, the onus will be on the Prancing Horse to deliver to ensure their drivers are able to win the championship.
Having survived the ruthless Red Bull programme as Verstappen’s teammate and now developed into a fast and reliable driver, Sainz has what it takes to cope with the pressure from Ferrari and excel alongside their prodigy in Leclerc, though it remains to be seen how long the honeymoon lasts.
A sideways move for Ricciardo?
From the outside it appears as if the 30-year-old has just sidestepped from his current Renault team over to McLaren, who did finish fourth in the constructor’s championship in 2019 and on top of the midfield.
However, those 2019 results indicate McLaren is the team to look at instead of Renault – whose mere presence in Formula One is being assessed by their powerbrokers – as being best place to join the top three teams.
A complete shift away from the McLaren of old, which had its draconian ways exposed during the tumultuous partnership with Honda and their first season with Renault power in 2018, the Woking team under the guidance of Zak Brown and Andreas Seidl have the means to truly be great.
McLaren will have Mercedes power from 2021, and with the regulations undergoing a significant change in 2022, all with the introduction of a budget cap, a midfield team like the former world champions could easily join the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
The glass-half-empty perspective would say that there is no guarantee for Ricciardo that McLaren will deliver a race winner and that this is similar to the reasoning behind the switch to Renault 650 days ago.
However, there is nowhere to hide now for the Aussie, who’s entering the prime of his career and may not have further opportunities to be race winner again.
As Ferrari’s young driver line-up shows, even the sport’s most conservative team is looking to the next generation.