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Carlos Sainz: "Silverstone should never be under threat"

The younger Carlos Sainz talks F1's legendary circuits and rallying with his dad

Top Gear caught up with McLaren Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz who, at the age of 24, was driving up the hill at his first Goodwood Festival of Speed.

TG: Is it a big thrill to drive historic stuff at Goodwood?

CS: I’m not a big historical guy; I don’t collect any stuff. But if you give me a challenge to drive something like the M8D (pictured) I will enjoy it a lot. When you get to drive new racing cars, where it’s all so perfect and so fast, everything is going to feel slow in comparison. But I still enjoy trying it.

I don’t find manual gearboxes so comfortable; you can’t be as precise with your driving. But I can sense the reason why everyone misses them. The driver had a bit more input. I personally drive a H-pattern manual back at home in a rally car so it’s something I can do well, but it’s not something I especially enjoy or miss in new cars.

Tell us about the rally car…

It’s a Mitsubishi Evo. I like to practice a bit of rallying with my dad. There was never any pressure to rally, it never came out of my father’s mouth. It was always ‘do whatever you want, but whatever you want, enjoy it and give it everything’.

I was always interested in single-seaters growing up but I think it was a natural thing – go-karting is a lot more similar to F1 than it is to rallying, so I developed unconsciously into F1 because of that. And also because of a big name like Fernando Alonso on TV every Sunday.

Are you quicker than your dad?

No, but I’m not far off! He’s pleasantly surprised to see I have some decent rally genes and I actually get to push him quite a lot. If I get a full day’s practice I can nearly match him, but I need my time to get back to the driving ways. It’s a totally different mindset to circuit racing. But I have always adapted myself well, so there must be something in my genes that allows me to do so.

I think I would be very quick on tarmac because it would be most similar to formula cars, but I have always practiced on dirt and ice so far.

Where’s your favourite grand prix?

Obviously my home grand prix in Spain, and the weekend in Monaco is pretty special. Then there are weekends that just feel like ‘one more weekend’ in Formula 1. But then places like Austria, Great Britain and Hungary are weekends that I’ve been doing for the last ten years with lower categories, circuits that I’ve visited a lot so I have a lot of memories at them. I just enjoy this European atmosphere and those tracks just keep getting better with more and more fans.

They are so special, these places, and have so much history. I enjoy them a lot and it would be a big loss if they disappeared. Catalunya, Monza, Silverstone – all these tracks are incredible and should never be under threat, in my opinion.

How does McLaren compare to Renault?

Renault was a great team with a lot of history, and the team at which my idol Fernando Alonso became world champion, so it was quite an important step in my career. McLaren is different, not better not worse, just a completely different historical team.

I’m living in the UK, so I spend a lot of time at the McLaren Technology Centre. The first ten days I worked there I was allowing an extra ten minutes every morning to spend just staring at the cars and enjoying the walk up the boulevard. It’s such a special place.

Your company car has presumably been a step up, too…

That’s been a very good step in my career. Today I drove here in my McLaren 720S, but I still also have the Renault Megane RS because they are our engine sponsor. So I have my Megane parked next to my 720S at home which really visualises the step. But honestly, I try to take care of the 720S and so I don’t use it a lot. Also the UK roads, and I’m sorry to say it, they are not the best for this kind of car. But I still take it out quite a lot to visit the factory, to go out to dinner. I enjoy it.

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