LONDON (Reuters) - The talk was of luring six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes to Ferrari but in the end it was Carlos Sainz, a driver yet to win anything in Formula One, who signed on the dotted line.
The 25-year-old was confirmed on Thursday on a two-year deal as the replacement for four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel when the German departs the Italian team at the end of the year.
Ferrari believe the Spaniard, who has just one podium finish from 102 races but can now expect to win some, will be an ideal partner for Charles Leclerc as the team plot a long-overdue return to the top.
“Carlos has proved to be very talented and has shown that he has the technical ability and the right attributes to make him an ideal fit with our family,” said Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto.
The move into one of the most coveted seats at the most glamorous and successful team in the sport’s history puts the Spaniard in the company of greats, even if he will surely never match the achievements of a Michael Schumacher or Niki Lauda.
It is quite a turnaround for a driver whose career has gone through twists and turns off track as well as on it.
He joined Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso, now AlphaTauri, in 2015 alongside a then 17-year-old Max Verstappen who was already the energy drink brand’s favourite and hailed as a future world champion.
In 2018, passed over for a seat with the main Red Bull team and eager to move on, Sainz was loaned to Renault for a year with uncertainty beyond that.
He ended up at McLaren in 2019 when compatriot Fernando Alonso departed and Australian Daniel Ricciardo turned down the opportunity.
It proved to be the making of him, Sainz finishing sixth overall last season and the highest driver from outside the top three teams.
“Carlos is a true professional, a pleasure to work with and we will continue to enjoy going racing with him this year,” said McLaren principal Andreas Seidl.
Those same qualities will be valued at Ferrari, where Leclerc may look like the main man but cannot rest on his laurels at a team hungry for a first title since the 2008 constructors’ crown.
Sainz is a team player, sure of his abilities and with plenty of pace. The partnership with Lando Norris at McLaren has been remarkably free of friction, with the pair winning plenty of admirers.
While Vettel was paid a reported $40 million a year, Sainz will get a fraction of that — a relief to Ferrari even if drivers’ salaries are not included in a budget cap due to come into force next year.
“We’ve embarked on a new cycle with the aim of getting back to the top in Formula One,” said Binotto.
“It will be a long journey, not without its difficulties, especially given the current financial and regulatory situation, which is undergoing a sudden change and will require this challenge to be tackled in a different way to the recent past.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar