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Carlos Sainz Jr: I'll put Real Madrid badge on McLaren helmet

The Formula 1 driver visited AS and shared his thoughts about racing, sport in general, his life meeting Cristiano Ronaldo and his admiration for Rafa Nadal.

Carlos Sainz interview

Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr, who will be racing for McLaren next season, joined us in the AS newsroom to discuss his move to the British team, his father, double world rally champion Carlos Sainz, Nadal and another of his favourite sports, football, including when he met one of his favourite players, Cristiano Ronaldo at the AS awards 2009...

- Both of us were waiting, he was standing up straight, tall, and he looked down at me and said “How are you”, I was a bit nervous and said I was ok. “Are you ‘nervoso’” he said. “A little bit”, I replied. “I’m used to it now”, he replied.

- Do you play football in Monaco?

Yes, [Fernando] Alonso and I are the better players, the ones that stand out, but then the other players are pretty rubbish. (laughs)

- Real Madrid’s your team?

Yes, I'm going to put the Real Madrid badge on my racing helmet next season.

- You are also a huge fan of Nadal

It’s impossible not to be a fan of Nadal. There should be a compulsory subject in school: ‘ How to be like Nadal’, to learn about his method of going through life, his education, his effort, his dedication ... I think we all have a lot to learn from Rafa.

Rafa Nadal
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- And Fernando Alonso?

He’s always been my reference point. The first driver I saw was Schumacher, but when I saw Alonso I said, I want to be like him.

- Your father going back to race in the Dakar Rally…

I was not surprised that he returned to the Dakar, although it’s true that he was 60/40, telling me that it was 40% likely he wouldn’t go back, but he will be there. He creates his own challenges. And now, after winning again he wants to win it with three different brands... but he adores the competition at the age of 56, with everything he already has, family, children... to take such a great risk that is all for the competitive feeling and to win. It’s all about the competitive factor.

- And how does your mother take it?

My mother? She’s given up, we could say. She will always support him in whatever he does.”

- Do you race with your father?

At our house in the country we have a rally circuit of sorts, just over three kilometres, and we will sometimes do little races. I'm getting closer, but the key is that I already have it categorised as if it were a circuit and then with that I have my points of reference and my tricks, so he’s not much faster. But in a rally... just imagine. What they do in rallies is incredibly difficult."

I have always seen my father at rallies as similar to Schumacher in F1, in terms of physical preparation. For example, Michael was the first to take an exercise bike to the circuits, something my father also did at rallies. They are very thorough and tiresome, in the sense of being perfectionists, which is always admirable.

- How would Fernando Alonso do in rallies?

Fernando [Alonso] in rallies? Well, he could probably do it, but to win it would be very difficult because the [drivers] have been preparing for it for 20 years, so it’s like they had all that time as an advantage.

- What happened with Red Bull and then moving to McLaren?

If in 2016 or 2017 after the years I’d done, if there had been a space at Red Bull it is clear that I would have gone, but this year the circumstances are what they are and what’s more there was the option to join McLaren, which for me is a great opportunity because it’s McLaren, the second best team in the whole history of Formula 1.

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- Red Bull preferred Verstappen…

I don’t know if Red Bull would have been a good destination for my career. I could probably have got podium places or even have won races next year – we’ll not know until next year – but I know that McLaren is very good. It's true that they are not what they were six years ago, but they still have a great team and those who have won before will win again.

- How has Fernando Alonso been?

Fernando has obviously helped, but it's also true that I’ve always had a special bond with McLaren. Ever since I met Zak Brown one time playing golf we have always been in touch in one way or another.

- And how do you think you’ll do…

If they give me a decent McLaren next year you’re in for a shock.

- And taking over from Fernando?

I don’t think it’ll change much to be honest, it’s not going to be different because there’s just one Spaniard instead of two. It’s obvious I’ll be lacking that reference point, but I’ll to my own stuff and do the best I can. I don’t have more pressure because of it.

- Does F1 become a routine?

Going at 300 [km] per hour never becomes completely routine, but it is true that to a certain extent you get used to it and it may then start to seem normal. The moment you really notice what it means to drive an F1 car is the first day of pre-season testing… you always end up stiff and sore after.

- How do you drive on the road’

Everyone says to me you can tell I’m an F1 driver when I’m driving.

Renault's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives around the Albert Park circuit.
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Renault's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr drives around the Albert Park circuit.PAUL CROCKAFP

- How was your path to F1, through the lower categories?

That was when I felt real pressure because my F1 dream could end. The same thing happens to almost everyone, if I had not won certain things then I would be with my mates at university, which is not a bad place to be, but this is my dream.

- At the moment you can’t win, so you’re fighting for seventh…

It’s like if the bikes from Moto2 were racing against the MotoGP bikes or something like that. It’s bigger than that, the difference is so great that if something happens to one of the top six on the first lap but they can carry on, when they go to overtake you, you hardly put up any resistance because it can negatively affect your race. So when you finish seventh you celebrate it like a pole position and in the race it’s like a little victory because there are two categories.

- And the driver’s championship, will Hamilton win it?

I think so, but there could be surprises. Suddenly Vettel wins two races, Hamilton retires in one and once again Vettel is the best and everyone is praising him. In this sport the only thing that counts is the last thing that happened.

- Does the best driver win?

Maybe. This is Hamilton’s year and it’s really hard to beat him, very tough…

- And comparing drivers…

Hamilton and Alonso are two of the all time greats, but there are more who could have fought for the title. I think that with the same car, the difference between the best and the worst in F1 could be around five tenths of a second. If Alonso had a good car, I don’t know what would happen in qualifying with Hamilton, but what I'm certain about is that in a race it’s very hard to beat Alonso.