Carlos Sainz had every reason to feel downhearted as he made his way to London less than 24 hours after the British Grand Prix. But as the Ferrari driver walks through the door of a quaint restaurant in the middle of Soho, there is no hint of disappointment or glumness painted across his face. Instead, he shows off a cheesy grin, greets the starstruck people inside and settles down for a bite to eat, pushing to one side the troubles his Formula 1 team have faced this season as Max Verstappen surges off into the distance.
“Out of the six or seven I did, I think only two were perfect. I still struggle to find the consistency but I think next time it can be perfect,” Sainz begins. One could be forgiven for thinking he was talking about lap times around Silverstone. Instead, the 28-year-old is referring to his beer-pouring skills after being taught by his long-time sponsor, Estrella Galicia, who have backed him since 2015.
At an intimate event hosted by the Spanish brewing company, Sainz is the guest of honour. And perhaps a year ago, after his maiden win at Silverstone, he might have felt like it. But the Italian team’s latest struggle on the track only underlined the gulf between themselves and Red Bull, leaving them with much work to do for the remaining 13 races of the season.
The Spaniard is yet to finish on the podium in 2023 with Ferrari’s race pace some way off being enough to challenge the Constructors’ Championship leaders, and Sainz is eager for the Scuderia to turn things around in the second half of the season. That is easier said than done, though.
At the British Grand Prix six days ago, Ferrari scored only three points as Leclerc came home in ninth, with Sainz in behind in 10th place. Meanwhile, Red Bull took the maximum 26 for the win and Perez – fighting back from 15th – ended up sixth to add another eight. Hamilton and Russell collected 25 points for Mercedes.
It is proving to be a tough time for team boss Fred Vasseur, with rumours circulating that Leclerc could be off to Red Bull. But Sainz, for one, isn’t panicking and maintains faith in the team to find the solution to their issues in the second half of the season.
“I think our target has to be to keep improving as a team,” he told Express Sport. “We need to get closer to Red Bull without looking at Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren are. We just need to focus on ourselves, keep learning about our cars and keep improving.
“We know the weakness we have and [we need to] finish the year strongly to affect a strong second half of this year, and to prove we are on the right path and prove to ourselves we have found the right direction.”
The mention of Aston Martin is something that would have raised eyebrows only last season when the team finished on 55 points with Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel as their drivers. After just 10 races this season, Aston Martin have already tripled their 2022 total with 181 points and are some way clear of Ferrari.
The reason for their major upturn is Fernando Alonso, the man Sainz idolised growing up in Madrid. Remarkably, despite the fact he will turn 42 at the end of July, Alonso has provided the biggest threat to Verstappen this season outside of Red Bull, making those who questioned his return to F1 in 2021 look extremely foolish.
With Alonso looking evergreen, the question put to Sainz is whether he would consider such longevity for his own career. Does his love for the sport, having already spent nine and a half seasons in F1, run that deep? It might be too early to say, but Sainz isn’t planning the same ejection that Max Verstappen has pencilled in anytime soon despite their issues.
“Well, it’s still 12 or 13 years away, no? It’s a long way from my time. I don’t know what stage I will be physically or mentally,” Sainz said. “I know that I love Formula 1 and I want to do it for as long as possible. But also you need to think that the calendar is becoming more and more demanding. There are 24, 25 races for the future, but when we started it was more like 16. I think I will completely judge based on my fitness and mental state, but I love F1 so much that I see me being here for a very long time.
In the setting of the Michelin-starred Spanish eatery Sabor, surrounded by delicious food from the Galician region and Estrella beer to compliment the taste, Sainz is already thinking of making this environment a bigger part of his life when his career winds down. “In terms of food and drink, I would like to own a restaurant, I wouldn’t mind that,” he said.
“I am actually invested in a catering company that has opened a restaurant now, a burger joint in Madrid. They are very highly quality and owned by a couple of my friends that are doing great and booming. I’ve always been into food, restaurants and this world. I’ve always enjoyed it a lot.”
And with that, the presence of the 40-day aged beef burger on the menu makes sense. It’s Sainz’s favourite. The chef, Sabor’s Nieves Barragan, designed a menu specifically to feature his favourite dishes. A man from Spain, the land of tapas, and his favourite meal is a beef burger? Go figure.
Of course, there is an exception. The tortilla melosa, a filled and seasoned sweet potato omelette filled with chorizo, is staggeringly tasty. Paired with a bottle of Estrella Galicia 0.0%, one could be forgiven for wanting to eat the entire plate – but the sharing of food is part of the culture Sainz has touched on. And when things aren’t going right on the racetrack, he can at least rely on his culinary delights to provide an escape.
He explains: “It’s the relaxed attitude that we have to eating and drinking in Spain. It’s more the conversations you’re going to have and food is just part of it. It’s a plan. Part of the day, part of the atmosphere. You go for a drink and always have some food with it, you share some nice moments with your friends.”
Sainz came from a family of motorsport – his father is renowned rallycar driver Carlos Sainz Sr – but that is not often enough to fund your way through the ranks. He needed help and, at the age of 17, Estrella Galicia stepped forward. But this was a lot more than just a business transaction from a sponsor – the Sainz family had history with Estrella as his grandfather helped construct their factory to brew the beer in the Galicia region. Their partnership has remained strong for eight years and Sainz realises he is fortunate when other drivers have struggled to secure such funding.
“For us drivers, if you don’t have any support when you are going through the ranks, it’s obviously very difficult to make it in Formula 1. A very expensive sport, but also very demanding and a low probability of making it to the top,” he added. “So to have a partner like Estrella who trusted me, especially when I was no one and only 17 years old was great. No one knew if I was going to make it into F1 or not.”
Now that he has made it to F1 and established himself as a household name, it is down to Sainz to hunt down the Red Bulls and Mercedes. And even after demolishing his favourite burger and tortilla, he is still as hungry as ever.