If one thinks about it seriously for a moment, it is quite incredible that the discussion about Carlos Sainz Jr’s Formula One future was ever up in the air.
Yet despite the Spaniard becoming the youngest Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion, the driver who had taken the most race wins in a FR3.5 season and indeed the first Red Bull junior driver to take the crown, that was exactly the up until earlier this month.
One might argue that under normal circumstances, Sainz Jr may have taken the title earlier than the final round at Jerez, but as with most times within the Red Bull junior programme, things are rarely “normal”.
Driving for the all conquering DAMS team, Sainz Jr’s unfortunate retirement from pole position in the season opener at Monza merely delayed his charge and gave some false hope to Will Stevens.
Where Stevens’ championship challenge fell south from the first race onwards, Sainz Jr gathered himself up to take three victories in the opening seven races, before collecting a fourth at the Nürburgring in July.
Yet the signing of Max Verstappen to the 2015 Toro Rosso drive during the FR3.5 summer break threatened to derail all of that and the shell-shocked Sainz Jr notably went through a blip at the Hungaroring, as he collected himself back together.
That this “blip” coincided with title rival Roberto Merhi and his Zeta Corse team hitting form was doubly unfortunate. In the space of a few rounds, Merhi closed from over 60 points behind to just 16 adrift with two rounds remaining cast alarm bells in the DAMS camp; however Sainz Jr’s two victories in the penultimate round did much to seal the deal.
Penalties in qualifying at the final round in Jerez cast a low-key over his title success, but when Merhi was taken out at the start of race one, it mattered little.
Meanwhile after much anticipation, Sainz Jr has been promoted to the Toro Rosso team for the 2015 season and after four years of covering Carlos’ racing efforts in Formula 3, GP3 and FR3.5, I feel I can now reasonably drop the “Jr” and just call him “Sainz”.