Chip off the old block revving towards motoring future in F1

Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jnr, 18, wants to emulate his father's exploits in rallying by someday seeing the chequered flag in F1

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 4:04pm

As a rallying legend, Carlos Sainz knows a couple of things about motorsport. Watching his son in the sprawling karting centre he owns, it soon became apparent that the boy was doing more than messing about.

A decade or so later, Carlos Sainz Jnr is aiming to make it to Formula One as part of the Red Bull Junior Team. The Carlin driver has looked impressive in his second attempt at the Macau Grand Prix this week, starting from fifth place on the grid for today's qualifying race.

He's not the only relative of a famous driver here in Macau: Lucas Auer is the nephew of former F1 driver Gerhard Berger, while Tom Blomqvist's father is another rally legend, Swede Stig. And in F1 throughout the years there have been many other examples: Graham and Damon Hill, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet and Nelson Jnr, Keke and Nico Rosberg and Ayrton and Bruno Senna to name a few.

So can driving talent really be passed through the genes? Or does the role model aspect and access to facilities make the difference for the second generation? Sainz Snr thinks nature and nurture both play a role.

"For sure [Carlos Jnr] has grown up with motorsport around him all his life and I think all that has helped him, but at the end either you have certain natural talent or you cannot do it," said the Spaniard. "It looks like he's well talented, but he's still very young and it's a long way to go.

"I have an indoor karting back home in Madrid - at the beginning it was more or less playing for him, then it looked like he had some good natural talent. From there he start to race in karting and immediately he was doing quite good and it was then I said, 'Okay let's help him a little bit more,' and from there he took it more and more seriously."

Sainz Snr had none of the motorsport background that his son grew up in. He started skiing aged four, was a good enough footballer to have a trial for Real Madrid, and excelled at squash, winning the Spanish championship at 16 and counting the King of Spain among his playing partners. It was only in his late teens that he got into motorsport, horrifying his family when he proclaimed that he was packing in his law degree to take it up full time.

It was a wise decision. He won the World Rally Championship in 1990 and 1992, finished runner-up four times and holds the WRC record for most starts. He also won the famous Dakar Rally in 2010 and at 50 isn't slowing down: he arrived at the Carlin paddock from the airport yesterday after flying in from the United States where he was testing the buggy he will drive in the 2013 Dakar. You suspect father-son driving lessons in the Sainz household were a bit different.

Sainz Jnr is still a teenager but has a shot at an F1 drive some day - as do many of the 32 Formula Three drivers in Macau. Father won't let him get ahead of himself.

"It's far too early [to think about F1], he's just turned 18 this year so he's still really young. I will say he's looking good, but at this level every year it's so important to keep improving, keep learning and keep showing his talent. He's well-placed, he's doing well, but he needs to keep working."

A win here would help a lot of course. "I think he has a chance, he's showing good speed," added Sainz. This is a race where it's a little bit of a lottery, there are many good and very experienced drivers. It's not easy but I'm sure he will try hard."

Sainz Snr tried a bit of Formula Ford in the early 80s but describes single-seater racing as "a different world" to rallying. Yet his experience is still there to be called upon. "I give him some advice, but in general things, not in details. He has his engineer for that kind of thing, for me its more about behaviour, approach, attitude and psychology … are important also," he added.

As for the rest of the family, there seems little prospect of Carlos' older and younger sisters, Blanca and Ana getting involved. Not really, no - they don't like motorsport at all," he laughed.

Maybe it's not in the genes after all.