Renault link: Fernando Alonso, right, and Carlos Sainz, who is on a one-year loan to Renault from Red Bull. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Renault link: Fernando Alonso, right, and Carlos Sainz, who is on a one-year loan to Renault from Red Bull. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Barcelona — Carlos Sainz has a strong record and many fans at his home Spanish Grand Prix but he can expect his return to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya this weekend to feel particularly special.

For the past three seasons the 23-year-old Formula One driver has been with Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso — finishing ninth, sixth and seventh respectively in Spain — but Sunday’s will be his first home race with Renault. And that, for a generation brought up on Fernando Alonso’s ground-breaking 2005 and 2006 championship-winning years with the French factory team, means a lot.

"It is like a love story, Spain with Renault," Sainz said. "I was the first one who was a big fan of Fernando and Renault back in the day so that’s why I feel so proud and so comfortable here in this team and why I am working here at the moment like I was going to be here forever."

Whether his stay is for longer than just the one-year loan remains open, with Red Bull having the option to pull Sainz back if Australian Daniel Ricciardo decides to leave that team at the end of the season.

I have a big challenge but I knew since Austin last year that I was facing probably one of the strongest drivers on the grid at the moment
Carlos Sainz

Sainz is evidently keen to stay, and Renault want to keep him, but his immediate priority is to measure up against German teammate Nico Hulkenberg who has out-qualified him 4-0 this season and is well ahead on points.

"I’m comfortable where I am. I have full confidence in this project and I’m very comfortable doing a full season with Renault without really having a clear picture of the future," he said in Baku in April.

"I’m more concerned about performance, how can we make this car faster, how can we evolve as a team and how can I help this team move forward."

He did that in Azerbaijan, the race immediately before Barcelona, where he finished fifth after Hulkenberg hit the wall and retired.

It was the first time he beat the German in 2018.

The points left Renault one behind fourth-placed McLaren, who use the same engines, in the constructors’ standings.

The result was also Renault’s best since the former champions rescued Lotus from imminent collapse and returned as a full team in 2016, and set Sainz up nicely for home. "I’ve always felt very special and respected in Spain, in Barcelona," he said.

"Probably my first qualifying there, making P5 [fifth on the grid], helped to get the Spanish fans to believe in me," he said of a 2015 race in which he out-qualified and beat his then-teammate Max Verstappen.

In 2016, a race won by Verstappen after moving to Red Bull, he ran as high as third.

"I don’t know why it’s always been a very good race for me and I’ve performed very well and that has helped me to have my little fan base in Barcelona," said the Real Madrid fan.

Before Baku he had been struggling to get the car to his liking, particularly in cornering, and Hulkenberg seemed to move up a gear.

"I have a big challenge but I knew since Austin last year that I was facing probably one of the strongest drivers on the grid at the moment," Sainz said of his experienced teammate.

"I’m working hard. I think that’s the only response to it. Working hard to get closer.

"I think the margins are still extremely small, we’re talking about a tenth, or two-tenths sometimes, which multiplies itself in the race because of track position and all that.

"It can fall to one side or the other, especially when I know that I am still not 100% confident with the car. I know there’s performance to come."

Reuters

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