The 23-year-old is the first driver to be announced for 2019 by McLaren, following Alonso’s announcement on Tuesday that he will retire from the sport when his contract expires at the end of the year.
The Independent revealed on Wednesday that Sainz was on the verge of replacing his compatriot, and after the news was eventually confirmed on Thursday afternoon, the Spaniard signalled his desire to lead McLaren back to their former glory days – something that have not tasted in a decade.
“I’m delighted to finally be able to confirm that I’ll be a McLaren driver from the 2019 season,” said Sainz. “It’s something I’ve been looking at for a while and I’m very excited about this next chapter in my career.
“I’ve been a McLaren fan for as long as I can remember. It’s a great name in the sport with an incredible heritage, and the list of drivers that have raced for McLaren over the years are among the heroes of Formula One.
“Fernando is of course one of them, so it’s particularly special that I’ll be taking his seat as part of the next generation of Spanish racing drivers behind the wheel of a McLaren.
“Finally, I’d like to thank everyone at McLaren for giving me this opportunity to fulfil a childhood dream. The team has a long-term plan for the future and I’m very much looking forward to playing a key role in its journey back to success.”
McLaren chief executive Zak Brown said: “It’s no secret that Carlos is a huge admirer of Fernando’s, and it’s fitting that he will be stepping into his seat as a Spaniard with a legendary name in motorsport. We think he’ll be a great fit for McLaren and we’re really excited to have him join us from next season and beyond.”
Sainz’s move to McLaren is the latest in a series of changes to this year’s grid, which have not only been affected by Alonso’s departure but also by the stunning decision taken by Daniel Ricciardo to join Renault. The Australian’s announcement earlier this month pushed Sainz out of the team as it was also confirmed that Nico Hulkenberg would be retained, and although Red Bull had a recall clause in Sainz’s contract, it was only able to be triggered if he was signed up to the senior team and not Toro Rosso.
That led Sainz to seek opportunities elsewhere, with McLaren an obvious target regardless of Alonso’s departure. It was likely that had the two-time world champion stayed for another year, Sainz would’ve been signed as his teammate in place of Stoffel Vandoorne, but Alonso’s retirement could potentially hand the Belgian a stay of execution and keep him in a seat with McLaren for 2019.
Signalling McLaren’s delight at securing Sainz – who will be heading into his fifth season of F1 after stints with Toro Rosso and Renault – Brown added: “We’re incredibly excited to have Carlos join us as a McLaren driver. We’ve been assessing him for some time now and rate him very highly among the next generation of young talent emerging through the ranks in Formula One.
“Carlos brings with him the perfect blend of youth and experience. Although he’s just 23, he’ll be starting his fifth season in the sport with us and will bring with him a huge amount of racing experience, both in Formula One and with our partner Renault.”
McLaren are yet to put a timeframe on the announcement of who will partner Sainz next year, but Vandoorne is very much in pole position for the seat after both Alonso and Brown recently spoke in defence of his difficult two years in F1. His nearest rival is the current McLaren test driver Lando Norris, although it’s understood that the team currently favour the 18-year-old Briton remaining in Formula Two next year and increasing his role by participating in Friday practice throughout the season.
What could change that though is if Norris overcomes the 11-point deficit to George Russell in the F2 championship and win emulate Lewis Hamilton by winning the title as a teenager, given the triumph saw him graduate immediately to the senior F1 team.
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