Carlos Sainz crowned his best-ever Formula 1 season with a top six finish in the Drivers’ Championship in Abu Dhabi.

The 25-year-old son of two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz Sr, achieved it with a breathless 10th place in the season-closing race. 

It was Sainz’s fifth season in F1, but his first with McLaren. The 25-year-old fully integrated himself from the start. Moving close to the team’s Woking base.

“So, definitely I’ve been around a lot more than in any other team this last couple of months. Moving in definitely helps, living 15 minutes away from here, being available for the team for whatever they needed me for was, I think, a really good idea for myself, for the team. A lot of simulator [work] but also seeing how the team has built this car from scratch.”

McLaren’s MCL34 came without the design flaws of its predecessor. A car compromised by the late switch from Honda to Renault engines in 2017.

Sainz was immediately comfortable with his car, and environment.

“It’s a new team, it’s a new car, a new philosophy, a recovery plan taking place here. But I already feel at home.”

Recovery it was. Sainz and team mate Lando Norris drove McLaren to a fourth place finish in the Constructors’ Championship. Its best position since 2012.

Individually, the Spaniard targeted a top six finish in the drivers’ championship. Which meant beating a driver from one of F1’s recognised ‘Top Three’ teams: Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. 

Sainz went into the season finale level on 95 points with Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman spent the first half of the year in a Red Bull. Although Gasly was out of contention early in Abu Dhabi, his second place in Brazil meant that unless Sainz scored points, Gasly would take the coveted sixth on a countback. 

Sainz started the last lap 11th, one place shy of the points…

“I wanted that championship P6 more than anything and had to do it on the last lap!” Sainz explained. “I just made it by [Hulkenberg] at Turn 11 - my very last overtaking opportunity. It was super-exciting. Lots of adrenaline!”

It was a bitter pill for Hulkenberg to swallow. In what could have been the 32-year-old German’s final Grand Prix. He wanted to finish in the points. And he wanted to beat teammate Daniel Ricciardo, with whom he has fought a keen rivalry all year. But

Sainz’s move put ‘The Hulk’ off-line and out of the points. To add insult to injury, Ricciardo scrambled past as well…

Sainz’s season was comfortably his best in Formula 1. He almost doubled his best previous seasonal points tally. And was “Best of the rest” behind F1’s top three teams in Monaco/Britain/Hungary/Russia and Japan. Amid one of the most closely-fought midfield battles ever seen in F1.