Spain marks the traditional start of the European season, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya a welcome sight for the Formula 1 paddock, after two months and four flyaway races.

And while the main focus of the weekend will be the front of the grid, with the gloves off at Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas turning ice cold, for a real shot at the world title as the Silver Arrows go head-to-head.

…the fan focus at the Montmeló track will be on Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who is spearheading the challenge at McLaren.

And he’s had the right approach from the start in asking the team’s fans to keep the faith after four difficult seasons, three with Honda. 

“I ask them to be supportive, to be patient because this is not going to be day to day all of a sudden start winning races. It’s going to take a bit of a process, we’re all going to work flat-out, everyone in the factory is working flat-out, the drivers will be working flat-out on driving flat-out and I’m sure we’re going to make it back.”

But after four races, McLaren now sits fourth in the constructors’ standings as F1’s best of the rest. One point up on Racing Point, five on Alfa Romeo, care of a double points finish in Azerbaijan, its first for 2019.

Staying there, though, will be a challenge, as the development war kicks up a gear. More double points finishes to capitalise on Renault and Haas’ dire season starts has to be the objective.

Sainz also has to focus on being a team leader and showing up his rookie teammate Lando Norris, who has so far been one of the standouts of the season, with three Q3 appearances and 12 points scored.

… the Spaniard into Q3 just once, in Bahrain and scoring only six points. The man nicknamed “Chilli” proving to be mild so far.

But the 24-year-old showed his commitment joining McLaren pre-season, having moved to England to be closer to the team..

…something so often undervalued by racing drivers, despite the energy and camaraderie it creates in just being accessible.

“Definitely I’ve been around a lot more than any other team [in] these last couple of months. Moving in definitely helps, living 15-minutes away from here. Being available for the team for whatever they needed me, was a really good move for myself, for the team.”

Sainz knows, however, this McLaren journey has to work.

Up until 2019, Sainz has been an F1 journeyman, albeit a highly rated one, with two and a half seasons at Red Bull’s B-team Toro Rosso.

…where he was overlooked for the main team drive in 2016, with his then-teammate Max Verstappen getting the call up.

… before being released to Renault, where he raced for just over a year, before being dropped in favour of a former Red Bull star Daniel Ricciardo. McLaren then wooing Sainz for a two-year deal.

RENAULT, 2017-2018:
“It is a great thing especially because McLaren is a great team with a lot of history in Formula One. It is a great opportunity for me to come into the team and build a two year relationship with that team and I'm really looking forward to it.”

But it’s now time to lift his performances to the next level… 

And perhaps take advice from his father, two-time World Rally Champion and Dakar winner Carlos Sainz Senior.

… who knows how to up his game when the going gets tough.

“He is an extremely fast driver, a great talent. He never ceases to learn and, for his age, he already has a good experience. I think he has a great future ahead.”

It’s crunch time for Sainz.