It’s all about reading between the lines. When Carlos Sainz was asked a couple of races ago about his future, the Spaniard’s opposition to a fourth successive season with Toro Rosso was made abundantly clear.
A few minutes later, when quizzed about his reaction, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner was equally adamant that the brand’s young gun was going nowhere.
The subtext to all of this was that Sainz was letting Red Bull know it would be unwise to keep a driver unhappy at his work. His mentor, meanwhile, was hinting that the terms would need to be right in order to part company with their driver investment.
And what do we appear to have? Sainz is going to Renault as part of a deal that clearly suits Red Bull. After what we can only assume was a lengthy negotiation, Red Bull no longer has the worry of a driver who might be less than fully committed while, at the same time, the appeasing of Renault has allowed Toro Rosso to break their Renault contract and switch to the much-maligned Honda power unit.
While Toro Rosso has no say in the matter, Red Bull are quids-in as they keep an eye on Honda development with a view to becoming Honda’s engine partner if the Japanese engineers ever get this right.
Don’t discount it, particularly with the hugely talented Mario Illien having recently clocked up a few air miles between Brixworth and Japan. The Renault unit may have improved but it’s still not on the pace. Given McLaren’s judgement these days, it would be just their luck if the Honda-powered Toro Rosso breezed past the McLaren-Renault on Shanghai’s long back straight. Fernando Alonso’s comment on that doesn’t bear thinking about.
And you have to wonder what Sainz might make of such a scenario. More important is the possible insertion of a contractual clause that allows Red Bull to have first call on Sainz should either Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen suddenly go elsewhere. They are contracted until the end of 2018, of course, but Max and his father Jos are hugely ambitious and this latest multi-party shuffle shows how flexible contracts can be.
In the meantime, Sainz’s move to Renault has sparked several strands of speculation: Who will come out on top – Carlos or Nico Hulkenberg? Who goes to Toro Rosso? What becomes of Jolyon Palmer? Is this the end of Robert Kubica’s comeback?
And here’s a thought for the future. On a weekend when speculation was rife, one piece of hard news was yet another victory for Carlin’s Lando Norris on his way to the European Formula 3 title. The 17-year-old is the real deal – and that was according to Trevor Carlin when I bumped into the accomplished entrant in the hire car queue at Milan airport.
Carlin has handled many future stars, including Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. When I first met Ricciardo at Silverstone in 2009, Carlin said he was the best he had seen. Trevor is not prone to exaggeration and when he claims Norris is even better, then it’s worth taking note.
McLaren have the young Englishman under contract, so we know which way he is heading. But despite the current shuffle, you have to hope they have a decent car for Norris when he arrives in F1 sooner rather than later. It’s fair to ask if this great team’s demise has been purely down to the engine? Reading between the lines on that one is not as simple as it might appear.