Carlos Sainz is relishing the opportunity to hog the limelight of being a Ferrari driver in 2021 but won’t even think about it until the last lap of the last race of this truncated season is over.
The Spanish driver has been handed the task of filling the seat left vacant by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel who will leave the storied Italian outfit once this campaign is over.
Sainz, currently behind the wheel of McLaren, insists he is up to the challenge.
“It’s always a challenge to succeed a four-time world champion with the experience of Sebastian,” said the 25-year-old.
“I think he is one of the best drivers in F1 still and he will go down in history as one of the best.
“He has always been my reference. I grew up in the junior team and I have always wanted to emulate Sebastian for a career.”
Sainz arrived in Formula One in 2015 driving for Toro Rosso.
Then followed a spell with Renault while his debut season with McLaren in 2019 saw him clinch his best championship finish of sixth.
That experience, he believes, will stand him in good stead for what may come at Ferrari.
“It’s going to be very difficult to succeed Seb but at the same time I was in McLaren succeeding Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion with a lot of experience also.
“And I could do the job so at least the confidence is high.”
On Saturday, Sainz finished ahead of Vettel in qualifying for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard was eighth while Vettel was 11th fastest, failing to make the final qualifying session.
However, he saw future teammate Charles Leclerc finish one place ahead of him while fellow McLaren driver Lando Norris carved out a career-best fourth-place.
“The atmosphere is different but for sure I am going to realise at some point that there are more people watching me because I am in Ferrari next year but I don’t mind it,” said Sainz.
“Last year, sometimes, no one saw me on the TV! So I don’t mind having a bit more attention, I am not going to complain.
“But I was also surprised to see how much Ferrari was watching me.”
Sunday’s race in Spielberg will be the first of a coronavirus-hit season.
So far, only eight races – all in Europe – have been confirmed out of an original record schedule of 22 for this year.
Despite the uncertainties, Sainz says he is only thinking of McLaren, not Ferrari.
“After the last lap of the last race, it will be time to switch my focus. Until then, I am so committed to this project, to this team and to doing well.