By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Carlos Sainz has plenty of ambitions of his own for 2017 but the young Spaniard also hopes to see friend and compatriot Fernando Alonso fall back in love with Formula One after years of frustration.
The 22-year-old, starting his third season with Toro Rosso, knows how important a year it is for the double world champion he first met as a young karter when the now 35-year-old was winning with Renault.
Alonso, who came close to a third title with Ferrari, will be out of contract with former champions McLaren at the end of the year and has said he will decide his future after the summer break.
“I believe what he says about taking a decision later in the year. I believe, because I know him and have talked to him, that he is very excited about this season,” Sainz told Reuters in an interview on the second day of testing.
“He is really wanting to fight even if it is for P3s (third places). He’s going to fight for it, and I’m convinced that then he will take a decision,” he added.
“I also think that he needs to fall in love with F1 again.
“I think he was a bit disappointed with how F1 had been in the last four or five years and I think he needs to fall back in love with it and then his comments will be a lot more positive. So hopefully this car helps do that.”
The immediate signs did not look promising, with Alonso having to sit out most of Monday morning due to an oil system problem and Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne sidelined for much of Tuesday with engine problems.
Alonso managed just 29 laps on Monday, compared to world champions Mercedes who put in 152, and Vandoorne did 40 on Tuesday.
McLaren have not won a race since 2012 and have struggled for reliability and performance in two seasons with Honda. Alonso has also been vocal against the need to save fuel and tyres in recent years.
He revealed to reporters last week at the launch of his new McLaren that he was contacted by Mercedes after world champion Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement in December, and Sainz said he had been too.
“I’m not going to lie, they asked about my contract situation with Red Bull but Red Bull was fully clear that I had a contract signed for them for 2016 and the future. So there was nothing else going on,” he said.
In two seasons Sainz has earned a deserved reputation as a man to watch, a talent on the radar of teams bigger than Toro Rosso.
He recognized that one day he would have to develop his career elsewhere, with Toro Rosso priding themselves on bringing through young talent, but like fellow Real Madrid fan Alonso he would not be considering his options until after the summer.
“I told (principal) Franz (Tost) and the whole team: ‘Look, it doesn’t matter what you read in the press or hear in the paddock’,” he said.
“I am so committed to Toro Rosso for this year and I am willing so badly to do well this year with Toro Rosso that I really don’t care of my future. We will have time over the summer and in the second half of the season.
“I am 100 percent focused on this target that is this first half of the season to help Toro Rosso and myself, because at the end I also need another good year to position myself.”
Sainz said he was convinced that, with a decent chassis and a switch from an old Ferrari engine to the latest Renault, the target of fifth overall in the constructors’ standings was achievable for the Italy-based team.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)