WOKING, England (Reuters) - Carlos Sainz intends to be McLaren’s leader on the track this season and said he felt no pressure to be stepping into fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso’s shoes at the Formula One team.
The 24-year-old has joined from Renault, where he was on loan from Red Bull, on a two-year deal in a new lineup with 19-year-old British rookie Lando Norris.
Sainz, son of the former world rally champion of the same name, will begin his fifth season in Formula One after starting out in 2015 at Toro Rosso as team mate to Max Verstappen.
“There’s no pressure, really,” he told reporters at the launch of McLaren’s new blue and papaya colored MCL34 car on Thursday.
“This year we are not fighting for any world titles, it’s not the same situation as Fernando maybe back in the day,” he said of the double world champion who left Formula One at the end of last year.
“I’m impatient to win, but I don’t need to win now or never... I think the results Fernando did last year were great and I respect it a lot but I don’t feel the pressure of going into his shoes. Fernando is Fernando and Carlos is Carlos.”
McLaren, who last won a race in 2012 and have fallen well off the pace of the top three teams, were sixth last year and are going through a major restructuring as they climb back into contention.
“I like what I see, I like the way the restructuring has been, and now we’re ready to go racing and see where the car is and from there start the development and the recovery,” said Sainz.
Now Spain’s only F1 driver, Sainz is close to Alonso and he said they had kept in touch over the European winter about doing some rallying and karting.
The younger Spaniard has moved near to the Mclaren factory in Woking, Surrey and said he felt at home, even if he was still coming to terms with the local food and the rough state of the roads.
“I’m really motivated for this challenge and I really want to lead this team and to do that I need to be around, for whatever they need me,” he said.
“I love this place, I love this factory, I like the atmosphere here. Every time you go through those doors and you see the heritage, all those old cars, it makes me feel like a very lucky guy to be part of this team.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris