A phenomenal win by Max Verstappen is what will define the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix for years to come, but he wasn't the only driver to put in a potentially career-defining performance. Valentin Khorounzhiy explains.

In any other grand prix, a young driver delivering a career-best finish at his home track – and handily beating a more experienced teammate in the process – would be talk of the town.

But Spain 2016 was, of course, no ordinary race. When Max Verstappen took the chequered flag in first place after 66 grueling laps, the Dutchman insured he'd rightly monopolise around half of the coverage, with the over half going to the Mercedes clash.

As Verstappen celebrated on his cool-down lap, his former team's message to his former teammate rang out: "Si, Carlos! Si. P6. Bravo."

Most comfortable

You'd have to imagine it was pretty hard for Sainz to watch his teammate Verstappen bag up the promotion to Red Bull, and it probably was reasonably daunting to be reunited with Daniil Kvyat, the very Daniil Kvyat who beat Sainz in GP3 in 2013 and earned a Formula 1 promotion a year in advance.

But the Spaniard insisted that the move has made his position at Toro Rosso no less comfortable and, on the Barcelona race's evidence, he meant it.

And why wouldn't that be the case? Forget, for a second, the tensions between the Verstappen and Sainz camps at the start of 2016 because, by all indications, Sainz these days is a cool enough head to not let that affect him.

Even if they would have been getting along super well, being split from the Dutchman should be a boost for Sainz.

For, while a lot of people noticed that he was doing a perfectly good job since his arrival at STR, much of the media hardly ever mentioned his name if not in conjunction with Verstappen's. And the highest praise he got seemed to come from Verstappen sceptics, who adopted Sainz as their "protest candidate".

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Sainz's qualifying in Spain felt among his strongest. He's been higher up the grid before, but it's hard to remember him being this obviously the team leader in any previous grand prix build-up.

Then again, it was a pretty rocking qualifying effort on its own merit, with a four-tenths gain between Q2 and Q3, which is what allowed him to comfortably clear Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso for P8.

Fighting for Red Bull's win

P8 is what set him up for a lightning start as, after the Mercedes duo eliminated each other, it was a veritable Red Bull 1-2-3 – Sainz crucially clearing both Ferraris and lining up as the buffer between the parent teamRed Bull and the rest of the pack for the safety car restart.

"Ferrari were, with DRS, 35kph quicker than us before braking into Turn 1," Sainz recalled after the race. "The team was telling me on the radio: 'Take it easy with them, it's not our race'.

"I said: 'Okay, I am going to take it easy, but they are not going to pass me on the first lap they arrive. I'll at least play for a bit with them, leave them on the outside for a couple of times.' "

The race restarted on lap 4 and Sainz dutifully started acting rearguard for Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen as he baulked fourth-placed Sebastian Vettel. By lap eight, when Vettel finally cleared him with the use of DRS, the German was more than four seconds adrift of the Bulls.

And Raikkonen was held up even further, his own tussle with Sainz leaving him almost 10 seconds off the race lead when the pit stop window opened.

Sainz said: "I managed to hold on pretty well the two times I defended, then they told me 'take it easy, take it easy, it's not our race' - and from there I kind of let them go.'

"[Red Bull] know I was doing that kind of a job for them."

Trying to gauge now just how important Sainz's early defense was to the eventual outcome of the race is a bit of revisionist history, but his efforts certainly helped Red Bull at the time, the Austrian team managing to get both of its drivers on new tyres without fear of being overhauled on strategy.

For the rest of the grand prix, everything took a backseat to the thrilling Red BullFerrari showdown, and Sainz's own race was no different.

The Spaniard took to the pits right after surrendering fourth place to Raikkonen, switching to a new set of mediums in order to undercut Valtteri Bottas.

That didn't quite work out, as Bottas put in a couple of very strong laps on used softs and managed to leapfrog Sainz despite stopping later. The Finn pulled away from that point on, and, with nobody really challenging the Toro Rosso from behind, Sainz brought the car home for his career-best finish of sixth.

The aftermath

Jubilant with the outcome of his own race, Sainz, commendably, did not take the opportunity to assert himself over new teammate Kvyat, who ended up more than half a minute adrift.

"I know him from a very young age, I know his strong side," he said of Kvyat. "He normally does really well in the final stint of the season - last year with Red Bull, [2014] with Toro Rosso.

"I'm convinced by Monaco he will fight - and at the end, he finished P10. You can consider that a struggle, but from P13, it's a very good result for the team."

Indeed, there's a reason to expect a proper showdown between Sainz and Kvyat over the rest of the 2015, two very strong drivers who probably know each other better than any other pairing on the grid.

But for now it's advantage Sainz, and with Red Bull's "fifth man" Pierre Gasly having left Barcelona with the points lead in GP2, Sainz needs to continue to outperform Kvyat.

At the same time, if the Spaniard does carry on with this form, keeping his Toro Rosso seat for 2017 might not be good enough. On Friday, before his breakthrough performance in the grand prix, Sainz said he has no doubt that he is ready for a top team.

"Red Bull knows what I am capable of doing – and I think many people know [as well]. It's just about showing it.

"I have no doubt I am ready. You give me a top team seat right now and I am ready.

"I asked [Helmut Marko why Verstappen was promoted over me]. He said: 'Look, we keep trusting in you – at the moment, it's Max who's got this opportunity , but if you keep doing what you're doing, keep fighting, keep showing your speed and just put some more results together, your opportunity can come very soon.' "

On Sunday, Sainz subsequently reckoned that, in putting together a strong grand prix, he gave Red Bull "the only thing" that was left to show. As such, it's back to square one - with another dilemma - for the Austrian team.

Red Bull has kept hold of Max Verstappen. How does it now hold onto Carlos Sainz as well?

Source: Motorsport.com

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