F1 drivers are some of the fittest athletes on the planet, with their diets and exercise regimes off the track crucial to success on it. But that doesn’t mean their favourite meals are permanently off the table. We sat down with Carlos Sainz to discuss his passion for food and fitness, finding a work/life balance and how it all translates to the racetrack with Ferrari…
It’s a pleasant summer’s day in central London as I hop off the tube at Oxford Circus, but rather than heading straight to F1’s offices, I this time take a detour off Regent St. and head for the Sabor eatery – meaning ‘flavour’ in Spanish – to sample some tapas specialities.
Joining me for the experience is Ferrari driver Sainz who, fresh from competing in an action-packed British Grand Prix, is ready to get a taste of home with dishes including Piquillo croquetas, Tortilla Melosa and a special ‘Carlos’ Choice’ 40 days aged beef burger.
After tucking into the food offerings from Michelin star chef Nieves Barragan Mohacho, we sit down for a wide-ranging chat about food, keeping fit and Spanish culture to find out what makes Sainz tick when he isn’t charging around circuits across the world.
Sainz’s love for Spanish food
“Every time I do these kind of events, they know what I love,” Sainz beams as we begin our conversation and reflect on the delicacies being served up. “Obviously from Spanish dishes, for me nothing beats a good tortilla or some good croquetas, maybe even some octopus. If not, my go-to cheat meal is always a hamburger.”
For Sainz, heading back to his home nation and enjoying some of the dishes he grew up with is always a highlight on F1’s whistle-stop tour of the globe, but there are two other countries that get his tastebuds tingling year in, year out.
“I always say the best places where I eat are – not in this particular order – but Spain, Italy and Japan,” he says. “This is where I always look forward to the food and I tell my engineers that I might be half a kilo or a kilo heavier that weekend!
“Once the [F1] weekend starts on Thursday, you follow a very specific diet, you know it’s going to go well for your stomach, but on Sunday night we all go out for a good dinner, or maybe on Wednesdays before the race weekend starts, so you always get to taste a bit the city where you go.”
Can he eat whatever he wants?
Sainz points out that sampling these local delights, and veering away from an otherwise strict health and fitness routine, has never been an issue for him despite the obvious weight-related targets in F1 that keep the drivers on their toes.
“I’m a very lucky guy,” he says with another smile. “I can eat as much as I want and I will never go above 73 kilos. It doesn’t matter how much I eat because of the amount of sport [I do] and I think my constitution is just very, very, very good in a way. I think it will change with age, but at least it’s helping me now.
“I still follow my diet, I’m really into fitness and calories, the amount of protein I eat in a day. When you love fitness, you take care of these things, but when it’s time to enjoy I also make sure I enjoy food, and I have a good relationship with food.”
At an event hosted by his long-time personal partner Estrella Galicia 0.0, Sainz is well aware that our interview would likely not be happening without the support he has received from his backers, family and friends at home in Spain on his way to F1.
After winning the 2011 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC title, Sainz collected trophies in British F3, FIA F3, GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 – along with the 2014 crown in the latter category that effectively secured his F1 promotion to Toro Rosso as a Red Bull-backed youngster.
From food to family
“Especially when you are going through the ranks, it’s super important,” he says of the help and guidance he received. “F1 is a very difficult place to reach – you need support, you need backing from a partnership. A company deciding to invest in me and invest in my career without knowing if I was ever going to make it is fundamental.
“You wouldn’t be able to do this alone. You need good backing, but you also need good stability back home, good support from your team, from your family, your friends. It’s a very lonely life when you get on the road.
“When you go back home [it’s important] to get back to your normal life, to go for a beer with your friends, to go for some tapas, and that’s what resets my head before going to the next race.”
That support network includes his father, Carlos, a multiple champion rally driver in the 1990s – with more than 750 stage wins behind him – who still competes to this day through annual attempts at the demanding Dakar Rally.
“I’m very lucky to have had a double world rally champion as a father that has been able to teach me many things about life, many things about racing, especially about the attitude that you need to have towards things,” says Sainz junior.
“If you want to be a world champion one day, or you want to be good at what you want to do, he’s lived through those experiences that are in the end serving as an example. I’m using it as much as possible… I mean at 28, 29, he still teaches me things, gives me some good advice that I use.”
Making an impact with Ferrari
And it appears to be paying off, with Sainz enjoying arguably the best spell of his career at Ferrari, where he has taken pole positions and a race win and established himself alongside the highly-rated Charles Leclerc.
“I’m very proud, very proud,” he says, reflecting on the journey so far. “Especially making it to a team like Ferrari, wearing red every weekend. I’m not taking it for granted, because I know how tough it is and how much it has meant… How much it has cost me to make it here, how much I had to sacrifice and put an effort into this.
“But now I’m also trying to enjoy it as much as possible, trying to live my dream and at the same time keep focused and keep being better. It’s striving always to get better as a driver and be a better human.”
Sainz feels he is in the perfect environment to continue to develop on and off the track in the years to come, as he pushes to add to his victory tally and eventually challenge for the ultimate goal: becoming world champion.
“Ferrari is a great place to be,” adds Sainz. “Every circuit you go to you have the tifosi, you have more support than any other driver… Every race almost feels like a home race because of the amount of support you get from all the Ferrari fans around the world.
“It is true that it’s also demanding, it’s a very demanding team from a mental point of view because there’s more pressure surrounding it. We have a lot of sponsors and a lot of events to attend.
“You need to be in the peak of your career, I think, to be fully committed to being a Ferrari driver. I think I’m at that stage, I’m still very young but at the same time experienced, and I’m maximising it as much as I can.”
A bright future for Sainz and Spain
Sainz is also using the constant waves of support from Spain – which currently boasts two F1 drivers in himself and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, along with its Grand Prix in Barcelona – as further energy.
“I think now F1 is booming, not only in Spain but worldwide, and it’s a great moment to be part of this movement of F1 all around the world,” he says.
“It’s thanks also maybe to the Netflix phenomenon, the good work everyone’s doing in social media to explain the sport, to make it more close to the younger generation. I think it’s a great thing to be part of F1 nowadays and everyone that is part of it, we’re going through a good moment.”
Going forward, and with all these ingredients in the mix on and off the track, Sainz feels he is on the brink of cooking up a storm…
“The way time has flown by, the fact that I’m now in Ferrari, living the dream, it’s all turned out to be very good – I cannot complain,” he adds. “But it’s also due to how well I’ve been surrounded, obviously through my own efforts, through my own talent, through my own way of doing things, and hopefully the best is yet to come!”