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Carlos Sainz Denim Theory, Explained

Howdy, hi, hello. Welcome to Engine Failure, a culture newsletter that dives into what the fuck is really going on in Formula 1. It’s written by me, Lily Herman.

Greetings, baddies, and welcome to another bonus issue! I know, wow! SO MUCH FORMULA 1 STUFF!!!!!

Since I’m a very nice, generous, and altruistic person, I decided to put together this 2023 season preview of sorts. Of course, instead of focusing on the things that the mainstream F1 media claims are important, we’re going to discuss the stakes and narratives that I personally care about. And yes, I will also go in-depth into the Carlos Sainz Denim Theory, since it’s been a few months since I discussed it and all sorts of biddes are all up in my DMs about it.

To go through our usual housekeeping: This is a reminder that the EF biddies over on Patreon are ramping up for a very fun Q&A to kick off the season. (So far, there are over 25 multi-part questions for me to answer?!?!)

Also, a last thing before we get started: If you have Formula 1-watching friends, family members, co-workers, and/or other loved ones in your life, the kindest thing you can do (for them and for me) is tell them to subscribe to Engine Failure. It’d mean a lot, and we really are hitting the ground running for this 2023 season.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Let’s boogie.

A Non-Exhaustive List of the 2023 Storylines That Actually Matter

There are plenty of other folks writing/talking up lists of key things to look out for during this upcoming season. Red Bull’s potential for continued dominance! Mercedes’ further struggles! Ferrari’s hope of maybe one day getting its shit together for more than 30 seconds!

While those are all great, I’m more invested in plenty of other storylines, which come up pretty frequently in Engine Failure. These narratives are, in my opinion, a liiiiiittle more fun (and unhinged), so let’s go through what I’m keeping an eye on as 2023 unfolds.

The Evolution of the Carlos Sainz Denim Theory

The time has come: We must reckon with the sins of our denim-clad man Carlos Sainz.

To recap: Long before Engine Failure was even a figment of my imagination and I was simply a Formula 1 fan who also happened to be a professional writer, I was part of a now-defunct F1 group chat where, among many things, I used to jokingly post photos of Carlos’ denim attire during race weekends. It was a simple joke that turned into a more complex joke when it kept actually being proven true (“Carlos crashed, it must’ve been the pants tehehe”) that then morphed into its own section of writing starting with the very first issue of EF in August 2021.

How it works: The Carlos Sainz Denim Theory is in place only during the four days of any race weekend (media day, free practice, quali, and race day). There are three main types of bottoms that matter:

  • Medium-wash skinny jeans: These aren’t so much a “good” thing as they are a “Carlos isn’t making his race weekend worse” thing. Plus they’re…very thigh-hugging. That counts for something, right? (Oh, and yes, they must be skinny! No straight-leg or baggy shit here!!!!)

  • Navy chinos: Carlos is basically wishing harm upon his own race weekend if he wears these.

  • White pants: These are the most dreaded selection of them all, as they cause mass chaos for the rest of the grid (but Carlos himself is spared). More specifically, something wacky and out-of-character happens to at least one driver during the race weekend if the white pants are donned. (For instance, this could look like both Merc cars crashing out in a free practice session or something else.)

We had a bit of a problem during the 2022 season though: Carlos started wearing many different kinds of bottoms and then added chaotic tops to the mix. We had chino shorts, the Black Polo of Doom™, and many other combos that made me just want to give up.

Now, this entire endeavor is fully made-up by yours truly, but there are two main “rules”:

  • The denim only matters in the context of a race weekend; I don’t care what bottoms Carlos wears at any other point in the year. (People send me photos of him doing press or on vacation, and while that’s all fine ‘n’ dandy, it doesn’t relate to The Theory.)

  • People asked me about this during the last month, so I’ll answer: Preseason testing (and any form of sim testing and/or non-race weekend driving) doesn’t count as far as The Pants™ and their powers are concerned.

That’s it! There’s not much more to Carlos Sainz Denim Theory than that!

Pierresteban’s Non-Friendship

Quite possibly the greatest grid pairing (measured by likelihood of absolute implosion and potential for extreme pettiness) is the one at Alpine with Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. Personally, I think they’ll generally be able to keep it together for the most part, but if one starts doing way better than the other on the track or they crash into each other, all bets could be off.

To recap why these two lil’ escargots have a rocky relationship: An Event™ seems to have Occurred™ between the two of them in their teens, though sourcing differs on what exactly that is. One school of thought, as told by some interviews with Pierre, is that there may have been some issues with professional jealousy, where one person reached a certain point in their career first. Others have hinted that their parents were the sources of the tension, and the kids had to deal with that fallout. And then Ralf Schumacher, in one of the greatest plot twists of all time, insinuated on live TV that Pierre stole Esteban’s girlfriend back in the day. (I’d like to believe this is true purely because it makes me think Esteban told Mick something which Mick then told to ol’ Uncle Schumi, who’s a bit of a blabbermouth, to put it mildly. The idea that Mick could be a gossip maven is almost titillating.)

Now of course, you may be saying, “Lily, stop reading into this!!! That’s ridiculous!!!” Dear reader, you thought I’d show up to this rodeo WITHOUT RECEIPTS??? Look no further than both drivers’ offseason postings: In one of the greatest signs of disrespect in this modern era, Pierre, Esteban, and buddy Charles Leclerc went to a basketball game. Esteban posted about the three of them multiple times on the feed and Stories, while Pierre posted a single posterity photo and totally cut Esteban out of everything else. The same thing happened during a basketball pickup game and the Alpine launch. *TikTok sound* YOU’RE GONNA LOOK AT ME AND YOU’RE GONNA TELL ME I’M WRONG???? (Oh, and there was this weird snow trip too but ANYWAY.)

All this to say, everybody in the paddock (and large portions of the fanbase) are quite aware that these two, despite their reassurances, are hanging on by a thread. And now there’s a bit of a tug o’ war going on in my head: I want success for Alpine in 2023, but I’m also a glutton for petty conflict. I don’t know which side will win out!!!!

Logan Sargeant’s Steve Harvey Tracker

My wish for Logan Sargeant in 2023 is simple: I hope he meets Steve Harvey. It would be far too lofty for me to wish he'd amp up the personality stuff a little more (or for him to at least spill that impeachment tea…), so I just want him to meet his idol.

I’ve inhaled every piece of Logan Sargeant content the internet has to offer, and the fun facts I’ve learned (which he often repeats in basically every interview) can fit on a Post-It note. Here are about 80% of them:

  • He likes pasta. That could literally mean…anything. Like, is he a ragu or marinara girly? Does he love bucatini or linguine? Rigatoni or orecchiette? The people need answers!!!

  • He enjoys fishing on his boat but can’t cook and therefore can’t personally grill the things he catches.

  • He’s never been to a concert. (Considering Florida is basically the unofficial home state of America’s pop punk scene, among other genres, I find this deeply suspicious.)

    (A second aside: Williams, if you as a team are reading this newsletter, I’m humbly requesting that I, A Serious Media Person™, get the chance to write a profile of Logan where I take him to his first concert. Will it likely be something unhinged like The Wiggles? Of course, but that’s why I’m paid the big bucks.)

  • Most importantly for our purposes, Logan has spent the past eight months almost exclusively favoriting racing-related content on Twitter — except for a few Steve Harvey tweets. (He even went so far as to mention Steve Harvey again in this 23 questions video for Williams.)

    As such, I’m asking — nay, BEGGING — Williams to invite Steve Harvey to at least one of the U.S. races this year. And if they won’t do that for us, bring Logan on Family Feud! Even better, make him bring his actual family, whom I have, uh, endless questions about. Think of the collab, Williams!!!!


A Potential WAGs Grid Shake-Up

I’m gonna be honest, y’all: The vibes are weird on the WAGs front heading into this season. There are several rumored breakups that occurred sometime in the past few months, which means the potential for a greater number of single ‘n’ ready to mingle drivers in 2023.

And at the same time, there are a few stalwarts who are really on the move on our WAGs grid. As we know, Carmen Montero Mundt, Isa Hernáez, Tiffany Cromwell, and Lily He have been ultra-visible — both in the paddock and away from it — over the past six months or so. Meanwhile, Kelly Piquet has largely stayed away from the ‘gram following her controversial Vogue Netherlands cover last December. Charlotte Sine and Charles Leclerc broke up in early December as well, which has left a bit of a void given that Charlotte was the second-most followed significant other on the grid after Kelly and was certainly an active poster, to say the least.

There’s going to be a lot to talk about the WAGs this season, not just in terms of minutiae like fashion and sponsored content but also what the role of a significant other in this sport looks like and how that connection to Formula 1 is leveraged.

The Celebrification and Celebritization of Reserve Drivers

Fun fact: Celebritization and celebrification are actually two different words with slightly different definitions. I learned that from this superb academic journal article by University of Copenhagen professor Olivier Driessens, PhD. Here, Driessens says that celebrification is “the transformation of ordinary people and public figures into celebrities,” while celebritization is “conceptualized as a meta-process that grasps the changing nature, as well as the societal and cultural embedding of celebrity, which can be observed through its democratization, diversification, and migration.” (Whew, those were a lot of words, Olivier.)

All this to say, we've got a combo of both happening off of the grid this year. I briefly mentioned this earlier in the month, but we’re at an interesting spot in the world of F1 reserve driver culture, as two of the more high-profile Formula 1 drivers in recent memory (Mick Schumacher and Daniel Ricciardo) have shifted from being racers on the grid to being these supposedly behind-the-scenes roles, albeit they have entirely different sets of separate circumstances.

Mercedes has already made the most of Mick, treating him like the third member of a trio where he may not be the star, but he’s certainly still in the frame; he’s like the Kevin Jonas to Lewis Hamilton and George Russell’s Joe and Nick Jonas. (And yes, Lewis is Joe in this scenario while George is Nick. I think Lewis can be Nick too, but in no universe can George be Joe.)

There’s a whole other situation unfolding at Red Bull, where the team have essentially appointed Danny to the position of brand mascot. He went on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, galavanted around the team’s launch, and worked overtime in his duties as Drive to Survive’s brand ambassador.

I don’t think we’ll see reserve drivers be this publicly integrated with their teams or used so heavily in marketing every year — or even past this year, depending on what DR and Mick do. But I’m certainly fascinated by this dynamic and this idea that Formula 1 teams are expanding their own cinematic universes, so to speak. It’s also a smart model for both of these teams, who either have drivers who don’t always play ball or just simply aren’t as dynamic with the media.

Lewis’ Fashion Evolution

Lewis Hamilton appears to be at a turning point in his style game. Over the course of 2022, he went from working almost exclusively with Law Roach (who was behind many of Zendaya's recent awards season lewks) for his paddock fashion to Eric Mcneal, and with that has come some key differences. Especially towards the end of 2021, Lewis was pulling from the same four or five major fashion houses over and over again; there was a lot of Bottega, Gucci, and Alexander McQueen in particular.

The 2022 season started off in similar fashion, but as Eric took over more and more of the styling duties, Lew pulled out quite a few looks from smaller brands and indie ones, and he tried a wide array of different silhouettes. Loose matching sets are still Lewis’ go-to at this point (and his style is generally a little more subdued than it was even a year and a half ago), but I’m intrigued to see what he does this year, especially as a 38-year-old man who really found his sea legs in the fashion world in his thirties.

The Rise of F1 Fashion Ambassadors

It’s not that this wasn’t A Thing™ until now, but there’s been a massive uptick in recent months in drivers signing partnerships and ambassador deals with actual fashion brands as opposed to just conventional athletic apparel companies. Obviously Zhou Guanyu’s Dior and Lululemon partnerships are big ones, and while Lewis does whatever he wants, he has a few sartorial allegiances, like with Dior. Even Aston Martin (and by extension, block of Styrofoam Lance Stroll) have a thing going with Hugo Boss.

This only further signals what any reader of this newsletter already knows: Fashion is important in this sport, and more and more drivers and brands see the appeal of working together. Not only is there simply excellent exposure from wearing these looks into and around the paddock and on social media, but there’s just an inherent cool factor in identifying with these fashion houses. Love to see it.

And tangentially related to seeing more fashion in F1, a funny thing has transpired over the past nine months or so: A lot of people in the greater F1 media world (many of whom sort of scoffed at this arena just a few short years ago) are suddenly paying attention to the fashion side of the sport. It’s been…quite the sight to behold. Hmmmm.

Women Things™

Formula 1 has a problem: It’s an institutionally sexist enterprise that needs to show everybody that it’s trying to not exclude women — and fast. This is, of course, made harder by the fact that the W Series is basically in its Death Era™ and Jamie Chadwick has trotted off to Indy NXT this season.

Enter the F1 Academy.

I wrote late last year about my thoughts and feelings on it, and I already had this section written when news dropped yesterday (Wednesday, March 1st) that legit girlboss Susie Wolff was hired to lead it.

I have THOUGHTS about this hire:

  • I know a lot of us were eye-rolling about this endeavor when it was first launched, but Susie Wolff adds an air of legitimacy to the whole shebang in a way that I don’t think practically anyone else would. She’s the last woman to participate in an F1 weekend (which was…a decade ago), she ran a successful Formula E team, and she has a track record of working on gender equality initiatives in the sport. I’m also relieved that they didn’t appoint motherfucking David Coulthard to this.

  • At the same time, there are maybe only two or three women total I can think of off the top of my head that the Formula 1 ecosystem would find “qualified” for this role, and that depresses me. I also always get a little bit ehhhhhhhh whenever the same people are brought in to do DEI work within an org; the fact that Susie Wolff is always the poster child for this in F1 (in the same way Jamie Chadwick and a small number of other female drivers are always mentioned) makes me feel a tad icky in terms of what it means for the bigger picture. After all, is it really "progress" past a certain point if there are only a few Chosen Ones™?

  • I continue to remain hopeful that the F1 Academy will start the long journey to finally helping women get into all different kinds of motorsports, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m optimistic, if that makes sense. Still, I always root for success and I like Susie, even if she goes on retreats with non-dermatologist Barbara Sturm and her $300 face lotions.

As for what this means for the rest of the season, keep an eye out for periodic faux-attempts on the part of Formula 1 to acknowledge (but not necessarily entirely reckon with) the severe lack of female representation in all parts of this sport. I have a feeling this will be a hot topic all year.

Potential Proposals

I field a lot of questions about which F1 couples are likely to get married next, and the truth is, I don’t really know, nor do I spend much mental energy on it! Plus, this sport isn’t like (American) football or baseball or hockey or golf where everybody’s engaged at, like, 22; some drivers get married on the young-ish side, but Formula 1 is fascinating in that quite a few don’t get married until at least their mid-to-late thirties (or until their time in the sport is over) or well into their forties.

However, I think the question at the root of this line of inquiry is which couples have been together for a while and are getting Serious™. Putting two and two together, I’ll just point out that Carlos Sainz and Isa Hernáez are in their late twenties and have been a couple for well over half a decade. Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas and Tiffany Cromwell (both well into their thirties) have also been together for several years, own numerous businesses together, built some kind of Finnish woodland fortress, and genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company. Val’s been married before, which may affect things; divorced folks have a whole lot of feelings on going through those shenanigans again.

Political Fuckery

With the whole “FIA ban on political statements” bullshit comes a lot of fuckery, and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now.

Once again, the Formula 1 world dropped a lil’ treat in my lap the day before this issue was set to go out, which came in the form of F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali defending the sport’s presence in Saudi Arabia. He said that “revolutions are done in silence” and that Formula 1 is doing its part to make change in the region (apparently by enacting ~Western influence~...hmmm). I say this as disrespectfully as possible: That’s a load of fucking bullshit and we all know it.

Formula 1 has always been out of its depth when it comes to reckoning with its own geopolitical position, and I have a sense this will only get worse as the season goes on. It’s only a question of which issues will arise (and when), not if.

The Mysterious Case of Max’s Bracelets

Few EF side narratives have brought me as much joy as the intense tracking of Max Verstappen’s Cartier Love bracelet situation. (Btw, did y’all know Bracelet Stacking™ among men is a legit thing??? So legit, in fact, that the goddamn Wall Street Journal covered it???)

We went from one Cartier Love bracelet to two during the 2021 season, and then the situation was further complicated in 2022 with the addition of a bracelet squished in between them that has yet to be identified. Considering this is likely the only time we’ll ever get to talk about Max’s style, I’m making it count.

Here’s something wild: Do we believe that a third Cartier Love bracelet could enter the equation? Or, what about a different bracelet?

My eyes are open, y’all!

Like what you see? Check out other recent Engine Failure issues, check out the EF website, join EF’s Patreon, and then forward this newsletter to a friend because you're a nice person who wants to see me ~succeed~:

And if you have tips, suggestions, theories, intel, gossip, or questions, tweet me, DM me, send me an email, or use EF’s anonymous tip box.
Behold: The 2023 F1 title sequence. Two Girls 1 Formula wants to help you find an F1 bar in your city. I’m sure many of y’all saw this viral F1-related TikTok. Here’s how ESPN’s broadcasting Formula 1 this year. What did Merc do this off-season? The first issue of Grand Prix Gastronomy is here. It’s not specifically their F1 content, but here’s how ESPN’s social media team creates viral moments. Too Hot to Handle star Chloe Veitch looks for love on the grid. Defector gives its F1 sweeties and enemies. Romain Grosjean explains how to set up a Formula 1 car. The first ep of Marcus Armstrong and Callum Ilott’s new racing podcast is here. I found this interesting 2016 academic article about how greenwashed F1 is…fun! Oh, and here’s an academic study on how fucked up Formula 1 drivers’ wrists are.

This week’s question: The 2023 F1 drivers have decided to form a Dungeons & Dragons group, and they're trying to decide which one of them will be Dungeon Master. Who among them should they select for the role of DM and why?

Submit your answer here.

This issue was published on March 2, 2023. Photo credits: Formula 1, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Logan Sargeant, Carmen Montero Mundt, Isa Hernáez, Lily He, Daniel Ricciardo, Mick Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Zhou Guanyu, Susie Wolff, F1 Academy, Tiffany Cromwell, Bahrain International Circuit, Max Verstappen.

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