The myths about Sainz flowed like sangria: how we was good enough to have been a striker for Real Madrid, how he was one of the King of Spain’s best friends, how he had never been defeated at squash, and how he was quicker in testing than Toyota’s regular Le Mans drivers.
All of these urban legends were at least partially true, but that wasn’t even the point: instead they all helped to create a cult of the personality that has never been seen in rallying since.
Sainz had - and still has - the sort of spellbinding charisma that stops people in their tracks. He was of course known as the ‘Matador’, with the capacity to slay people with just one reproachful look. He was the one person for whom even the sloppiest of journalists checked every single miniscule fact. The consequences of getting it wrong are unthinkable. Yet at the same time his manners are impeccable: as a sportsman Sainz was a giant yet a true gentleman.
His brooding, mercurial outlook is definitely Spanish, yet his perfectionist work ethic is quintessentially German: maybe one of the reasons why he was so successful with the Cologne-based Toyota team.
When he was at Ford, he was infuriated on one memorable occasion by the fact that one of his younger team-mates had decided that enough testing had been done for the day.
“When I was his age, you would have had to drag me from the car!” he fumed. “I was always begging for more testing, so this really made me annoyed.”
In fact, you would probably still have to drag him from the car now. Sainz has been doing testing for Volkswagen - where he serves as a consultant - in the Polo R WRC, pounding out the kilometres as he always did, probably until it is dark and most people have gone home.
He won two FIA World Rally Championships - although there should have been at least two more - but that’s not what he’s proudest of. Instead, he reckons that his greatest achievement is having been competitive from the very start to the very end of his career. Even in his last full season, 2004, he won Rally Argentina for Citroen.
The following year, he was called back to substitute for the suspended Francois Duval. His very last rally ended with a podium. His very last Dakar - which he converted to when his WRC days were over - ended with a win. And that, in short, is the measure of the man.
But what most people don’t know is that Sainz has something in common with that other Spanish hero, Julio Iglesias. “If a photographer is doing a studio photo, then I definitely have one profile that I prefer to be photographed from,” explained Sainz once, doing his very best not to laugh. “Apparently Julio Iglesias is exactly the same...”