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Formula 1

Front row but ‘still not there’ – The state of play for Sainz

by Matt Beer
7 min read

Given Carlos Sainz’s violent Miami Grand Prix Friday practice crash followed two races in which misfortune, errors and accidents led to him scoring zero points on Sundays, and all but dropped him out of a Formula 1 championship fight his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc is leading, the confidence and optimism he was expressing on Friday night could easily have come across delusional.

A day later, and he was joining Leclerc on their first all-Ferrari front row together, and the team’s first since the 2019 Mexican GP.

You could see that as point proved for Sainz.

But the same calm, thoughtful approach that he deployed to see past his mangled Ferrari on Friday night meant he didn’t see second on the Miami grid as a sign all his problems were solved.

Carlos Sainz Ferrari F1 Miami GP

“I think I’m making progress,” said Sainz, who had looked set to beat Leclerc to pole before an error at the last turn.

“I think the fact that I was out there today doing some purple sectors is a good sign and it means that in some corners I’m starting to understand the car and starting to drive it the way it should be driven.

“Also we’ve done some changes in the set-up, lately, that I think is going the direction that I want and that I needed it to be.

“It’s not the best qualifying I’ve done because I’ve done a pretty big mistake in the last corner but yeah, I think it’s progress.

“I’m still not there and I think it’s not going to be a matter of one more race, I think it’s going to be very progressive through the season.

“But good progress even though today I was carrying a bit the weight of yesterday’s crash, I managed to still push the car to its limit in some of the corners and get a decent qualifying so I’m not going to complain.”

Carlos Sainz Charles Leclerc Ferrari F1 Miami GP

His dissection of what happened in that last-corner slip-up was another good demonstration of his thinking. Second is good, but to him the 2022 Ferrari is still an unsolved puzzle that he’s having to experiment with.

“It was a pretty good lap but I’m still pushing a bit over, like on the limit, to try and find the right way to drive this car and the balance,” Sainz said.

“But up until that corner, everything was going well. Then I tried a bit of a different line in last corner because I was struggling [there] through the whole qualifying, I was losing a tenth or so there to Charles, but I didn’t make it any better by doing what I did in the last lap.

“But I had to try something different because I was always losing there and it didn’t go in the right direction. But I know what not to what not to do tomorrow.”

Given the sequence Sainz is on – being beaten by Leclerc in the opening two races, then red flag timing misfortune followed by early race day crash in Melbourne, then qualifying crash and first-corner tangle at Imola – the Miami Friday shunt certainly appeared to fit a narrative of a driver whose confidence must be all over the place and who needed to get his head together.

“If anything, today showed that confidence is not a limitation because I wouldn’t be going out there and pushing as much as I did [without confidence],” he said.

Carlos Sainz Ferrari F1 Miami GP

“Confidence is still there, that’s why I’m still pushing and I’m still pushing myself to improve with this car and to challenge myself to drive differently in some corners, try to change a bit the set-up here and there to put it more to my liking.

“So confidence is there, it’s a matter, I think, of putting everything together and putting the weekend together too.

“So far I failed to do so in the last few races and this weekend is another good example so it will come.

“It’s still a long season. I think I’m getting there and I think you’ve seen and I’ve seen progress over the last three races, I think I’m driving better and I feel that whenever I’m on track I’m competitive.”

Ferrari’s racing director Laurent Mekies did feel that there was an inevitable bit of a blow to Sainz’s confidence from the Friday accident, which was well as being a bruising one into a concrete wall at a controversial corner, was not well-timed given Sainz’s performance and results trajectory.

“It’s true that with the accident that we had with Carlos, we knew that it was going to be difficult to rebuild the confidence and to try to compensate for the kind of running time that you lose in these sort of situations on a new track,” Mekies told Sky.

“So it was very difficult to be at the same level of being at the limit.”

Carlos Sainz Ferrari Miami F1 crash

But Mekies agreed with Sainz’s overall assessment of his confidence and mentality right now.

“He is somebody that puts enough pressure on himself that you don’t need to add anything to it,” he said.

“He knows exactly what the game is. He’s very strong mentally so he was back at work with us straight away.

“We looked forward. He knows he has full support from the team.

“Nonetheless, you still lose running time, you still lose some confidence, it’s still difficult to know how much you can push – and he has bounced back magnificently.”

Being back on the pace and overcoming mistakes is one thing. Where he fits into the team from here is another.

Sainz answered a question about how he might handle being alongside championship-leading team-mate Leclerc and with Ferrari’s title rival Max Verstappen right behind them on the grid with the tone you’d expect from a driver in his position five races into a 23-race season.

“The consideration is that we are team-mates and that we want to score a 1-2 for the team independently of who is ahead or behind,” Sainz said.

Carlos Sainz Charles Leclerc Ferrari F1 Miami GP

“It’s the same considerations that I take or that I’ve taken last year or this year because I feel like it’s obviously still early in the season, we’re in the fifth race, there’s 19 left but you always treat your team-mate with a bit more respect, like I’ve done in the past to all my team-mates. And this will still be there tomorrow like it was there last year.

“But the will of winning is still there and the chance of winning is there and if there is a chance I will go, taking into account that this is my team-mate of course.”

In short: of course I’ll try to not take Leclerc out but don’t place any ‘number two’ expectations on me when this championship has barely begun.

It’s understandable he feels that way. It’s also slightly missing the point.

It’s a fact that Sainz’s already 48 points behind Leclerc, and that Verstappen (27 points behind Leclerc) is clearly established as the biggest threat to a Ferrari driver being world champion for the first time in 15 years.

It may be early in the season, but it’s already a situation in which Sainz taking seven points off Leclerc by beating him in Miami would feel like one Ferrari might regret come November.

But a Sainz win would also be an extremely impressive result – especially considering the need to catch up on lost Friday running means he’s going into the race pretty much in the dark about what might happen on a long run.

Carlos Sainz Ferrari F1 Miami GP

“It is going to be I think an interesting day, with everything that’s going on this weekend,” he admitted.

“I haven’t done any long runs yet. I haven’t put the fuel on the car and tried it.

“So the laps to grid will be the first time to have a feel, which could be quite challenging.

“But at the same time, I’m feeling confident with the car. The car is really good to drive around here. So I think we can do a good job.”

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