Dismissing your team’s strategy instructions mid-race is a risky approach for a Formula 1 driver. Those on the pit wall these days have all the data in front of them to make the mathematically best decision. But strategists don’t always succeed. And that was the case in Monaco when Ferrari told Carlos Sainz to box for intermediate tires – and the Spaniard said no.
Three laps before, he had said he wanted to go straight from extreme rain to dry tires, based on his reading of the conditions – and he hadn’t changed his mind. His cancellation turned out to be the right decision, as it opened the door to what would have been his first victory. Had he not been trapped behind a lapped Williams on his exit lap, Sainz would now qualify as a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner.
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Nonetheless, it was a near-perfect race performance from the 27-year-old, who will be hoping his second-place finish after a milder weekend will be the turning point after an unusually erratic start to the year.
He had a second and a third to open the campaign, but only managed one full lap in the next two events, before recovering from a crash in second practice in Miami to claim a podium finish. . But in Spain, as he took his 100% points record to eight in his home race, a poor start and then an unusual mid-race spin knocked him out of the podium places.
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Sainz is yet to master the 2022 generation of Ferrari-designed cars. The F1-75’s pointed front doesn’t suit its style, and while it does what it can to work around it, it’s not as easy as it sounds to just change your style for the adapt to a car. Sainz is making progress, however, and it is understood the team plans to bring some things to the car in the second half of the year to help.
“I just need to be a bit quicker,” he says, when we chat outside of Ferrari hospitality. “I need one or two tenths, in terms of qualifying and race pace. If I find those one or two tenths that I found in the second half of last year with the car from the last year, the sooner I find them, the sooner victory will come. I worked hard to find them.
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He added: “You can see on the cameras and everywhere that I’m not there yet with the car compared to last year, that I don’t drive naturally; the car is a bit too sharp for my taste but that’s how it is, that’s how it is,” Sainz said. “You can either adapt or bring your car a bit more to your liking. Either way, both of these things take time, and they require knowledge and experience. It takes mistakes and trial and error, and that’s what I’m doing [of doing] now and what I will try to fix as soon as possible.
His boss Mattia Binotto isn’t worried about Sainz’s form. He’s seen enough of the Spaniard’s time at Ferrari to know it’s a matter of when, not if, the 27-year-old finds his consistency. That’s why they gave him a new contract until the end of 2024, before the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. “Carlos is struggling, but he will get there very soon, I’m sure,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll get there at some point because that’s Carlos’ attitude – study the data, try different riding styles, adapt. It may take a little time, but it will get there.
He added: “I don’t think there are any problems. Certainly, he has to adapt seeing that he has made some mistakes, which are important. But nevertheless, I think he is improving, he is going faster and faster.
It is also the first time in Sainz’s career that he has a car capable of winning races at pure pace and challenging for the championship. It takes time to adapt. We saw it with Sergio Perez in 2021, the Mexican needed to get comfortable last year before moving up a gear this year. Binotto understands this will take time. “It may be the first time in his career that he has a car fast enough to compete for the top positions, and he just has to get used to it – but he will do it very quickly, because I know what how smart I am and how well able to handle pressure,” he said.
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Sainz loves the opportunity to test himself regularly. “I’m enjoying it, it’s a whole new experience; you have to drive a little differently. It’s a different scenario that I’m getting used to. I race against two or three guys who have already been in front. For me it’s the first time, my first six or seven races with a competitive car – and I learned a lot that I will apply for the rest of the season. Lots of races left, lots of time to go, so everything to play for. As soon as I have made these adaptations and found my feeling with the car, there are good things to come, that’s for sure.
It’s no secret that he gets on very well with teammate Charles Leclerc, with the two gelling on and off the track. This harmony helps drive the team forward – and has shown no signs of faltering now that they are both potentially in the fight for wins and the championship. “In terms of the relationship, everything has been very stable, even better, so everything is going well so far.
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“He’s a great guy, we have a lot of respect for each other which helps our working relationship. He’s doing a great job adapting to the new car, the new regulations, he extracts everything from this Ferrari that I tries to do too, and in some respects copy. I have fun with him, we get on well and we work in the same direction, which is important.
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He added: “He drives at a very high level, he puts in super impressive lap times, an impressive way of driving and I can only admire and try to copy in some ways, and in others try to copy him. put a bit more to my liking to be faster.Sometimes it just happens and as a rider you just need to go through a process and challenge yourself.
Sainz closed the gap to championship leader Max Verstappen to 42 points in the last race and is only 33 points behind Leclerc. The season is still young, with only seven races and 15 to go. If Sainz can return to the consistent form he found last year, finishing the season with 15 straight points, including a stunning podium at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, he could be a factor in the fight for the championship.