Carlos Sainz says an aggressive attempt to undercut Lando Norris, and subsequent tyre graining, was the primary cause of his regression from a promising position at Formula 1’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
Sainz qualified in fifth place, behind only the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers, and jumped up to fourth at the start, though was overhauled by Sergio Perez and Lando Norris at the restart.
Sainz still preserved sixth position but was the first of the front-runners to come in, exchanging Softs for Mediums, after 21 laps of the 66-lap race.
But rather than chase down fifth-placed Norris Sainz suffered from graining and became susceptible to both those on a similar strategy and rivals who extended their first stint on Mediums.
Sainz lost ground to Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc, both Alpine drivers, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and came home 11th.
“It was also looking decent up until lap 24; we were putting pressure on Lando and we went for the undercut and unfortunately we didn’t make it stick, we exited behind a Williams,” said Sainz.
“I had to push really hard to try and do the undercut and we opened up the graining on the Medium tyre.
“We were the first ones to stop to put the Medium tyre on and the Medium tyre was not performing on our car – we opened the graining – and from then on we went backwards.”
Sainz accepted “the option was there” to take the Hard tyre but he and Ferrari “thought the Medium was going to be better than that.”
The Ferrari driver conceded that he “pushed like hell” in an attempt to force the undercut on Norris and “in hindsight it was too much pushing, too early and too hard, to try and get one position.”
He was nonetheless sanguine about the overall situation despite leaving Portugal without points.
“You need to go through these kind of weekends or these kind of races to improve,” he said.
“Honestly the race pace all weekend was looking good; I don’t think the race pace was the issue, it was just that we got it wrong with the strategy of pushing on the tyres and we didn’t get things right.”