Carlos Sainz admits that the nature of the Sprint format has ensured he is encountering a “damage limitation” weekend at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
While Charles Leclerc has clocked the fastest time in both qualifying sessions and came home a solid second in Saturday’s Sprint race, Sainz has struggled for pace since Formula 1 arrived in Baku.
The Spaniard languished an isolated fourth over a single lap on Friday before starting and ending up fifth in the two Sprint sessions to take place today.
Sainz has professed a lack of confidence with the rear of his SF-23, with the inability to make changes beyond one solitary practice session due to the Sprint format being responsible for his continuous troubles.
“Not surprised when you can’t change anything in the car or can’t experiment to get yourself then you are in a difficult weekend like I am now,” Sainz declared to Sky Sports.
“I’ve made some steps with my driving and changing a few things, and adjusting to the balance we have.
“With the pace we have, it’s more of a damage limitation weekend for me than anything else,” he continued. “I am really struggling with confidence, and really feeling on the limit of the rear axle. It’s not a nice feeling to have around Baku.”
The ex-Red Bull affiliated driver was also asked for his opinion on the opening lap incident involving George Russell and Max Verstappen which has divided opinion.
Sainz compared the clash to his accident with Fernando Alonso at Turn 1 during a late restart period in Australia to sympathise with Russell’s approach.
“It’s so tricky to judge with these cars,” he emphasised. “It’s Lap 1, low grip on the tyres. There is always going to be contact. I had my problems with it in Australia.
“It was George and Max’s turn here. We are trying our best to keep the car in the limits, but it’s so difficult to judge.”
Despite setting the pace over a flying lap on two occasions this weekend, Leclerc was unable to keep one of the dominant Red Bulls at bay in racing conditions.
Sergio Perez easily made his way past the Ferrari into Turn 1 at the start of the eighth lap and eased to the victory by the comfortable margin of five seconds.
Therefore, Leclerc declares Ferrari’s car requires significant improvement when it comes to being able to preserve the life of the tyres over a race distance.
“Honestly, we did everything well,” he stated. “There was nothing left in a race like this.
“I am not happy because finishing P2 is never making me happy, but there was nothing more to do. The tyre management was good, but we have a car that is struggling on tyres for now.
“In terms of tyre management, I personally managed the tyres really well. Unfortunately, our car is very aggressive on the tyres, and I was checking the tyres after the race and the tyres looked dead, when the Red Bull’s look good.
“We need to find something because they have. And, on that we have to do a big step.”
Nevertheless, Leclerc was heavily enthused by the strong progress Ferrari has made this weekend following the Italian stable’s tough beginning to the year.
“We cannot change the car, so we can work a little bit here and there on the flap,” he disclosed. “It confirms what we thought.. the Red Bull still has the upper hand in the race, but we must not forget how far we were behind in race pace a few races ago. We did a step forward.
“We are not where we want to be, but as I said if winning is not possible then we need to take the maximum points. Today, there wasn’t anything more.
“I am happy with the second place. Anyway, we will try to go for the win tomorrow even though the Red Bull is quicker.”