Carlos Sainz asserts his strong qualifying performance in Miami has confirmed his suspicions that the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was probably his “strangest” weekend ever in Formula 1.
Having been one of several drivers to be caught out by the Sprint format by going down a wrongful route on set-up, Sainz battled rear-end instability throughout the weekend in Baku, qualifying over half a second behind Charles Leclerc and ending the race 25s behind his team-mate.
However, the Spaniard produced his best qualifying performance of the year in Miami to wound up third for today’s race.
Asked if he’s much happier with the car this weekend, Sainz replied: “Yeah definitely. It’s been back to the feeling I had in Australia.
“So yeah, it kind of confirms that Baku was an outlier and a very strange weekend for me. The strangest probably in my F1 career – I’m not going to lie – and the toughest.
“But now, back in Miami, the feeling straight away from FP1 was back to normal. I was on the pace, I’ve been in the pace from FP2 to FP3, building it up through qualifying.
“Bit of a pity that we couldn’t extract the performance of the car today because there was definitely a lot more in it. But yeah, with the red flags and things, and with the new tyre being so peaky around here, it’s always difficult to put it together.”
Sainz contends that his struggles in Baku left him certain something was wrong and believes the pace he has demonstrated since he hit the track on Friday in Miami proves that last weekend wasn’t representative of his current performance level.
“We’ve changed a few things but it’s a tough sport to comprehend sometimes,” he acknowledged. I’m not going to lie. It’s a very tough sport to understand.
“Sometimes you just put the car on track and there’s things that are not working or not feeling how they should and, yes, we have tonnes of sensors, tonnes of data but it’s sometimes very difficult to spot exactly what’s happening but I was so sure and so convinced after Baku that there was something that was not quite right, that it kind of confirms the fact that this weekend everything feels normal again and I’m back to where I was in Melbourne in terms of pure pace.”
Meanwhile, Leclerc in the sister Ferrari concluded qualifying in the same Turn 7 barrier that he had found previously at the end of Friday’s FP2 session.
Leclerc’s crash brought out the red flag and denied Sainz the opportunity to improve upon his initial effort to potentially beat Fernando Alonso to a front-row spot.
Sainz, however, has sympathy for his team-mate’s repeated incident, citing that Ferrari’s SF-23 car is consistently on a knife edge through the high-speed corners.
“It is very difficult, yeah,” he admitted. “I had my moments through the high-speed section also in FP3, which kind of confirms that the car around there, it’s just very tricky.
“We have a very peaky car, a very, let’s say, unstable car in the high speed and the sometimes generates mistakes – in this case accidents – but both Charles and I were trying everything we can, you know, to put the car on the limit, to put it where the car deserves to be, which in my opinion, this weekend, it’s just behind the Red Bulls.
“But yeah, in Q3, I didn’t have the best lap in the first run and Fernando [Alonso] beat us. So yeah, we will make sure that we try to take the car to do what it can do.”
Despite Max Verstappen starting down in seventh, Red Bull’s race pace advantage has Sainz anticipating the reigning World Champion easily coming through the pack.
With the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez occupying pole position, the Spaniard, who is aiming for his first top-three finish of 2023, predicts that his main fight will be with Alonso for the final spot on the podium.
Sainz is also hopeful that more grip on the outside line at the start will enable him to get ahead of his compatriot at the start, having fallen victim to starting on the inside in last year’s inaugural Miami GP.
“I think it will be an interesting start,” he asserts. “I think it always is around here.
“I think last year there was also a decent difference between inside and outside into Turn 1, and we will see how it pans out, no? But I think we’re fighting the Astons… who is behind me, P4? Magnussen? Interesting! Kevin, strange one, but he sometimes can pull it off, like we’ve seen many times.
He added: “I think with Fernando and for sure Max will come from behind and will pass us both, it’s normally what should happen because in race pace we saw like, we’ve seen this year six, eight-tenths of difference, which is around a 50-something lap race is a big, big gap.”