Carlos Sainz says his valiant defence against Max Verstappen in the early stages of the Italian Grand Prix meant he ended up “paying the price with the rear tyres” later on.
The Spaniard executed a superb getaway from the line to retain the lead from pole position, but he was unable to break free of Verstappen through the opening exchanges.
Following several sighters, Verstappen took advantage of Sainz locking up into Turn 1 to pull alongside the Ferrari through the Curva Grande before taking the high ground at the Variante della Roggia chicane on Lap 15 to seize a lead he would not relinquish.
Sainz’s flat spot meant he headed to the pits shortly after, with his early stop eventually dropping him into the clutches of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who took second.
Reflecting on the race, Sainz said: “Very tough, very tough. It cannot get any tougher than what it was today.
“Honestly, the whole race pushing very, very hard to keep the Red Bulls behind.
“That obviously made me use the rear tyres a lot, trying to keep up with them and trying to get them behind.
“In the end, I end up paying a bit the price with the rear tyres, but I did everything I could to defend with all the cars that I could.”
Ferrari’s upturn in form on home soil was widely anticipated at a low-downforce circuit configuration that played more to the strengths of its troublesome SF-23 package.
Last weekend, Ferrari endured a tumultuous time at Zandvoort, with Sainz suggesting the team possessed only the “sixth fastest car”.
Having moved ahead of Aston Martin in the Constructors’ Championship as Charles Leclerc followed his team-mate home in fourth, Sainz asserts that Ferrari must ensure it continues to improve its tyre management to remain “best of the rest”.
“I think we just need to keep working on our pace, on our tyre understanding,” said Sainz.
“Today, it was obvious that we were wearing the tyres a bit more and we were just lacking a bit of pace. But it’s definitely a big step forward compared to Zandvoort.
“This weekend, we’ve been best of the rest, which is [a] good result for the team given the circumstances.”
After failing to hold the rampant Red Bulls at bay, Sainz could at least take solace in successfully rebuffing the attempts of the sister Ferrari in the closing laps.
Leclerc and Sainz came close to contact on a number of occasions, with the Spaniard eventually beating his team-mate to the chequered flag by the margin of 0.18s.
Sainz ended his barren podium run by clinching third, describing the duel as “tough, hard racing.”
“It’s always been a pleasure to race Charles whenever we’ve had the chance. Today was the same,” he added.