Carlos Sainz reckons his Italian Grand Prix performance was his strongest weekend with Ferrari, but he has stopped short of heralding it the best of his Formula 1 career.
After being pipped by Max Verstappen in the opening practice hour, Sainz topped the times in both FP2 and FP3 before narrowly beating the reigning champion and team-mate Charles Leclerc to pole position.
The Spaniard proceeded to defend resolutely from Verstappen in the opening stages and Sergio Perez later on, but he eventually succumbed to the pressure of the Red Bulls.
However, Sainz was able to resist many overtaking attempts from Leclerc in the closing laps to ensure he was the Ferrari driver attending the podium ceremony alongside the two Red Bull drivers.
When asked if he thought it was his best weekend overall in F1, Sainz, who ended his extended wait for a podium in 2023 with third at Monza, said: “Well, I’m not sure in F1. I’ve done other strong weekends in F1 that maybe got a bit unnoticed when I was in the midfield where I felt I extracted everything out of the car. Of this year, for sure, of my Ferrari career probably.
“Of my F1 career, it’s a tough call but I felt like this weekend I was on it from the beginning, comfortable with the car especially over one lap. I felt really, really at home and I could put together strong laps yesterday and snatch pole but today was again a bit tougher and it shows me exactly where we need to keep working on and where I will put my head down and keep pushing the team to keep working on our tyre understanding and our race pace understanding.”
Although Sainz was wary of Red Bull being substantially faster than Ferrari in race trim, the ex-McLaren driver admitted on Saturday he was targeting beating Red Bull to the win.
Having been able to keep Verstappen at bay for several laps, Sainz concedes that he began to increasingly think he had a shot at taking a famous Ferrari victory at Monza “halfway through” his first stint.
“I felt like I had fairly under control but then I think I… around Lap 10 to 12, I started filling the rear left tyre giving up a lot, like a lot earlier than I would have expected,” he explained.
“At that point, I realised I had used my tyres too much and probably to keep Max behind, I had worn that rear-left tyre too much and that I was going to suffer a lot for the rest of the race because it was going to probably make me box early into a hard tyre. And then the second stint was going to be very long. It’s exactly what happened and my feeling was correct.
“But yeah, honestly, I didn’t expect to degrade so much but it was clear that I was pushing very, very hard to keep them behind. Probably harder than what the car, or what I should have done.”