Carlos Sainz says he has been “at one” with Ferrari’s 2023 Formula 1 car all season but only recently have the results reflected that.
Ferrari has failed to build on the early race-winning promise it demonstrated in this regulation cycle last year, regressing to third in the Constructors’ Championship this term.
Nevertheless, Sainz believes he has largely maximised the potential of Ferrari’s troublesome SF-23 car, with the results starting to come for the Spaniard.
Since the F1 season resumed last month, Sainz has finished fourth in Zandvoort, with what he described as the “sixth fastest car”, before converting pole position into a podium at the Italian Grand Prix.
Sainz declared the Monza weekend represented his “best” in Ferrari colours and he is aiming to carry that consistency through until the end of this year.
Reflecting on his recent upturn in form, Sainz said in Singapore: I’m not sure I’ve definitely felt good the last few races in the car.
“Yeah, we are starting to understand it a lot better and making sure that we put the car in the right place in FP1 and it gives you confidence and it’s an easier build-up.
“But yeah, this year I feel like I understand the car a lot better and I’m driving better than last year. It’s just maybe the last two, three weekends I’ve managed to put everything together a bit more and it shows in the results.
“But the driving and the comfort in the car is good and now, hopefully in the second half of the season, my target was to be more consistent and just nail more results, nail more weekends, we can keep doing that like we did in Zandvoort and Monza.”
While Sainz increasingly struggled to match team-mate Charles Leclerc when Ferrari was at its most competitive last year, the one-time F1 race winner asserts he has been boosted this season by not being forced to adapt his driving style to the car.
“I think now I feel more at one with the car since the beginning of the season, really. It’s not like something’s changed recently,” he expanded.
“It’s just maybe just putting the weekend together has been a bit more the case but I feel at one with the car from the beginning of the season while last year that wasn’t the case and I had to change quite a bit of things with my driving and adapting and tuning a bit the car to my liking.”
Despite emerging as the clear second-best force throughout the Italian Grand Prix weekend, Sainz expects Ferrari to face a much stronger challenge in Singapore.
“But in terms of who we will be racing this weekend? I have no idea,” he continued.
“I think it could well be Aston [Martin], it could well be Mercedes, could well be McLaren or even Alpine if they are as competitive as in Zandvoort.
“I think Red Bull will be one step ahead but if we nail everything then anything can happen.”
Amid a hugely inconsistent campaign for Ferrari, the Italian marque has experienced its biggest dips in performance when encountering high-downforce circuits.
Sainz suggests “theory says that we should not be as quick as Monza”, but the ex-McLaren racer remains “open-minded” to the possibility of Ferrari springing a surprise.
“Normally, up until now, all the high downforce races we’ve struggled a bit more than the low downforce ones,” he conceded.
“But at the same time, it will be hot, it will be tough on tyres, which we also know can be tricky for us, so let’s see. “Like Fernando [Alonso, Aston Martin] said, this year is going to be changing a lot race to race and we need to stay open-minded.”
Although Ferrari is braced for a challenging weekend at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, Sainz believes the team learned more about the behaviour of its car during the tests it ran in practice at Zandvoort in order to understand its high downforce troubles.
However, Sainz insists that Ferrari’s core issues remain intrinsically rooted in the car’s concept rather than being a minor fix it can rectify at any point this year.
Pressed on what Ferrari learned from the Dutch Grand Prix weekend, Sainz responded: “We did actually learn some very interesting stuff about how our car performs in that sort of track and what our high downforce wings are doing and yet in some other cases they don’t work as well as we like and that’s why we’re changing a lot the package race-to-race, and hopefully for this weekend we found a better solution than in Zandvoort and it can give us a bit more performance.
“But honestly, I think it’s a much bigger thing than just the rear wing and it’s more a car characteristic thing.”