Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz felt that he and the Italian team “had better pace than the results show” in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, after finishing sixth.
The only non-Red Bull winner in 2023 with victory last weekend in Singapore, Sainz was unable to recreate his Marina Bay heroics at Suzuka, with Max Verstappen winning at a canter for Red Bull and the McLarens showing impressive pace for a double-podium.
However, the Spaniard said he felt quick “straight from the start” and was running in second place late on having extended his second stint.
This ended up costing Sainz, as he emerged behind the two Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton having been ahead of both prior to the second round of stops.
Confusion surrounding whether to keep Russell ahead of Hamilton or not eventually gave Sainz the opportunity to pass the former for his final standing of sixth.
“I felt like I had everything once I got into a bit of a rhythm I understood the car well and I was driving well,” said Sainz post-race.
“It’s a shame about the last pit stop which cost us a bit of race time, but it is what it is.”
Despite being somewhat disappointed with being undercut by Mercedes, Sainz put the emphasis on his strong race pace, remaining positive following the racing action at Suzuka.
“I was honestly very quick today, right from the first lap I felt like I had plenty of pace in me even when everyone was boxing in front I could lower my lap times by two or three-tenths so I was quite pleased with that,” he added.
“Obviously in the end the most important thing for a track like this is qualifying so track position I paid the price for yesterday.
“But I’m glad today I could find my rhythm back and I had a strong pace.”
Bearing down on Hamilton and Russell in the closing stages of the race prompted Mercedes to switch their two cars around, allowing Sainz to attack Russell.
Mercedes then elected to use Hamilton to aid Russell with DRS in his defence against Sainz, having been on the receiving end of this trick in Singapore last weekend.
Unlike Sainz and Norris, Hamilton and Russell weren’t able to use the DRS tow effectively and the Ferrari was able to get past the second Mercedes, finishing close behind Hamilton.
The Spaniard admitted it amused him to see his rivals copy his now trademark move.
“I was laughing in the car because I could see Lewis was backing off in 130R to give DRS to George,” he remarked.
“I was like I need to make sure I attack George into the chicane because if I don’t throw him off line it’s going to be impossible to pass them.
“I went very deep into the chicane, managed to get a bit of a switchback and I used the DRS, slipstream and everything to pass him.”
The challenge of Mercedes aside, tyre degradation and McLaren’s strength in high-speed corners played their part today, but Sainz felt positive on both matters and has an equally positive mindset going into the rest of the season.
“It was a bit lower deg than expected I could manage my tyres well and now we need to focus on keep doing a good job there,” Sainz acknowledged.
Regarding McLaren’s pace, Sainz sees them to be a consistent threat in high-speed circuits going forward, but “when we go to places like Mexico, or even Austin, with more low-speed content we’ll be very confident we will have a race with McLaren.
“Today I think Lando especially was a couple of tenths quicker per lap.
“I think Piastri whenever I had clean air I had some very strong laps comparable to him, it’s just I never had clean air.”