Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz admitted that he felt his chances in the Russian Grand Prix were slipping away from him when it all started going wrong during the opening stint.
Sainz had narrowly missed out on taking pole position in qualifying on Saturday but started alongside his former McLaren team mate Lando Norris on the front row for Sunday’s race in Sochi.
He got the better launch and managed to take the lead from Norris through the opening corners, which he held for the first 12 laps. “We made a perfect start from the dirty side, braking late into turn 2 and risking it on the outside of Lando to get into the lead.
But after pulling out a comfortable lead, Sainz then suffered from excessive graining on his medium tyres. After the McLaren blasted past him on the back straight to retake the lead, Sainz headed to pit lane for a new set of hard tyres.
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“Unfortunately we suffered from graining and couldn’t hold P1 for much longer and had to pit early,” he told the media after the finish, adding that the ease with which Norris had passed him was also a concern.
“We need to keep analysing and keep seeing what we can do better with tyres, with fuel, with the top speed,” he said. “[We need] to make sure that the next time a Ferrari is leading a Grand Prix we do not get overtaken as easily as it happened today.
“As a team we need to keep analysing what we can do better,” he insisted. “We’ve got some time before the next race, so we will keep pushing.”
Sainz said that at this stage of the race it looked like his chances of a strong result were out of reach. “At some point in the race it really looked like it was going wrong,” he admitted. “At some point I thought podium wasn’t happening.
“After suffering so much graining with the medium tyre. After leading the race quite comfortably for the first seven, eight laps, and facing so much degradation and losing the position to Lando, and being one of the first ones to pit, and getting in the queue behind Valtteri and suffering in all that traffic…
However, he bided his time and once the other drivers had made their own stops Sainz was back up to third place, now running behind Norris and Lewis Hamilton.
“We did very good stint management on the hard behind the traffic and then we managed to push,” Sainz said. “We were on course for a reasonably comfortable P3 before the rain came and made everything a lot trickier.”
Sainz said the decision to pit for intermediate tyres when the rain intensified had been crucial to the ultimate outcome.
“With the used hard it was clear to me we needed to box for inters and together with the team we made the right decision at the right moment.
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“We made exactly the right decision at the right time,” he said. “[I] nearly lost the car two or three times, so [the pit wall] did the call to come in for inters just to make sure we made it to the end.
“In the end we decided to go for inters in the fast four laps and it worked out beautifully, and we ended up third,” he continued.
“Good calls, good management – just a bit more obstacles than I was expecting after leading into turn 2!,” he said. “It’s a happy podium.”
Unfortunately his team mate Charles Leclerc didn’t have such a happy ending to his day. The Monegasque started the race from the back row and was up in the top five when the rain started. Unlike Sainz he stayed out too long on the slick tyres and ended up dropping to 15th.
“What a disappointing end to an otherwise extremely positive race,” he sighed. “Carlos was ahead and decided to pit for Inters, while I still had some doubts. I tried to do another lap on slicks.
“[I was] hoping that the rain would decrease but it started pouring down and it was just impossible to go on without pitting with two laps to go. That was basically the end of my race, which is a real shame.”
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