It could hardly have been more contrasting fortunes for Ferrari’s two drivers in today’s Austrian GP sprint, with Carlos Sainz finishing in the top three and Charles Leclerc left way out of the points in 12th.
It could have been very different for Sainz, who nearly missed taking part in the showdown qualifying session because of a brake-by-wire problem on his SF-23 at the start of the session.
Sainz came out of his garage with barely enough time to complete a timed lap – but when he did it was the fastest of anyone in the first round. he went on to secure P5 on the grid for the sprint.
Sainz picked up a place on the first lap when Lando Norris went into anti-stall at the start, and later picked off Nico Hulkenberg when the Haas started to suffer characteristic tyre degradation midway through and had to pit.
That left Sainz following the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez to the finish, and a very satisfying result for the Spaniard.
“Honestly very happy to be P3 today, after how the day started with the brake-by-wire issue in Q1 and only managing to do one lap,” he told the media in parc ferme afterwards.
“To then progress the way we did through quali and put ourselves today in P3 I think is the maximum, so I’m very happy with this Saturday,” he added.
“I’ve been very comfortable, especially today since the first lap of quali,” he continued. “I looked very quick and very at ease with the car and kept the feeling through in the wet.
“The car was tricky in the high speed sections, but we managed to bring home this third place,” he said. Now all our focus is on tomorrow, where I hope we can confirm the good step forward we have made as a team.”
But Sainz admitted that Verstappen remains out of reach of mere mortals at the moment. “It’s a lot to ask, right now,” he said when asked if there was a realistic chance of Ferrari going head-to-head with the Red Bull.
“I never say no, never say never, but you know how tricky it will be. We are in a position though with two cars right behind him and ready to attack.”
But for all Sainz’ optimism it was a different state of affairs on the other side of the garage. Leclerc had finished the showdown in fifth but was then hit by a three-place grid penalty for impeding Oscar Piastri.
While he maintained ninth place over the opening lap, the race unravelled for Leclerc when the track started to dry and teams had to decide whether to pit their drivers to change from intermediates to slick tyres.
Leclerc ended up leaving it too late, and admitted afterwards: “I am disappointed in the race overall, I haven’t been strong,” saying that there was something wrong with his approach to wet weather.
“It’s been three races now that – whenever I’m on slicks on a track that his half dry, half wet – I am nowhere. We need to understand on my side what I’m doing wrong in terms of driving.
“I can’t get the car in the right window and I am so far off the pace. I really struggle to drive the car and don’t feel confident with it and that is reflected in my performance.
“Obviously it seems to work on the dry, it seems to work also when it’s full wet, but when it’s in between the two I’m nowhere,” pointing at his performances in qualifying in Barcelona, in the race at Canada, and now today.
“We need to focus on this from my side, for me to understand why it’s not working in these conditions. It’s not a question of strategy, it’s just down to my pace.
“We need to find it and improve in those conditions,” he stated emphatically. “There is a lot of work I need to do to be better in these conditions. At least that’s the case on my side of the garage, as Carlos did well.
“For tomorrow I believe we can be strong if it’s dry,” he said, looking on the brighter side. “Maybe not as strong as Red Bull, but we can still do something good.”
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