Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2021

Austrian double showed Sainz found his feet faster than 2021’s other big-name moves

2021 Austrian Grand Prix

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Each time one of the drivers who has changed teams for 2021 is asked whether they have fully adapted to their new car, their answer is often that it’s a situation to be judged in a few races’ times.

But nine races into the season it’s pretty clear Carlos Sainz Jnr is well at home in his Ferrari.

In the Austrian Grand Prix he finished ahead of his team mate Charles Leclerc. Granted, the pair had been told to switch places, but this was a consequence of Sainz’s pace advantage late in the race.

After qualifying 11th, Sainz was moved up a spot on the grid by a penalty for Sebastian Vettel. However he dropped to 14th at the start as he lacked grip on his hard compound tyres and it took him 14 laps, and pit stops for three drivers ahead, to recover the lost places.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Hard tyres made for a tough first lap on Sunday
Extending his first stint to lap 55 of 71 enabled him to climb another five places, and he only lost three of those when he made his pit stop.

After that he was able to let rip. Once past Leclerc, he caught and passed McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, and got close enough to Sergio Perez to claim fifth place after the Red Bull driver’s penalty.

“It’s been a good race,” said Sainz, though he admitted “the start was very, very difficult.

“I wasn’t expecting to struggle as much as I did with the hard tyre. Maybe the cooler temps today or something made the hard a bit more difficult in the initial laps.”

It takes longer to bring the hard tyre up to temperature than the softer compounds, so it was no surprise Sainz was slower at the start than his opposition, and in the end he took those tyres longer into the race than anyone else could on any of the compounds.

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“After that, I managed to pull together a strong stint to go long on the hard and put the medium on at the end, to be able to attack,” he added.

“That stint was fun, I’m not going to lie. Always when you are on the hunt and when you are chasing, it’s always good fun. I managed to pull out a couple of quick moves, especially also thanks to Charles that he let me by to go on attack Ricciardo, and we managed to make it stick and get a couple of extra points.”

Nine races in, Sainz is almost level with Leclerc
The problems Sainz encountered with his car were not unique to him. Leclerc gave similar feedback about this recognised car trait. Sainz knew exactly what was causing his balance problem, corresponding with his pre-race remarks that lower temperatures “normally exposes you more to front graining”, but also “means more grip at the rear, which could help our car balance and go the right way if there is no front graining”.

Front tyre graining limited Ferrari so much at the French Grand Prix that both cars failed to score points. In the Styrian Grand Prix – also held at the Red Bull Ring – the team struggled for pace in qualifying and Sainz was 12th on the grid. But he made his way to sixth place, in a race that also included unlapping himself against Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

The second Austrian weekend always looked likely to be a more challenging one for Ferrari, as their front-end limitation was exacerbated by the softer tyre selection. But Sainz wasn’t knocked off his stride.

“The pace was strong,” he said. “My confidence with the car was maybe not as good as last week because we were struggling a bit more with balance and temperatures. But overall, a nice double-header here in Austria and nice to prepare for me, which gives me confidence going into the last two before summer.”

He is now two points behind Leclerc in the standings, and it marks his most competitive Formula 1 campaign yet when taking into account the first nine races of previous seasons. Their average finishing positions so far are 6.875 for Leclerc and 7.0 for Sainz, making them one of the most closely-matched team mate pairings on the grid too.

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Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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42 comments on “Austrian double showed Sainz found his feet faster than 2021’s other big-name moves”

  1. Alonso’s started to go great too, he could have been much higher up in Austria if not for being blocked in Q2, is starting to outqualify Ocon and has more points than Ocon.

    1. On paper Ocon was no match for Alonso. The first few races didn’t show it, because a) Alonso still had to find his way with the car, and/or b) he still wasn’t fully recovered from a serious accident. But lately you can see who is boss at Renault

  2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    6th July 2021, 8:48

    They’ve all started to find their feet with the exception of Ricciardo. Alonso is looking his old self and making light work of Ocon now, Sainz has been on top of Charles since Monaco, Seb has had some brilliant moments, Tsunoda looks decent on pace if a bit of a liability. The Haas lads it’s hard to judge but Mazepin seems to be pointing in the right direction more often than not.

    1. Mick Schumacher has out qualified and finished ahead of Mazepin in every race, he’s a consistent 0.5 seconds per lap faster and in the last two races he finished a lap ahead…. Not much difficulty judging that

    2. Rashmil Rajagopalan
      8th July 2021, 20:50

      I believe Perez is doing no better than Albon or Gasly.
      Perez is almost 0.5 sec from Max’s time in qualifying.
      His race pace also, in comparison is about 30s on an average behind Max.

      The Red Bull car is just more better this time around which is making Perez seem a better driver.
      The improving Red Bull has helped Checo stay above midfield, and Max fighting for wins.

      Whereas the same deficit in 2019 & 2020 made Gasly and Albon fight out with the midfield, with Max fighting for podiums.

      Max is exceptional, no doubt. Checo, although lovable, IMO, is doing no better than Albon & Gasly.

  3. Sainz is clearly performing very well, and it’s not the first year he’s done so (especially at STR and McLaren).
    But a less popular view can also be that Leclerc is not the superstar talent he once seemed to be.

    And whilst making myself unpopular let’s comment on Russell: He is undoubtedly extremely fast on Saturday, but until Austria this year he was oftentimes not much that much faster than the guy rated last and a regular Struggler.
    But still I would list him with the real future talents together with Verstappen and Norris.
    And more and more I’d add Gasly to this list.

    1. It’s a slippery slope jff. Sainz beat Norris last 2 years, and Norris is absolutely slaughtering Riccardo, who beat Verstappen 2 out of 3 seasons.

      1. Slippery slope indeed, although I remain lenient towards drivers in their first 1-2 seasons in the sport (and the oldies).

    2. Sainz performing well shouldn’t come as a surprise, given how strong Norris is performing. Perhaps Norris, Sainz and Leclerc are all top-tier drivers.

      Russell is harder to rate. Either he focuses too much on qualifying or he is too timid at the start, but he isn’t very effective on race day.

      Don’t know about Gasly. I think he looks good because that Alpha Tauri is a really good car. Apart from his podium in Bakoo Gasly’s season has been one of missed opportunities.

      1. I think what is impeding Georges is Georges himself and the enormous amount of pressure he puts on himself, especially to unlock his WDC count. He wants to keep it clean on first lap, doesn’t tangle but lose places more often than not then either drops a bit or makes some mistakes when in a position to score. Statistically, he might be better off to muscle it out a bit more on the first lap, nobody will complain if he makes contact one time and take 3 positions the next to end up in a position that gives him some points.
        I also think once he will unlock his first point, it will get easier for him. Been there, done that, let’s do it again and the pressure vanished. Wouldn’t be at all surprised if first points are followed by more. Like his qualifying, he has great trust and can deliver. We mentioned confidence in other context, and that might apply to Georges specifically on Sunday’s.

    3. You already think Verstappen is a “future talent” wow, that’s unexpected

    4. I’m starting to lean towards that unpopular opinion. 9 poles and only 2 wins. I know the car plays a big role, but that is just weird. I like Charles a lot, but he seems to be where Max was circa 3-4 years ago. Fast and inconsistent.

      1. @j-l you could say that there is a certain amount of nuance that has to be taken into that statistic.

        In 2019, Leclerc took pole in the Russian and Singapore GPs – it is fair to say, though, that there was quite a bit of debate over Ferrari’s strategy in those two races and whether they cost Leclerc a potential victory.

        Another pole was in the 2019 Bahrain GP, and in that case Leclerc was leading until he had those ignition issues – in that case, you can’t really blame the driver for that.

  4. Dan Rooke (@geekzilla9000)
    6th July 2021, 9:48

    Sainz is definitely impressing, and I reckon Ferrari have the best line up in terms of two very strong talents.

    Ricciardo has disappointed, which really pains me to say as I have a fondness for McLaren and I really enjoy watching Ricciardo race. He doesn’t seem to have the confidence to push the car, and that hurts most in qualifying. I’m hoping (as Zak said at the weekend) that at some point mid-race something will click and he gets a feel for the car limits and get the most out of it. His performances possibly look worse because of the issue at the Styrian Grand Prix and the fact that Lando seems to have transcended the car!

    Perez has had mixed performances, but I don’t think he’s been weak. He’s not expected to be at Verstappen’s level, but he tends to be a good wingman, and when he wasn’t in Austria – Lando stepped into that role and may as well have been on the Red Bull payroll!

    Alonso is making an impression. Not just his driving but his overall approach to the paddock. I must confess that in initially I was not an Alonso fan, but I grew to appreciate him and he comes across as a true gentlemen of the sport now. We are so used to hearing drivers complaining, however Alonso frequently praises drivers and talks positively about the sport. I’m sure he must write romantic poetry for George Russell! (Note: Lewis gets panned for whining, but hearing him acknowledging Lando’s great abilities in Austria was lovely)

    Vettel looks happy. And to be honest, that what I wanted to see. He’s had some lacklustre finishes and also some impressive drives, but he doesn’t sound as glum as he did in the red overalls.

    Mazepin. Well, I don’t rate him very highly but I’m leaving my mind open. He’s spinning less now, so there is that.

    1. but hearing him acknowledging Lando’s great abilities in Austria was lovely)

      You do remember the moment he did that..

  5. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    6th July 2021, 10:49

    Sainz impresses me but I think he’s been fortunate, and as Ferrari are only bickering for points I can’t see Leclerc being as compliant if it was for a win and I still think Ferrari will back Leclerc over him in that situation. But they’re a lot closer than I thought they’d be.

    Vettel’s taken some time to get up to speed and I don’t think he’s quite there but he’s had some decent overtakes and when the Aston’s been on it he’s been the guy that’s getting the good from it. Slow, but improving.

    Same with Alonso – slow but improving. He’s gone from being slapped by Ocon to Vandoorning him and again looking that if points are on offer then Alonso’s the stronger bet. If that car was stronger, Alonso would be deadlier.

    Ricciardo though… yikes. I always thought Norris would give him a tough time but I never expected to this level. He’s just hopeless. Clearly the McLaren doesn’t suit his driving style particularly well – I can’t imagine he’s just forgotten how to drive, but it doesn’t seem an issue he’s even close to getting on top of. Kinda funny he left Red Bull because he didn’t want to be in Verstappen’s shadow and now he’s finding himself in Norris’s instead.

    1. Dan Rooke (@geekzilla9000)
      6th July 2021, 11:27

      @rocketpanda – “He’s gone from being slapped by Ocon to Vandoorning him”

      Ha ha ha!!! That should become a standard phrase in F1 commentating from now on!

      1. Adam (@rocketpanda)
        6th July 2021, 11:51

        Lol I can’t claim ownership I’ve seen others refer to Alonso’s dispatching of team-mates in a similar way. But it’s perfect to describe how he demolishes them lol

        1. Rodric Ewulf
          7th July 2021, 2:11

          Yeah, I wonder where those ones who said Ocon would thrash Alonso are now, I don’t see them around anymore. They disappeared from this site coincidentally at the right time, it seems. Funny thing is, if you reverse Ocon and Alonso results Baku onwards, it’d result in a completely underwhelming performance as a contrast with the other one because of the curious trend in which at the same time that Alonso raises his game after solving his one-lap issue Ocon’s form started to deteriorate after what had been a really good beginning of the season for him. He might have been flattered by Alonso going through that adaptation process on the Alpine car but it shouldn’t erase the consistency that he had. I hope he can turn a corner too after some bad weekends and push Fernando to new heights.
          Fans and media do like to draw definitive conclusions from temporary situations, and it was a prime example of that as they completely ignored Fernando’s restrospect, how his preparations went and what he was actually lacking, all for the sake of sensationalism. Once he got his quali right the rest was there as usual, particularly his race pace was nearly untouchable since the beginning of the season even though it didn’t reflect in his early results, but now he’s almost fully comfortable in the car and he has been able to benefit from his experience even more as well. As things are going his team-mate really needs to rebuild consistency or he’s gonna be Vandoorned indeed.

          1. Ocon has gone backwards since signing a new 3 year contract for Alpine. I think 3 years is a mistake by Alpine and their terminology was weird calling him a ‘top 10 driver’ which basically any F1 driver can be

  6. I have read so many comments here about how overrated Sainz was and how Leclerc was going to wipe him out. They are few and far between now. For a reason, probably.

    Are you there, Balue? ;)

    1. Harry (@harrydymond)
      6th July 2021, 13:56

      Yup. About time for everyone who said that Leclerc was going to “destroy” Sainz to form a queue and admit they were wrong.

    2. Mayrton too. Thinks he’s not like Massa in 2006. A return to McLaren or Renault can’t really happen now.

      1. It would appear from his comments later in this thread that, having firmly fixed the idea in his mind that Sainz is a poor driver, he is refusing to budge from that position whatever Sainz does.

    3. It’s 6-3 in qualifying and that includes 2 pole positions, and if it hadn’t been for bad luck and strategy like Monaco and last race (at the top of my head), Leclerc would be way ahead on points too and likely have a win too. Let’s keep it real.

      1. Rodric Ewulf
        7th July 2021, 18:34

        Everybody knows that Leclerc is usually faster, but Sainz has been more consistent. There’s no denying of that, unless you really want to build an agenda against Sainz as irrational as many Hamilton fans wanting to pretend that Verstappen is performing at the same level than their idol this season. Additionally, a driver always plays a part in strategy calls, be it actively or by omission. If Leclerc ended up with a weaker strategy its on him too, as long as the team didn’t have forced him up to follow that strategy. Again, I’ve heard that excuse before, and it came from Hamilton fans about his championship blow in China 2007. So don’t be like some delusional fans in this site, @balue, as I genuinely think most of your comments are spot on.

        1. I don’t have an agenda against Sainz. I am pushing back on the people with a Sainz agenda.

          1. Rodric Ewulf
            8th July 2021, 22:29

            Then you can agree that he hasn’t been as erratic as Leclerc lately but not something too much spectacular either.

  7. Russel to Red Bull, Perez back to Mexico, Bottas stays where he is, Ricciardo will eventually catch on while Ferrari starts interfering to keep the anointed one in front. Ocon is lucky he signed when he did, I hope for him there is no max points difference to Fernando in his contract.

  8. Sainz is the most underrated guy on the grid. When he ran Verstappen close in 2015, people said he got thrashed by Verstappen

    When he slaughtered his temmates at STR in 2016 and 2017, people said its because Kvyat was a poor benchmark

    When he beat Norris rather convincingly for 2 years, it was because Norris was new to F1.

    Now once he’s got comfortable in the Ferrari he’s a match for Leclerc

    People need to start seing that Sainz is one of the top drivers in F1. Not at the top level of Max, Lewis and Alonso.

    But he’s certainly on par with Leclerc, Russell and Ricciardo

    1. I agree, Carlos was massively underrated coming into this season. Initially I thought Ferrari would just hire him as a solid #2, but he proved me wrong. He is a very fast and consistent driver who can take the fight to Leclerc, who himself is one of the most talented/fastest drivers in F1.

      Now I see it’s no coincidence he beat every teammate at TR except Verstappen (although he did outqualify him in 2015) and was slightly better/more consistent than Norris at McLaren. Just his stint at Renault was odd. The atmosphere in that team must have been really toxic, because Carlos is most certainly a better driver than Hülkenberg.
      Horner and Marko must be kicking themselves for letting such a great talent go.

      1. And McLaren

      2. Rodric Ewulf
        6th July 2021, 23:29

        Or more likely he just had a sub-par season against Hulk in 2018. For most of the drivers, it happens. In fact, for the current grid only Alonso was never beaten by a team-mate for more than +5 points difference over a season (provided that it could happen i.e. both drivers having at least a midfield car in which they can score dozens of points or more).
        Carlos Sainz’s season against Max Verstappen in 2015 at Toro Rosso also was rather underwhelming in terms of results, but at the same time in hindsight it helps to prove the force which Verstappen already was and how much it takes to beat him, but also Sainz was performing better overall than the standings suggested, as he had too much reliability issues that season.
        As such, analysing those intra-team championship battles involving his fellow seasoned midfield rivals, it’s becoming clear that Sainz is a level above Hulkenberg, because it’s true that Sainz outscored his team-mates more often than not, whilst for Hulk it nearly levels out the amount of times he finished the season ahead of team-mate to the ones he finished below in the standings. As for Perez, he also did outscore midfield opponents more often than not, but arguably he had slightly weaker oposition (bottom line is, if you rank Norris above Ocon, what seems accurate up to this point, then definitively Sainz had stiffer oposition at Toro Rosso, Renault and McLaren than Perez had at Sauber and Force India/Racing Point). The time is now for Sainz to prove that he’s no second driver to Leclerc, as we’re talking about Ferrari, so this type of distinction will certainly come up one way or another, sooner or later. He’s actually doing a good job up to now proving many people wrong, as he and Leclerc have been the closest matched team-mates driving for any of the constructors that have more than a couple of points this season.

  9. Not at all impressed by Sainz. Clear Bottas role at Ferrari. Never understood why he would already end his career playing second fiddle there. Way too early, but I guess he got nervous and made the move he should have made in 7 years

    1. Neutralino
      7th July 2021, 8:32

      Nope, and I can illustrate why you’re wrong with a simple example.
      Leclerc was given team orders to let Sainz through when both had healthy cars, albeit on different strategies. Can you remember the last time Mercedes told Hamilton to let Bottas by with a healthy car? Nope? It’s never happened.
      Bottas is the most clear-cut number 2 on the grid and there’s been absolutely no indication that Ferrari would treat Sainz or even any of their drivers in a similar way. Heck, they’ve not put their second driver into such a number 2 box as Bottas currently is in since Barrichello.

      1. I understand what you are saying. Ok, he is not as much 2nd as Bottas is. But I have no doubt that when Ferrari finds itself in positions to win, Charles will be their man.

    2. You’re thinking he’ll return to McLaren or Renault in case if his Ferrari season is a flop?

      1. No, cant see any other top team wanting him. Renault would benefit, but they overestimate themselves. Maybe Alonso can lobby for him though

  10. Fanbased article to make a favorable comparison of Sainz by just including ‘movers’, when the most impressive adaptation has been done by Alonso who is already trouncing his team mate on speed and far ahead on points. He even came from 2 year out of an F1 car, but that is incredibly used as an excuse to exclude him when comparing ‘adaptability’ skills here.

    As for the Austrian race that’s being used to portray some sort of heroic drive, Sainz just lucked out when Ferrari split their strategy which made him not get stuck behind slower cars like Leclerc losing time and tyres, and could extend his stint to come out of fresh mediums and overtake Ricciardo at the end. He even got past Perez for 5th without even overtaking him, that’s how lady luck lifted him that day.

    It’s interesting Sainz is gathering a fan-base similar to some others we’ve seen were it’s all about trying to spin a narrative not really connected to reality.

      1. Rodric Ewulf
        7th July 2021, 19:03

        I agree there’s an exaggeration of Sainz achievements so far in the analysis of some (including the one behind this wonderful website) but he has been a close match to Leclerc, at least for now. But, yeah, it’s also weird that many people forget or downplay that he struggled to adapt to his new car too, not so much better even than Ricciardo in the beginning of the season. Now he really looks like feeling nearly at home on his Ferrari but it wasn’t a spectacular adaptation as some portray. And arguably Alonso or Russell deserved at least a little more than him to be a star performer in the Austrian GP. Despite all that, we need to recognize some progress from him. If Sainz profit on Leclerc’s mistakes as he had been doing for a while, and considering that his team-mate is not quite there yet to successfully avoiding them (being too erratic also in recent seasons), he does stand a realistically chance of outscoring him. I wouldn’t bet too much money on that, though. I’d never underestimate Charles’ talent, of course.

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