Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

F1 team mate battles at mid-season: Leclerc vs Sainz

2021 F1 season

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Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says they have the best driver line-up on the grid in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr.

That would have been a tough claim to make at the end of last year: Leclerc decisively held the upper hand over Sebastian Vettel and came within one point of scoring three times his team mate’s points haul. But Vettel’s replacement Sainz has settled in remarkably quickly, even for a driver with recent experience of making multiple team moves, and especially given the tight restrictions on testing.

Early in the season Sainz described Leclerc as F1’s best driver over a single flying lap. He must therefore feel particularly chuffed at having out-qualified him three times. When Leclerc took his controversial pole position in Monaco after crashing on his final lap Sainz was very close to his team mate’s pace and felt he was robbed of a better starting position when the shunt forced him to abandon his final run.

Sainz had a crash of his own last time out in Hungary, but until then there had been a clear trend of improvement in his qualifying performances too. He was no more than two-tenths off Leclerc in the four previous sessions.

Sainz and Leclerc were even on points immediately after the Hungarian Grand Prix, before Vettel’s disqualification spoiled the symmetry. Sainz’s promotion to third place puts him slightly ahead, though this flatters him a little. Leclerc was unable to start in Monaco and was taken out on lap one in Hungary. That said, Leclerc was responsible for Pierre Gasly’s lap one retirement in the Styrian Grand Prix, and was unpunished.

So while the points may say otherwise, Leclerc is leading the way at Ferrari, though not to anything like the extent he did last year. The best driver-line up in F1? Contrasting how close these two are compared to the pairings at Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren, Binotto may well be right.

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Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz Jnr: Key stats

Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz Jnr: Who finished ahead at each round

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Charles LeclercQ
R
Carlos Sainz JnrQ
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Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz Jnr: Qualifying gap

Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time. Negative indicates Charles Leclerc was faster, positive means Carlos Sainz Jnr was faster

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “F1 team mate battles at mid-season: Leclerc vs Sainz”

  1. I think Binotto is right, maybe he’s been reading my comments on here, as I’ve been saying this all season!

    The LeClerc/Sainz line-up is superb, and I genuinely do believe it’s the strongest pairing on the grid and is pretty exciting to see. Especially from Ferrari who traditionally have ran clear number 1 and number 2 drivers – perhaps this is a sign that they are changing.

    The strong line up works very well at the moment, but if that new PU does put them in better contention for poles and wins, then perhaps the harmony will be broken. It’s one thing winning points to get your team into third, but if you feel you are in a race (or even championship) winning position, then the stakes are much higher as you’re racing not just for a more budget but for the immortalisation you get from being a champion.

    I’ve never been a Ferrari man, when I started watching F1 I was cheering on Mika Hakkinen and I remember explaining to my nephews that “the grey cars are the goodies, the red cars are the baddies”. I’m not very tribalistic now, I tend to take pleasure in watching any driver do well, and I don’t take pleasure in seeing a good driver struggle.

    I rate both Charles and Carlos very highly and with a highly-competitive car, their intra-team rivalry has the potential to be one of the best in F1.

    1. Especially from Ferrari who traditionally have ran clear number 1 and number 2 drivers – perhaps this is a sign that they are changing.

      It’s easy to let drivers race when you are not competive. When ferrari is fighting for wins this will change inmediatly.

      1. It may well do, but you never know. If they are fighting for wins, I’m hoping they let them race and if it becomes clear that one driver needs to play a more “supporting” role that the decision is made then. Obviously I don’t know the contractual agreements, but it doesn’t seem that they have allocated number 1 / number 2 roles.

        But this is the first time I can remember where there are no fan theories and discussions about who will be the next Ferrari driver. What they have is solid.

        1. @geekzilla9000 it is indeed quite some time since the fan base for Ferrari seemed to be this satisfied with the driver line up, and for now it seems to be working fairly well for the team.

          Out of the drivers who have changed teams this season, Sainz does seem to have been the one who has adapted quickest and seems to be more at ease with both the car and the team. In terms of relative competitiveness, it would seem that he has also been more competitive against Leclerc than some were expecting him to have been – now, whilst some might be complaining about the points situation making him look better than he is, at the same time the consistency of the points scoring by Sainz, contrasted to that of Ricciardo, is helping the team keep up in their battle with McLaren too.

          You get the sense that Ferrari feel this is a line up they can work with for a number of years, and it gives a sense of stability the team hasn’t had for quite a long time.

    2. Leclerc’s qualifying edge will be what makes him number 1 if the Ferrari finds it self at the front becaus Carlos’ 2 tenths behind can put him two places behind and out of the prefered strategy.

      1. Give the man a break. He just started at ferrari and is already delivering impressive results, even compared with lec.
        Who will become number 1 will still be a question mark for now.

    3. @geekzilla9000

      Especially from Ferrari who traditionally have ran clear number 1 and number 2 drivers – perhaps this is a sign that they are changing.

      Ferrari’s past line-ups have been quite strong. They’re the only team aside from McLaren to have fielded two champions, they’ve brought in their prime junior to partner their (aging) top driver with Leclerc and Vettel, their 2014 line-up with Alonso and Räikkönen was to be the highlight of the year (people are quick to forget Räikkönen’s reputation was very high following his Lotus years). Massa being a number 2 driver is a bit too much praise, as he rarely took points from Vettel in Alonso’s campaign; for whatever reason Ferrari kept him around far too long. Before that they had a period where both their drivers spearheaded a title challenge with Räikkönen in 2007 and Massa in 2008.

      For a top team, Ferrari’s line-ups have been competitive for a long time with post-2009 Massa being the main exception.

      1. Obviously the comment about McLaren applies only to the last decade or so. There have been numerous teams with two champions in their cars throughout F1 history.

  2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    12th August 2021, 11:57

    It’s a fascinating scrap between Sainz and Leclerc. Especially considering the fact that Ferrari had chosen Leclerc over Vettel.

    Sainz may not always be the quickest in a car but he might be the most versatile driver in the paddock. He has gone from Toro Rosso to Renault to McLaren and now Ferrari with excellent results.

    1. most versatile driver in the paddock

      I agree with this. Next year with new aero and new tyre would be a good thing for Sainz.

  3. Sainz has been beaten by every single teammate. What are you watching?

    1. But as far as I can see he was only beaten in 2015 and 2018.. 2018 not so far off I think. 2016/17 were pretty much on par with his multiple teammates and 2019/20 he’s beaten norris in points. He now is in front as well. Some lows here and there, some mistakes but not more than a Leclerc. I really think he’s doing well so far, way better than most drivers do. He’s really good at adapting.

    2. @peartree Apart from Kvyat and Norris… I ask the same of you, what are you watching? Perhaps you weren’t watching at all.

      You’ll then say ‘oh, but Norris outqualified him’. Well, using that argument, Sainz outqualified Verstappen in their season together…

      1. Considering how Norris destroys Ricciardo, a pretty decent driver, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Also doing very well against Verstappen in Torro Rosso.
        I’ve said many timed Sainz is probably the most underrated driver in F1.

        1. Sainz is probably the most underrated driver in F1

          Au contraire, he is probably the most overrated driver in F1.

          I find it interesting that he likes to talk himself up just like some others which a lot of fans seem to go for. I just don’t understand it, but then maybe it’s really true that ‘the world wants to be deceived’.

          1. @balue I think the most overrated ‘accolade’ should definitely go to Ricciardo, or perhaps Bottas. As for talking himself up… I haven’t noticed it particularly, not more than most other drivers anyway. Naturally they tend to be a pretty arrogant bunch – they kind of have to be.

          2. @tflb Ricciardo is close in the overrated stakes, but he has wins, shown great racecraft, and did quite well compared to champion Vettel and also Verstappen when others were miles off. Sainz has really nothing. He wasn’t even faster than a rookie coming to his own team, and is now being thoroughly shown up by Leclerc, yet he’s supposed to be the next big thing according to some.

            As for talking himself up, it’s practically every time he opens his mouth so you can’t have missed it. Very unpleasant quality.

          3. @balue

            Ricciardo is close in the overrated stakes, but he has wins, shown great racecraft, and did quite well compared to champion Vettel and also Verstappen when others were miles off. Sainz has really nothing. He wasn’t even faster than a rookie coming to his own team, and is now being thoroughly shown up by Leclerc, yet he’s supposed to be the next big thing according to some.

            As usually, analysis about Ricciardo’s level is accurate whilst on Sainz its unjust really, and you don’t need to be his fan to clearly see that. The fact that others are wrongly hyping Sainz up doesn’t mean he has really nothing, classic logical mistake here. Even without seeing him as “the next big thing” it’s possible to notice that he has some achievements under his belt to indicate he’s a fairly good driver but not alongside the greats of the sport yet. He would’ve finished more close to Verstappen when they were teammates if not for reliability and he beat Norris two seasons when the latter was soon to become such an amazing driver he is now. Is Leclerc showing Sainz the way? To a certain extent, he is. But you’re intentionally putting things out of proportion. Sainz is doing nearly as expected against the faster Leclerc. Or else you’d see Ferrari disappointed with him when it’s more on the contrary.

        2. I don’t think he’s underrated. Right now, he’s getting quite a beating from Leclerc, that’s hidden by the points tally. If Charles’ car was working fine on Sunday in Monaco, and he wasn’t taken out of the Hungarian GP, we would probably see him a handful of points ahead of Sainz.

          Sainz is a really solid driver on Sunday’s, dependable, consistent and versatile, but he lacks the one lack pace and magic of a top tier driver. I don’t think he’s underrated at all.

          1. I don’t think he’s underrated. Right now, he’s getting quite a beating from Leclerc, that’s hidden by the points tally. If Charles’ car was working fine on Sunday in Monaco, and he wasn’t taken out of the Hungarian GP, we would probably see him a handful of points ahead of Sainz.

            True. Every fine measure Leclerc leads. Sainz has been soundly beaten by him in qualifying and also consistently overshadowed in the race (both head-to-head and average positions), albeit by a smaller margin.

            Sainz is a really solid driver on Sunday’s, dependable, consistent and versatile, but he lacks the one lack pace and magic of a top tier driver. I don’t think he’s underrated at all.

            He’s desperately underrated according to a few commentators, but also badly overrated in @balue‘s vision.

        1. @peartree

          kvyat what an high standard.

          The only point here is that he’s way better than Kvyat. Not that he’s a great driver. So beat Kvyat and Norris and being beaten by Verstappen, Hulkenberg and probably Leclerc too makes him a… good but not brilliant driver. So I don’t know why all the fuss about him.

          1. @rodewulf only very few drivers survive being beaten by almost all their teammates let alone get signed by McLaren and Ferrari. That is my fuss, well and the fact RF always puts him in the top 3 drivers of the season.

          2. @peartree

            only very few drivers survive being beaten by almost all their teammates let alone get signed by McLaren and Ferrari.

            All his teammates? How many? He did well in McLaren so it kinda of prove this point wrong. At least partially.

            That is my fuss, well and the fact RF always puts him in the top 3 drivers of the season.

            This is part of the fuss. Either Sainz is the next biggest gem in Formula 1 or he’s a crappy driver. It’s surprising that the opinions about him are even more polarised than about Hamilton and Verstappen.

          3. @rodewulf The opinions are not polarised at all. It’s only me and @balue that seem to bother to write about the stats, the facts and sainz’s performances. Carlos is average at best.
            Norris was a rookie and they were neck and neck, Abu Dhabi last season showed Norrils miles ahead. Kvyat beat nobody, not jev, not sainz not ricciardo.
            @tflb the Q gap between ricciardo and kvyat was massive, ricciardo got unlucky with reliability, Daniel gave Kvyat the biggest hammering of all Daniil’s teammates indeed comparable to what Daniel is getting right now and just like what Sainz experienced against nortis in abu dhabi.

          4. @peartree

            The opinions are not polarised at all. It’s only me and @balue that seem to bother to write about the stats, the facts and sainz’s performances.

            So I guess you missed my post. I brought plenty of stats here. And your and Balue’s facts are half truths. Exaggerated about Sainz weakness, dismissive about Sainz strengths, and the opposite about Ricciardo. Notwithstanding some others are stating nearly the contrary so that’s pretty much polarised and you simply can’t deny it. Just plain obvious.

            Norris was a rookie and they were neck and neck, Abu Dhabi last season showed Norrils miles ahead.

            Hammy typical-fan fallacious argument detected. Norris was good already when he was a rookie, as all excellent drivers including Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso were. Being a rookie doesn’t necessarily imply an easy ride against him, as if they jumped from karting into Formula 1. They were unexperienced but they weren’t dumb and also already fast.

            Kvyat beat nobody, not jev, not sainz not ricciardo.

            False. Check out 2015 WDC standings. One of the rare occasions (or the only one) Kvyat beat a teammate in Formula 1.
            Ricciardo 92pts. / Kvyat 95pts.

            the Q gap between ricciardo and kvyat was massive, ricciardo got unlucky with reliability, Daniel gave Kvyat the biggest hammering of all Daniil’s teammates indeed comparable to what Daniel is getting right now and just like what Sainz experienced against nortis in abu dhabi.

            One race defines the course of an entire season, isn’t it? Then it’s easy to enjoy yourself dissing out a driver as weak just because you don’t like the guy. I’ve done my homework and seen the stats: Leclerc has been clearly better than Sainz despite being placed behind in the standings but there’s no need to make overstatements about it. You and @balue are just bringing on poor arguments, and when they’re refuted you guys start to walk on circles, just recycling your fact distortions to make Sainz look like Kvyat’s level, when in reality he is way closer to Ricciardo’s. Probably still behind overall despite Ricciardo’s current underwhelming season but not much behind at all. Ricciardo lost to Éric Vergne (Didn’t you remember this one too?) in 2012 and Kvyat in 2015. He beat the former in 2013, in 2014 he thrashed Vettel and in 2016 onwards he fought hard against Verstappen before joining Renault and then McLaren. It’s not already discarded that Sainz could eventually reach Ricciardo’s level overall, especially if the Shoey fails to cut short this current downward trend instead of coming back to his former strong self sooner rather than later.

        2. @peartree I know Kvyat isn’t the best benchmark, but I’m pointing out that what you said is objectively, factually wrong. How are we supposed to take anything you say seriously if you can’t even be bothered to get basic facts right? Not that I do take anything you say seriously anyway…

          1. @tflb that’s is clear by your comments that is why you are perpetually wrong. Ricciardo also blew kvyat away…

          2. @peartree Your comments are largely nonsense I’m afraid… In fact your first sentence in that one doesn’t even make sense. Try again.

            Also, nah, Riccirado didn’t blow him away. He beat him in performance terms, yes, but nothing like Sainz or even Gasly did, or like Ricciardo himself is being beaten by Norris.

  4. Without tech issue at Monaco Leclerc would probably have gotten 25pts, Silverstone tech issue 25 pts (7pts more), and a likely handful at Hungary and take away Sainz’ Hungary lucky score when he would likely have had no points starting 15th, and add the Austria split strategy debacle which where Leclerc lost out and Sainz got lucky, the difference would in reality be somewhere between 50 and 60 pts, which is huge by anybody’s standard.

    Add to that without tech issues, Leclerc would likely have had 2 wins to his 2 pole positions, which again is quite something in a Ferrari these days, so he’s really in a different league than Sainz.

    1. @balue I don’t think you can count Monaco as a tech issue – he crashed and cost himself an almost certain podium. Unlucky to an extent but only in that the team didn’t fix it properly. Really he has only himself to blame. But overall I accept he ought to be ahead on points, despite sainz doing well with his opportunities.

      I can’t tell if this is truly impressive pairing. Although sainz is a lot closer to leclerc than many predicted, this might just mean leclerc is not the hot shot we all thought. Unquestionably, he makes a lot of errors – in a tight title battle that could cost him dearly.

      1. @frood19 It was a tech issue as far as it was something that really should have been checked and part replaced, but the team didn’t. That was no fault of Leclerc. He crashed in qualifying and the tech issue showed up the next day on the way to the starting grid. The team had a day to fix it. You can’t possibly blame a driver for something like that.

        1. @balue Yes, you can blame him. He crashed, and that caused the problem. Even if they’d fixed it, it would have given him a grid penalty, so he’d have started and probably finished behind Sainz anyway. Not to mention the fact that Sainz could well have beaten him if he’d been able to finish his last lap. You try to portray it as a daylight robbery, but the reality is Leclerc’s weekend was toast the moment he hit the wall, and there’s no-one else to blame.

          As for the Austria strategy… If you play that card, then why not point out the Portuguese grand prix, where there was also a split strategy that caused Sainz to drop like a stone from 5th, or the slow pitstop costing him 4th at Silverstone? Or is it only bad luck when it harms Leclerc?

          1. Absolutely, when correcting points for bad luck you need to do it for both drivers.

          2. @tflb It’s no on all counts. The left driveshaft hub was damaged in the crash and could have been replaced without penalty, and Sainz was nowhere near to get pole. The reality is that he got more points that he should with Leclerc out of the race, and if you count all bad lucks, Sainz would still be the same 50-60 points behind. And if you count all, just surviving 2 offs in the gravel at Imola and not DNFing must be considered luck, for example. Same with going off at Baku and not damaging the car like he did in qualifying.

          3. @balue Ferrari said they wouldn’t risk repairing the car properly as they wanted to keep pole… if they’d changed the gearbox as they would have done otherwise, a: they would have found the problem and b: Leclerc would have got a penalty. As I said – he was doomed either way. Actually Sainz he was on good pace for pole… and it’s the final sector where he was consistently much faster than Leclerc all weekend. Now, I get you don’t like the guy, that’s always been very clear. But your selective memory is rather daft…

            Okay, if we want to add another luck thing… Leclerc driving straight into the back of Gasly in a straight line, ruining Gasly’s race, and somehow not getting an appropriate penalty for it… firstly lucky he didn’t go flying, secondly lucky he didn’t also retire, and thirdly lucky that the lack of penalty enabled him to finish 7th.

            Yeah, Sainz’s crash in Baku was lucky in that he didn’t damage it, but also unlucky in that Tsunoda had already crashed in front of him, so that’s another Q3 run cut short. And yes, he was rubbish at Imola in the wet.

            As I’ve said before, there’s not really any way of knowing how Leclerc would have done in Hungary. So if you discount Sainz’s score there, then they’d be, what, 14 points apart, with Leclerc ahead. Seems about fair.

          4. @balue Anyway, we’re going round in circles here, much like Mazepin on any given corner. Let’s come back to it at the end of the season…

        2. @balue

          And if you count all, just surviving 2 offs in the gravel at Imola and not DNFing must be considered luck, for example. Same with going off at Baku and not damaging the car like he did in qualifying.

          Pretty nailed when you considered luck only what benefits Sainz. Leclerc also went off track at Imola during the formation lap, in a tricky spot to possibly reamain benched on the gravel. Again, Sainz has been having a big stake of luck to hide his relative underperformance to Leclerc, but your attempts to make it look way bigger than it is revolves around poor arguments, not much better than whiner LH44 fans making the most ridiculous excuses while dissing Verstappen and Alonso.

      2. Hm, I kind of agree with you there @frood19, but when you say

        despite sainz doing well with his opportunities

        shouldn’t we consider that it does seem to be strong point of Sainz, to often be there to take advantage of those kind of things, we saw it several times at McLaren as well.

        1. @bascb yes, grabbing the big points scoring opportunities is certainly a strong suit of sainz’s. I think ‘despite’ was the wrong word – I meant leclerc probably ought to be ahead on points even though Sainz has been strong.

    2. @balue

      Austria split strategy debacle which where Leclerc lost out and Sainz got lucky, the difference would in reality be somewhere between 50 and 60 pts, which is huge by anybody’s standard

      Sounding like a Hammy fan here complaining of being shoved into a weaker strategy. Why Leclerc doesn’t have stood up for the best strategy? And more, if Sainz had chewed his tyres the longer stint strategy wouldn’t work anyway, so credits to him. He’s clearly not on Leclerc’s level despite being ahead in the championship but your attempt to put him in the same struggling category of Bottas and Ricciardo this season is pushing it too far. Dismissing Leclerc’s blame in his Monaco fiasco is as biased as stating that Sainz was robbed pole for the same GP.

  5. The direct comparision between teammates with metrics like how many times qualified ahead, finished ahead, laps ahead etc. have some obvious lacunas of data when one of the drivers failed to set a time in qualifying or registered a DNF, for instance. Those are valid, but to avoid the risk of skewing the analysis due random events like mechanical retirements we should complement it with measures for which drivers are compared independently between them, like number of points finish (although for upper midfield and top teams usually don’t offer a decent tie-breaker), average qualifying and race positions (which has the flaw of indefinition regarding retirements), and finally, a more qualitative and maybe a little bit subjective intra-team ranking of quali and race results filling the gaps of non-appearances and retirements this way: the driver ahead before one of them or both hit trouble is recognised as the one with better performance for his team, unless there is other variable to take into account i.e. the driver in question retired because caused trouble for himself, had a significant share of blame for an incident or something like that.
    Applying the criteria above, Leclerc is leading 7-4 on Sainz because in Monaco he crashed and it caused his DNS (blame on Ferrari for failing to fix his car but also on himself for damaging it in first place) and in Hungary Leclerc was way ahead Sainz when he was taken out by Stroll. Despite being the Ferrari driver who didn’t score points in the race, unless Sainz had done something incredible after the first lap he still performed better overall because he didn’t crash on Saturday and qualified a lot of places ahead. So the problem of those type of in-depth analysis is that there’s a risk of it becoming too qualitative and even a little subjective, so it should not have precedence on number of points finishes, total points scored, quali and race average position, quali results and race finishes ahead, laps led and other measures which are definitively more objective.

    1. Leclerc / Sainz
      Points finishes: 8-9
      Total points scored: 80-83
      Qualifying average position: 5.36-8.27
      Race average position: 6.33-6.55
      Qualified ahead: 8-3
      Finished ahead: 6-3
      Laps ahead: 373-174

    2. Agree with this.

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