Carlos Sainz Jnr, Charles Leclerc, Silverstone, 2021

Improving Sainz pips Leclerc at end of first season together at Ferrari

2021 team mate battles: Leclerc vs Sainz Jnr

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Ferrari’s decision not to bring Sebastian Vettel back for 2021, and replace him with Carlos Sainz Jnr, was a bold statement that the team would invest in the promise of youth over experience.

After easily overshadowing his champion team mate in 2020, Charles Leclerc would be expected to lead Ferrari as new team mate Sainz got to grips with his new surroundings in Maranello. But the Spaniard enjoyed the lion’s share of the on-track success throughout the season to end the year ahead on points and take the coveted ‘best of the rest’ position of fifth.

The start of the year was a challenging one for most drivers who had found new homes in 2021 and it was no different for Sainz, who struggled to match Leclerc in qualifying over the opening phase of the season, save for Portugal. After four rounds, Sainz had managed only half the points (20) that his team mate had managed in the same time (40).

Leclerc’s highlight of the season came in Monaco, where he secured a very popular home pole position – albeit through the help of a red flag that he himself caused by crashing at the exit of the Swimming Pool. But Leclerc and Ferrari’s best chance of a win all year was ended before the race even began when gearbox problems caused by his Saturday shunt reared their head on the reconnaissance lap.

But his team mate’s Monte Carlo heartache was Sainz’s opportunity and he took advantage of Valtteri Bottas‘ calamitous pit stop to move up to second and secure his first podium appearance in Rosso Corsa-coloured overalls.

Despite his Monaco disappointment, Leclerc followed up with his second consecutive pole in similarly fortunate circumstances in Azerbaijan and led almost the entirety of the British Grand Prix until he was caught and passed by Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps. But by now, Sainz was hitting his stride and reached the chequered flag ahead of Leclerc for the first times in France and the two Red Bull Ring races.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2021
Podium at finale lifted Sainz to fifth in standings
Leclerc found his form around the summer break and began consistently finishing ahead of Sainz through the second half of the season. However, Sainz would be the one who scored the biggest results of the two, taking three more podiums in Hungary, Russia and in Abu Dhabi in contentious circumstances.

This trio of 15-point hauls helped Sainz move ahead of both Leclerc and former team mate Lando Norris in the championship at the end of the season, as Ferrari began to pull away from McLaren in the constructors’ standings.

At year’s end, Leclerc had beaten Sainz in the qualifying battle and in classified finishes throughout the season, but Sainz had come out on top in the standings. It had been a far more fruitful season for the Scuderia, with both drivers having given team principal Mattia Binotto enough reason to declare them the strongest driver pairing on the grid.

With both having shown they were not afraid to duke it out with the other in Saudi Arabia – much to Sainz’s chagrin – it will be fascinating to see which Ferrari driver comes out on top when the team may well be back in the thick of the action in 2022.

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Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz Jnr: Key stats

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

Charles LeclercQ
Sainz JnrQ

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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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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21 comments on “Improving Sainz pips Leclerc at end of first season together at Ferrari”

  1. Sainz keeps improving every year and more important, when he came to Renault the team improve from 6 to 4. He went to Mclaren and went from 6 to 4 and 3 in two years. He went to Ferrari and went from 6 to 3.
    This is a fact and when he left all the teams they all went back wards!!! Well done!!

    1. It would have been hard for some of those teams to have done worse though – a rebound in performance would have been expected to at least some extent when at Ferrari, for example, given their resources.

      Furthermore, with 2020 having been such a low point, there pretty much wasn’t much lower for them to go, so they probably could only get better from there. There needs to be a question of how much is really down to him and how much is down to circumstances outside of his control.

      1. anon,
        It is worth mentioning that by Elkan’s own admission when Ferrari was in the middle of the storm in 2020, that the tools and structures that Ferrari were using to design and develop the car over the course of a season were almost obsolete and needed to be upgraded or replaced. Consequently, a lot of work and investments went into the upgrade of these tools.

        A lot of work was carried to adjust the correlation between to the wind tunnel and CFD that has been hitting Ferrari since 2018 and which appears to be working better this year with the updates when tested on track were matching what was already seen in the simulations.

        Part of this involves the implementation of a state-of-the-art simulator, developed by the Bristol-based firm Dynisma (created in 2017 by former Ferrari engineer Ash Warne), which the team installed in Maranello to chase greater performance gains and achieve a jump start over the competition for the 2022 season.

        Ferrari will also rely on AWS’s powerful capabilities (advanced analytics, machine learning, AI…) that will enable them to run greater simulations faster than ever before to quickly gain insights into the design and performance of their car. As you’ve mentioned, there is a lot going on behind the scenes which is absolutely out of Sainz’s (or any other driver) control.

    2. It was not just the teams that he helped finish higher also his teammates…

      1. @peartree

        It was not just the teams that he helped finish higher also his teammates…

        Sainz is lucky but is there to pounce. Leclerc is a smart guy and is not underestimating him. But not overestimating as media does as well…

  2. I would love to see these two recieve a car on par with Mercedes and Red Bull, it would be an epic battle.

    1. If that happens, I’m sure leclerc will be much more effective at taking points than sainz, who’s more consistent and less fast, see what happened with bottas vs hamilton this year in points.

      1. That is a contradiction. I see Leclerc more like Bottas, fast on 1 lap, but unable to perform during the race due to its inconsistencies. In average Leclerc has lost 0.1 positions per race, while Sainz gained 1.4 positions in average.

  3. It was Sainz’s 7th season, and Leclerc’s 4th season in F1 iirc.
    Verstappen had much more errors than today in his first 4 season, most of those more or less gone away by now.
    So imo Leclerc still has some chance to be a bit more errorless by geting more experienced.

    Looking at the “key stats”, expecially the “finishing ahead”, and the “laps ahead”one, I would say Sainz outscoring Leclerc was variance. Although good season from Sainz, yes he is apparently still improving, and said to be a good teamplayer, and this can not be taken away from him. Actually I like him, and this seems to be a fitting and nice pairing for Ferrari, imo the Fans are likely liking these nice Southern European drivers with future potential.

    Leclerc was a good qualifier at the lower levels, and at F1 too, when he had the machinery he picked up many poles.
    Given this, the qualifying record and quali pace of Sainz is nice. If I were Mick Schumacher I would build some connections at Red Bull and Mercedes, this pairing is too good looking for the close future and for mid-term as well.

    1. Although Mick probably can look towards the upcoming Audi or Porsche teams as well.
      Imo this driver pairing at Ferrari can remain for a while, maybe not, if one of these fairly good drivers can not take playing the second fiddle, if in the end he would have to. After these nice seasons with improvements, maybe Sainz wants more than that too, while imo Leclerc will improve or remain a bit hotheaded forever (although imo he is not very hotheaded and not very error prone – even his previous season was fairly errorless, and at this season he had a bit less luck with the fat-points-scoring finishes when it came to comparing to Sainz).

    2. Although as many swords are double edged, this has an other edge too:
      In the worst case-like scenario for Ferrari, and for Sainz and Leclerc, what we have seen at this season, maybe tells that Leclerc is not the ultimate driver, as Sainz was a bit too close. Maybe this was the reason why Leclerc seemed a bit less patient than usual, and pushed a bit more than necessary.

      Although this is a bit less likely, I perceive them as good drivers yet, with chance of becaming a champion, if the car will be there. And I vote for an F1 which has a more frequently changing formula, or rule set, to see more champions, and to give the opportuinity for more teams and drivers just like during most of the earlier decades. If the cars are to reliable, and performing at a distinct level compared to other constructors, and the formula rarely changes, then it cements the order, and cements being at the rock bottom for the backmarker teams for a long while, then it is a not very good experience for the fans. Many likes to cheer for the underdog for example.

      At a cutting edge engineering competition, for a lot of money, constant change should not be part of the game to a higher extent? Imo having a frequently changing, and much more premissive set of rules, with the most significant restrictor being a cost cap, would not degrade the value of the engineering competition.

      1. So I would say, an all-inclusive cost cap, which includes development done by the sponsors, and third parties as well, would be the most honest.

        If this not happens, manufacurers can make their subsidiaries, and other kinds of sister companies to develop for their F1 team, without the team paying, or paying real world price for that. So the teams with very strong manufacturer background are able to pull a lot of resources from the outside world, which they otherwise could not afford at all.
        For worse, to me apparently it seems, that at the corporate world, most of the companies are bought up by some giga companies, thus teams with the best corporate backgrouds have access to practically everything what is in existence.

        For example 1000 kinds of fuels can be developed and tried for them, and it would be hard do deny that the fuel company did it to find the one that is a best fit for the specific F1 engine, while the development is not relly paid by a particular team. Or let’s claim at the pre season specification that we have 30 engine modes, the topmost ones can provide 1500bhp at race trim, and once the engine manufacturer made the engine reliable enough to use that mode at the race, we will use it (ok this is an exaggeration here, but who knows). Imo this is what a non-all-inclusive cost cap looks like today.

        And F1 should not go for developing very very high levels of machinery reliability. Leave that to the outer world. Reliability reduces randomness, drama, cements the order, especially with DRS. If they want to keep both, they should go for gauging DRS performance per weekend during the practice and quali sessions, and set the maximum opening angle or gap on the wing to clamp the average speed advantage provided by DRS to something like 10kilometers per hour. Or invent something comparable.

        Sorry, I am like this :)

  4. These stats confirm the feeling: sainz has been luckier and more consistent, leclerc took more risks, which sometimes didn’t pay off but the faster driver, a bit like verstappen when not having a championship contender, and I’m sure if the car improves the points will reflect their speed more.

    1. @esploratore1 However, over the last 5 or so races Sainz looked quicker than Leclerc in both qualifying and race trim. Given it probably took him a while to get used to the car and team, I’d predict they will be pretty much even in terms of speed next year, with Sainz having a superior racing/strategic brain. Leclerc probably deserved to finish ahead this year, but his advantage definitely disappeared over the season.

  5. Carlos Sainz Jnr proved he was more than a match for his new team mate.

    Another season another beating for Carlos, yet as ever he gets high praise. It is no longer funny. I don’t get why the love, he is not British, he is a pay driver, he is not funny or humble.
    I’m disappointed Charles did not absolutely crush Carlos however the graphs show Charles was decisively stronger. Almost a 75% tilt towards Charles.

    1. @peartree

      Another season another beating for Carlos, yet as ever he gets high praise.

      Carlos having another beating but once again finishing ahead of his team-mate in the WDC is starting to look too much of a coincidence, isn’t it? He was lucky again, I agree, but there’s more to it.

      I’m disappointed Charles did not absolutely crush Carlos however the graphs show Charles was decisively stronger. Almost a 75% tilt towards Charles.

      The answer: race strategy, not only luck, levelled the scores against the faster Charles. His team-mate still performed better, but the gap was not very big because of Carlos racing intelligently. Of course he was not the Ferrari driver who took more risks, but sometimes he made the wiser choices. He also managed to conserve his tyres slightly better.

    2. yet as ever he gets high praise

      Rightly so, in my very humble opinion. Per euro or dollar, Sainz probably gets you the most value on the grid.

      I was unconvinced for quite some years as well. Yet, he was very close to Verstappen and even outqualified (!!!) him in their only full season together.
      He crushed Kvyat, he outscored Norris and now he outscored Leclerc.
      Only against Hulkenberg, in his first year away from Red Bull, did he falter.

      I do not hink he is the out and out fastest driver on the grid, but he is one of only a handful of drivers that might have a chance against the very best in a hypothetical title fight.

      If you give me a bucketload of cash to start my own F1 team, Carlos Sainz is the first driver I call.

    3. This Seinz is really strange yes, but he is quick where it matters, and if it was a title fight, he would be the Champion against faster LeClerc.

      Points decide titles, his teams thrive… Almost exact opposite to Alonso.

    4. And yet Sainz brings home more points. That stat actually counts the most at the end of the season. You really have a bone to pick with Sainz here, I guess. I remember a few weeks back you referred to Sainz as “the guy that is only in Ferrari because his family is friends with the Agnelli’s” without any prompting. Did he steal your girlfriend or something?

    5. @peartree I think a lot of people fail to realize how good Leclerc is. He is really fast and able to drive difficult cars, which is why he destroyed Vettel in 2020. Sainz is a little slower than him in qualifying, but in the races he is as fast or faster and he is incredibly consistent. Still in the championship it could have gone either way, they were that close. Can’t wait to see their intra-team battle next year!

  6. Called this.

    I said, “Leclerc will be quicker but Sainz will be more consistent, especially in the back half of the season”.

    I was laughed at. How dare I, you all said, question the supreme leader in waiting that is Charles Leclerc.

Comments are closed.