Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Imola, 2022

Four races in, two drivers look in need of a confidence boost

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A driver’s confidence is governed by their mindset and the car underneath them. Give them a race-winning car, the confidence soars. Give them a mediocre, unpredictable car and their head may drop.

“The mind is everything” explained Sir Jackie Stewart in a 2003 interview. “All the boys in Formula One today have gifts from God and there’s 20 of them. Then there’s the top six, then the extraordinary three. But the genius is the one who takes it to another level.” For those, Stewart believes, “it’s always the head that took them there.”

But what happens when that confidence drops? Four races into the 2022 season, a handful of drivers already appear to be in that position.

Nicholas Latifi has had a wretched start to 2022, coming off the back of a controversial end to last season.

The Williams driver attracted undue criticism over his crash which triggered the title-deciding Safety Car period in Abu Dhabi. Afterwards Latifi received a barrage of abuse, including death threats, leading him to issue a statement in which he admitted deleting social media apps from his phone as a result.

Nicholas Latifi, Williams, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Latifi crashed twice in Jeddah
“The ensuing hate, abuse, and threats on social media were not really a surprise to me as it’s just the stark reality of the world we live in right now,” said Latifi. “I’m no stranger to being talked about negatively online, I think every sportsperson who competes on the world stage knows they’re under extreme scrutiny and this comes with the territory sometimes.

“But as we’ve seen time and time again, across all different sports, it only takes one incident at the wrong time to have things completely blown out of proportion and bring out the worst in people who are so-called ‘fans’ of the sport. What shocked me was the extreme tone of the hate, abuse, and even the death threats I received.”

Four races into the new season, Latifi is sitting at the bottom of the standings. He has had a series of crashes: One during qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, another in the race, and again during qualifying in Melbourne following a misunderstanding with Lance Stroll. And new team mate Alexander Albon is showing him the way much as his predecessor George Russell did.

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Ahead of last weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, Williams team principal Jost Capito admitted his driver’s confidence was low. “It’s a heads game, isn’t it?” he said.

“He’s capable to drive very fast and do the same lap times as Alex if he is in the right place. The cars are a bit more difficult and trickier to drive than last year’s car and he has to get his head around it and he gets the full support from the team.

Melbourne was a weekend of frustrations for Sainz
“Of course if you have a couple of offs… you have to fight again the confidence then. But he will get the full support of the team and we are sure he will get there.

Highlighting the impression Abu Dhabi had on the Canadian, Capito added: “I think what impacted him most last year was the comments and the threats on social media. We helped him to get over that.”

“We try to boost his confidence, we work with him,” Capito added. “I think he’s getting better on that and he has to learn that and I think he’s on a good way.”

At the other end of the grid, Carlos Sainz Jnr has also had a bruising couple of races for Ferrari. While team mate Charles Leclerc sits atop the drivers’ championship, Sainz has only taken five points from the last two rounds.

Sainz spun out and beached his Ferrari on the second lap of the Australian Grand Prix. Keen to bounce back at Imola, after his new Ferrari deal was announced, Sainz suffered another blow as he crashed out in Q2, leaving him 10th on the grid for the sprint race.

Afterwards he admitted he still isn’t fully confident in his car. “It’s no secret that mistakes like yesterday happen for a reason and I’m still not 100 percent,” he said on Saturday.

“I’m out there fighting the car and trying to figure it out. Obviously I’m quick – this is no secret that [in qualifying] I was quick, in Australia I was quick. It’s just the confidence with it and the predictability that I have from the car. And as soon as I get this sorted, I will be 100 percent.”

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Sainz admitted the setback was “very painful” for him. “I’m not going to hide it. It was a very negative day for me. It’s how it goes, sometimes, in sport; you have bad moments and yesterday [Friday] definitely was a low for me. The important thing is to keep learning from these mistakes.”

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Interlagos, 2019
Gasly made an emotional podium debut in 2019

In a further blow, though one not of his making, the race ended in disaster for Sainz when he was hit by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at the start, sending him into retirement.

But never underestimate the resilience of these drivers nor their capacity to bounce back. Pierre Gasly’s experience three years ago provides an inspiring example.

Having been handed a dream opportunity to join top team Red Bull in 2019, Gasly’s season began poorly, and having lagged behind Max Verstappen he was relegated back to Toro Rosso after just 12 races.

A few weeks later that professional blow was followed by a personal tragedy which hit him even harder. Anthoine Hubert, his childhood friend, died in a Formula 2 crash during the Spa race weekend.

But within three months, Gasly was back at his best, and scored an emotional podium finish in Brazil. Speaking last weekend, he described how from an early age he had his confidence in his ability to overcome the adversities he faced through his efforts.

“I think that’s something that I’ve always had as a kid,” he told RaceFans in an exclusive interview. “This sort of mentality to fight for the things I wanted.

“It started already back in the days when I was in karting, the fact that I didn’t have the money to have the same equipment, the same tyres, for example, and others were running these new tyres. I didn’t have the money to buy new tyres.

“I always felt the need to deliver more or find more strength within myself. If others are pushing 100 percent, I need to be a 110 percent to compensate that lack of equipment that I had.

“And that’s always the mentality that I had, even sometimes everything is not lining up in my favour. I can still turn it into a very positive outcome. And I always had this sort of mindset.

“I always believed in hard work and discipline and sort of believing in that process. But as long as you keep doing the right things, the right outcome will happen at the end.”

These traits are ingrained in F1 drivers. It is a sport that leaves little room for emotions and exposes weaknesses. But we are only four races in and there are still plenty of opportunities for Latifi and Sainz to rebound from their early setbacks.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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28 comments on “Four races in, two drivers look in need of a confidence boost”

  1. It’s more than 2, i’d say…

    Lewis needs a decent result soon, he’s already talking himself out of the championship… 4 races into a VERY long season.

    Alonso is certainly not lacking confidence, but there is no doubt a significant run of bad luck will start to dent his motivation for this year if he doesn’t start finishing races in the points after having generally impressive Saturday’s.

    Mick desperately needs to get onto Kevin’s level – he was massively flattered by Mazepin last year, and shouldn’t be this far away from a driver who spent a year out of single seaters.

    Same with Daniel VS Lando. The rumours that McLaren are already looking to get Herta in the team will start to play on his mind, and he’ll struggle to get another competitive seat if he finishes 2 stints behind younger, faster team mates.

    The whole Aston Martin team needs to lift itself off the bottom of the performance pile. If Williams had 2 drivers of Albon’s calibre, they’d be fighting between themselves most weekends.

    1. Schumacher really has been a bit of a mess this year. Yes Magnussen is doing a great job but Schumacher is driving like a rookie. I suppose as you say now we really know how bad Mazepin was.

      I’ve not seen Hamilton in this kind of headspace since his blue period of 2011-12. He has had some risky set up choices trying to deal with a terrible car and diverging luck vis a vis Russell. But at some point he has to just deal with it like in 2009. Maybe he is just going through the phases of grief right now over losing a redemptive title shot whereas Russell can be just happy to be there.

      1. To be fair to Mick, this is the first year in a half decent car, and with a teammate that is pushing him. You could technically call it his “rookie” season? Not really…But we have to admit that K-Mag has been driving the wheels off that car, and considering he is just coming back from a whole year absent, is quite impressive. Unfortunately, it does not make Schumacher look too good, but I think it is still too early to tell.

        As for Carlos, I really hope he can get a bit of luck. We are seeing potential of what he is able to do (Sprint race Imola + most of last year), and he could be a crucial asset in the title decider later on in the year.

        1. José Lopes da Silva
          28th April 2022, 22:27

          For all the simpathy that Mick gets from the fans, the fact is that he hadn’t been touted as a future top driver as he came to Formula 1. He had much to prove, and the time has now come.
          In the worst scenario, we might in the future conclude that the 2021 Haas was probably a decent car, but loaded with the worst driver pairing in many, many years.

          1. Yes, if the level of schumacher didn’t change since last year, we might indeed assume a magnussen or grosjean would’ve scored points with last year’s car, which still seems worse than the current one even accounting for that.

        2. @ksh2000 It’s Mick’s sophomore season, and a lot of drivers find the sophomore season difficult because they’re no longer going in with a clean slate, but with whatever they carried in from the previous season. Also, there’s less of a sense of separation between the seasons – once you’re on the F1 treadmill, you have to work with half an eye on the future. Rookies tend to get some slack on this since they can’t possibly know what “working with half an eye on the future” fully means, and it does tend to get better with time, but it makes sense that Year 2 is particularly sticky for a lot of drivers (Mick included).

    2. Don’t agree about Lewis. At all. He has more than enough credit in the bank. He wont win the WDC this year nor will Mercedes win the Constructors but its his job as team leader to get the car back to the front.

      Agree re Mick, looking more Ralph than Michael. Shame but even the gilded path he has been gifted with runs out sooner or later. Shame, likeable lad but maybe thats the problem

    3. Lewis will not win another championship.

    4. While clicking on the article link, I too thought this might be about Alonso and Hamilton. Guess lot of people having unexpected season. Even Pierre Gasly might be feeling a bit disappointed currently.

    5. Hannu Gosolo
      2nd May 2022, 14:19

      Ghasly of all people must be feeling disappointed, every season so far, since being bumped by Red Bull. He has proved himself time and again in an inferior car. Sadly, we will never se him in a Red Bull again. I doubt if they want such a strong performer distracting their ‘chosen one’.

  2. In fact, Sainz does not need confidence. He needs a load of points and even some wins from here to Monaco. Otherwise, Ferrari will be totally justified to concentrate on Leclerc. The team really likes to push for a #1 driver. If only one driver has the luck/talent to win and to beat Redbull, then Sainz will have to accept a #2 role. Plus, is 2023 starts with Leclerc World Champion, the rest of his Carlos contract wil be like that.

    1. I think that this is exactly Sainz problem, he is sometimes trying too hard and making his life tougher than it should, by putting too much pressure on himself knowing what the car is capable of.

      I also believe that the current swing in form from some drivers is coming from the handling of the new car. Let’s not forget that their specs are not the same than last year and will suit and flatter some drivers more than others, not a big surprise to see changes in pecking order. Some will adapt, some won’t. We have seen that in the past depending if drivers can adapt their style to the car.

      1. If I had to describe Sainz v. Leclerc: Sainz would be a driver capable to extract between 99-100% of full potential of a car; Leclerc usually goes most of the time 98-100% of the potential of the car. But Leclerc can go to “101%” of the car, potential while Sainz might not. I could not even say that LEC is better than SAI, but would believe that LEC can go all the way to 11 more times.

        1. I wouldn’t put it that way (101%), but if you look at last season I agree that leclerc can extract the max from a car more often than sainz, sainz can be more consistent, this year since he’s making mistakes\finding himself in bad situations like last weekend he doesn’t have anything on leclerc.

    2. Maybe Hamilton will end his career at Ferrari next year. :-)

    3. I think the article’s point is Sainz needs confidence in order to get the points. Think of it as considering required secondary powers.

  3. petebaldwin (@)
    28th April 2022, 13:17

    Yeah I was going to post the same thing. Lewis, Mick and Ricciardo stand out as 3 drivers who are lacking confidence at the moment.

    Mick spent a year beating an embarrassingly slow driver and now he’s got a decent team mate, it feels like he’s overdriving the car trying to keep up. He needs to just settle into it and learn from K-Mag.

    Ricciardo just seems to have carried on from last year… He’s not quite got the pace of Lando and when things are going ok, he gets bad luck.

    Lewis is still driving as if he’s in a dominant car. He isn’t taking risks when he needs to and is playing the percentage game. That doesn’t work when you’ve got an upper-midfield car. Whereas Hamilton said “it’s too wet” last weekend, Russell was saying (2 laps earlier) that it’s dry and he’s ready to pit. It’s a risk to pit early but it could gain you positions – you don’t do that if you’re in front but if you’re stuck behind people in the midfield, you have to take risks. I don’t know if it’s a lack of confidence or just a different mindset but unless Mercedes improve their car quickly, Hamilton is going to have to adapt how he races on Sundays.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      28th April 2022, 13:18

      Was meant to be a reply to @joeypropane

    2. Absolutely agree regarding hamilton, at some point you have nothing to lose with that car and he should take more risks, especially in wet conditions where he’s usually good.

    3. Daniel has been very competitive with Lando in quali. That gap that was there last year in one lap speed has disappeared. He has had some really shit luck in the races though (partly mechanical and a little bit self-induced in Imola, but Sainz trying to squeeze by on the outside had the makings of disaster).

  4. Schumacher stands out as the one in most need of a result in my mind. Last year he was given a free pass, an easy teammate to race against and a terrible car. Having crashed and spun as many times as Tsunoda most chose overlooked his litany of errors due to the poor car. But their are no excuses this year, having already spun a number of times, he is yet to score a point in a car that has proven to be very competitive, and whose teammate is currently comprehensively outperforming him in all metrics despite being out of the sport for a year. He more than anyone needs a big result and to show he is developing as a driver.

  5. Mick Schumacher first came to my mind to be honest, although I’m not sure if it’s about confidence as much as possibly trying to hard to match Magnussen. You can’t drive faster than your fastest as we know, but if you still try it usually ends the way it ends for him lately. I do hope he’ll do better though, he deserved his chance (despite his name, he didn’t really buy his seat, he won championships). He’s slow at adapting to new cars, so there is hope he’ll do better in a few months (and hopefully he won’t lose his seat in the meanwhile, here his name may help again).
    Now, Sainz is definitely the case of poor mental state, we know what he can do. He had his ups and downs already, but this is an entirely new situation. Smaller oscillations he always dealt with just fine, but this is the first time he’s really spiraling down. This could cost him his career, but this is also F1 and if he wins a couple of races this year it may all be forgotten. He’s safe for another two years which is a very big deal, he signed his contract in the perfect moment. Truth to be told, last race was only bad luck, but as long as he’s consistently slower than Leclerc that’ll be considered as bad performance. Gotta get closer. I wish him well, he always seemed like a good guy, a decent person which is rare these days.

  6. I think Lewis will have had his confidence knocked by the season he has had so far. Who would not have. He’s not used to driving with a struggling car of course whereas for new team mate George, it’s still a step up and is still new and exciting. I don’t really want Mercedes to start winning all the time as it’s good to have someone else at the top. But I wonder that, if the team are not able to improve the car soon, Lewis might start to lose some motivation. After all he’s been there and done it all. Does he really want to be driving and finishing in the mid-field. There is a lot of pressure on the team now to deliver.

    I too am concerned about Daniel. He seems to have made a series of poor choices which on paper have looked good, but he’s struggled with the day to day reality. The truth of the matter is that since going to McLaren, he hardly ever seems to match the pace or results of Lando. He’s been a disappointment really. I hope he can turn things around. He desperately needs a bit of luck and some decent results. He could still get on level terms then I think with a bit of confidence. He definitely has the ability still.

    1. I think we need to remember there’s a difference between a driver lacking overall confidence and a driver whose suffered bad luck. Hamilton’s had a podium this year already and when not stuck in traffic his race pace is comparable to or better then Russell’s. Riccardo’s also suffered bad luck as well, though Norris has been more consistent then him generally.
      Latifi and Saniz have both made unforced errors as they tried to get on level with their team mates. While I can see Saniz still having chance to improve and take an overdue race win, I can’t see Latifi improving much.

      1. Hamilton outperformed russell in 2 races and did worse in the other 2, but russell did so by more significant margin as he’s been closer to the potential of the car, I’m giving hamilton bahrain and australia, where he would’ve been ahead if not for unlucky VSC, and russell jeddah and imola, you can say there was bad luck again in the race at jeddah for hamilton, but quali was his own doing, just like being stuck in a drs train at imola, and as such the end result in this case had a massive difference.

  7. It takes literally one race for people to say so and so “is in crisis.” It’s nonsense. It’s amazing how many people are willing to make broad stroke statements about drivers after a single race (I know we’ve had four, but so many articles and people will say someone is done or suffering after one bad result even if it wasn’t their fault). I find, for example, people saying Tsunoda now appears to have Gasly’s measure after four races to be pretty crazy, especially when you consider PG’e consistency last year and all the reliability problems he’s suffered this year.

    Mick Schumacher has clearly never been up to snuff. If he was a great talent he would have clobbered Mazipin rather than often being near enough to him on the track to get into big, controversial scraps with him. I like him as a person, but if his name wasn’t Schumacher he would not be in F1. Simple as that.

  8. This season is lewis’s most important season to prove that he is capable of being fast in less capable cars like alonso, seb, max, charles, and russel.

    1. If he could people will remember him as one of the greats.

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