Sainz: ‘Risky’ Norris DRS tactic ‘could have looked really bad on me’

Formula 1

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Carlos Sainz Jnr admitted his decision to slow down and allow Lando Norris behind him to use DRS could have backfired disastrously.

The Ferrari driver deliberately reduced his pace to help the McLaren driver defend his position from the chasing Mercedes pair. His tactics worked, allowing Sainz to score his first victory of the season.

Following a Virtual Safety Car period with 17 laps to go, Sainz held one-and-a-second lead over Norris, with his Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc 4.5s behind and Mercedes’ George Russell 16s back in fourth.

It took 11 laps for Norris to get within a second of Sainz, but by then Russell was in third and just 1.1s behind. Sainz’s mission was to maintain his gap to Norris in a way that ensured he kept a second between himself and Russell through the final five laps.

His logic was that the considerably faster Russell could be denied access to DRS usage if he let Norris get close enough to him to use DRS himself and therefore have a gap to Russell on the straights where overtaking was possible.

The strategy “worked to perfection”, as Norris successfully defended his position and thereby protected the race leader. Sainz admitted that pulling away was not an option, particularly if Russell had been able to make it into second place.

Starting from pole on a street circuit with few passing places, Sainz felt his best chance of victory lay in preventing those behind him from exploiting their potentially superior pace.

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“It was very difficult to tell before the race whether we would have the race pace to win,” he said. “I felt like even if we didn’t, by managing and controlling the gaps and controlling the pace and the tyre degradation, I could create myself the opportunity to win.”

The first part of that involved holding his lead at the start, which he did, then it became a race of pace management. All of the lead drivers pitted a third of the way through the race while the Safety Car was out, then the chasing Mercedes drivers pitted again during the VSC period, which gave them a tyre advantage to attack Sainz, Norris and Leclerc. They dispatched the latter with little difficulty.

Initially, Sainz was “not so nervous” about the pace of the approaching Mercedes pair as he “felt like I had a lot of pace in hand to push the last 12-15 laps”. But that was not the case.

“I felt like as soon as I started pushing, my tyre degradation started to kick in. And I think Lando and I were sliding a lot, then it surprised me quite a lot how quickly the Mercs managed to pass Charles and close the gap on Lando and me. And at that point, I thought okay, it’s not going to be easy and these last five, six laps is going to be a fight. And at that point, obviously I had to change a bit the strategy.”

Sainz backed off his pace, allowed second-placed Norris to close on him, allowing the McLaren driver to use his DRS. “I had to give Lando a bit of a cheeky DRS boost, and that helped us to keep them behind and win the race and get the win for Ferrari that feels great.”

This was a risky strategy, as it gave Norris an opportunity to attack. Sainz admitted he considered that before helping his rival.

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“You cannot have a single mistake or a snap because it means that then Lando’s going to have a chance to overtake you if he’s on DRS. At that point you decide to give him the DRS, hoping that that’s going to be enough to keep the Mercs behind.”

Sainz said it was a particularly difficult call to slow down significantly at the start of lap 60 to let Norris close back in after he lost time while repelling an attack from Russell.

“There was in particularly one lap that I think Lando defended into [turns] 16-17, and then I had to slow down a lot into [turns] one-two-three to give him DRS again.

“I think that move actually, saved my race, saved also Lando’s P2, because I feel like there, if not, I would have been also dead meat. If the Mercs would have passed Lando, I think they could have got past me pretty easily.”

Sainz called it a strategy that “is easy to have in mind, but it’s a lot more difficult to execute.”

“It’s all about having that commitment to do it and to put yourself under that extra risk” continually,” he explained. “But I felt like that was my only real chance of winning the race and I wanted to win.

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“Especially when I heard that 1.3-1.4-second gap up to Lando after he defended into 16, to take the decision to slow down in turns one and three. I was like ‘well, I hope this works’ because if not it could look really, really bad on me.”

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Author information

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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16 comments on “Sainz: ‘Risky’ Norris DRS tactic ‘could have looked really bad on me’”

  1. At the time it reminded me of a boxer leaving his guard down, or his chin open, to taunt his opponent into taking a risky swing.
    If it works, you’re a hero … get it wrong and you are the world’s biggest fool.

    It’s great to see a driver actually thinking and strategising rather than just putting his foot down isn’t it.

  2. It was supremely clever as long as it worked out. I wonder could Norris have chanced a last-lap move to punish him for it, but delighted for Sainz that the move worked. He’s really upped his game recently.

    1. the top 3(before Russell’s crash) were looking at the car behind them so it became a stalemate

      1. If lewis hadn’t attacked his team mate, russell might have had a chance to attack. But defending against lewis cost him his tyres

    2. I think Norris was hanging on to his tires for dear life even more than Sainz at that point @Ciaran.

      1. Sure it was a calculated gamble. Carlos knew that Lando knew that the pass would be very difficult to achieve and the attempt would only give wings to the Mercs behind.

        Anyway there were additional risks. A very minor mistake by Carlos would have given the win to Lando. Had Carlos pulled away, he would have been safer from Lando. But more at risk from the Mercs of course.

        Well, the odds were good and it paid off handsomely. Best drive since Max’s Brazil 2016 I reckon.

    3. Norris was intelligent enough to realise that trying to attack Sainz would have ruined his potential second place. His tires were as bad as sainzs.
      So he used the drs and was able to secure his podium.
      Intelligent drive to beat the fastest cars on track. Not by engine power but brainpower!

  3. I was really impressed by the way Carlos won this race. The moment when he told the pit wall that he was doing it on purpose summed it up for me – he was thinking a step ahead all the way through. Very mature driving.

  4. That’s two races in a row now where Carlos has demonstrated very clever, tactical driving. At Monza he kept the Max behind him for 14 laps by careful placement of his car and adjustment of speed. This is more than anyone else had managed at that point. I realise DRS was less effective.

    Now in Singapore he has kept Lando and the two faster Mercs behind him by careful deployment of the DRS and risk taking managed to his advantage. I think the car has improved but it’s not the fastest in race trim. Carlos has really gone up in my estimation a lot as a result of these performances. I have usually been quite unimpressed with him until now.

    1. I think both tracks are also fairly hard to pass without substantial pace advantage. The RB of Verstappen was 3 to 4 tenths a lap quicker than Sainz at Monza and that wasn’t enough for an overtake on just merit as you get very close at Parabolica and can’t really do much from thereon.

      Yesterday was again a street circuit that is very hard to pass even if you have a very quick car.

      Sainz drove a good race but I think it’s getting overblown.

      In fact I think Sainz has a higher chance of losing than winning yesterday with a better driver in the McLaren (see Lewis, Alonso or Verstappen). I don’t think Lando is much better than Carlos for him to force Carlos into an error. In fact he did hit the wall just before George went into it straight.

      1. Indeed. Fair comments.

  5. I think Norris was smart enough to realise his fight wasn’t with Sainz anymore but with keeping the two Mercedes at bay. For him it was the choice of having either P2 or P5, as if they’d wasted time fighting each other they’d have no hope of keeping the Mercs behind – regardless of who won out. I’d say their previous time as team-mates, and their friendship probably played a part here, Sainz presumably trusted Norris enough to attempt the risk. I wonder if he had have played the same risk if it was a different driver behind him?

    1. The beautiful thing is how effectively they worked as a team without as much as a word between them. Real teammates hardly ever do that

  6. Sainz explained very well why there had been so many cases where that DRS train tactic was not implemented, although it seems a no-brainer from the armchair. I can’t remember the exact instances, but more than once, even two teammates have been unable to coordinate and have as a result allowed a faster car by both of them in a handful of laps, which at the time struck me as utter brainlessness.

    The psychological blocks are that :
    1) You are taking an immediate risk in exchange for avoiding a bigger risk that is further in the future.
    2) If it backfires, you are sure to look like an idiot, while if you do nothing and end up being passed by the faster cars, many observers will fail to see the problem.

    After that demonstration by Sainz, maybe the DRS train tactic will be seen as more standard and will carry less egg-in-your-face risk.

  7. Great driving from him but well worth the risk.
    Even if it hadnt worked and allowed Norris to pass him, he likely would have then finished 4th at worse maybe 3rd.
    Then if he hadn’t tried it at all he likely would have then finished third and maybe fourth.

    1. Say norris passed him but he managed to hold on to him and keep drs, then norris would’ve used the same tactic he used, knowing that pulling away (assuming he even had the tyres for that) would result in mercs picking off sainz, and then him, so I think a tiny mistake allowing norris to pass would’ve still given him good chances of 2nd place.

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