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Rating Carlos Sainz’s best drives for Ferrari and McLaren

The start of the 2024 F1 season has brought a couple of unexpected surprises, especially for Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.

In the first race of the season, we saw an incredible performance from Sainz that landed him a podium and third place trophy. 

However, the following race weekend saw Sainz diagnosed with appendicitis and rushed to surgery, allowing reserve driver Ollie Bearman to take his place in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where he finished an impressive seventh. 

Thankfully, Sainz is expected to make a full recovery by the Australian Grand Prix.

Here, Planet Sport’s Monica De Los Angeles takes a trip down memory lane and rates what she thinks have been Sainz’s best races for Ferrari and McLaren so far.  

Brazil Grand Prix, 2019 (McLaren) 

Keeping with the theme of surprises, Sainz’s first podium in Formula 1 was nothing short of that. 

Due to a post-race time penalty applied to Lewis Hamilton, Sainz was promoted from P4 to P3 and his first podium was beautifully celebrated among his entire team. 

While this was Sainz’s best finish at the time, even without the post-race penalty, this is not what made it one of his best races; it was his technical driving and smooth overtaking that got him from the back of the grid in P20 all the way to the podium. 

After suffering from a power unit failure in qualifying, Sainz was left in the back of the grid and worked his way to the top, demonstrating great strategy as he navigated one pit stop the whole race, and his first “smooth operation” with McLaren.  

“It was maximum attack from Lap 1, the moves on [Sergio] Perez, the Alfas, the Haas…I made it stick every time I could and it was one of those days as a driver that everything happens and clicks and I’m happy I made it happen,” Sainz said. 

While it was a milestone for the Spanish driver, it was also a special moment for McLaren as it came 2,072 days after their last podium at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. 

While both McLaren and Sainz have had more podium appearances since then, there is no doubt that this was only the beginning of the smooth operator.  

Monaco Grand Prix, 2021 (Ferrari)

The Monaco Grand Prix, a home race for Sainz’s fellow Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc, is notorious for its narrow street circuit which makes it difficult to overtake and gain positions while being easy to crash. 

At the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, pole-sitter and Monegasque driver Leclerc failed to start the race after a crash in qualifying caused a driveshaft issue, effectively moving the rest of the grid up a place. 

Sainz, originally qualified to start P4, basically started in P3 behind Valteri Bottas, ahead of former team-mate Lando Norris.  

Leclerc’s crash in qualifying cut Sainz’s flying lap short and took away any chance of him getting his maiden pole position at one of the most anticipated races of the season. This left Sainz frustrated as he had been toying with the top spots throughout practice and qualifying. 

Speaking to the media after the red flag, Sainz expressed his frustration, saying: "You can imagine today I'm disappointed because I've had the pace all weekend to be on the front row, or not, it depends on Charles, Max or me putting the lap together, but to at least go for it." 

"It's difficult," he added. "I must admit I think this is one of my most frustrating moments as a racing driver. It's very tricky to digest it." 

Despite this, he went out and gave it his all and managed to move up to P2 after a tragic pit stop disaster retired Bottas’ Mercedes. 

From there on Sainz was able to build a comfortable gap between himself and Lando Norris behind, while inching towards Verstappen ahead. After a complicated weekend, Sainz was able to take his first podium in red, ahead of his former team-mate, and save the day for Ferrari.  

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British Grand Prix, 2022 (Ferrari) 

It was an action-packed 2022 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, as Sainz raced to his first victory in Formula One. 

At the third practice it had appeared that Red Bull were the strongest team ahead of qualifying. However, it was Ferrari's Sainz who took pole position after an impressive lap in wet conditions in qualifying, with the Spaniard securing his maiden pole position for the first time in his career. 

With team-mate Leclerc starting in P3, it was shaping up to be a strong weekend for Ferrari but it wouldn’t be easy with an incident-packed race from the very start.  

Within the first 10 seconds of the race getting underway, there was drama. George Russell’s Mercedes clipped the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, which retired both cars from the race. 

Also in the first lap were separate incidents involving Alex Albon in the Williams and Yuki Tsunoda in AlphaTauri which resulted in a red flag, delaying the restart of the race by almost an hour. 

Eventually, the grand prix got back underway with a standing start in grid order. Sainz led the race at the end of the first lap after the restart, with Leclerc and Sergio Perez both sustaining front wing damage after contact into turn 4. 

The Red Bull driver was forced into the pits early on for repairs, but Leclerc's Ferrari was deemed to have only minor damage, meaning he could continue. 

While Max Verstappen was momentarily able to take the lead from Sainz, a puncture sent him straight for the pits, leaving Sainz and Leclerc in the top two positions.  

After a few more laps of battling it out between Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and Leclerc, a safety car created an opportunity for “a free stop” for some teams and a risk on strategy. 

When the safety car was brought in, Hamilton and Sainz were on the track with new soft tyres and Leclerc led the race on the same medium compound tyres. 

With nine laps left in the race, Sainz expressed to the team over the radio that he was in a much better position to win this race on his new tyres and within the first few corners of the restart he was able to overtake his team-mate and take the lead from Leclerc, running him off the track.  

Perez, meanwhile, got past Hamilton and slotted into P3, after the Mercedes driver struggled to get his new soft tyres up to temperature. 

The next couple of laps saw some incredible wheel-to-wheel racing as the fight for the podium places continued, with Perez getting past both Hamilton and Leclerc again to move up to second place. 

The lack of grip on Leclerc's worn medium tyres then meant Hamilton also got past the Ferrari into Stowe corner to claim the third podium place. 

In the end, Sainz was able to finish the race 3.7 seconds ahead of Perez and hear the roar of the crowd as he passed the finish line in his first victory in Formula 1 after a milestone 150 races.  

“I don't know what to say. It's amazing. I mean, first race win, 150 races later, with Ferrari, in Silverstone. I cannot ask for more. It's a very special day, a day that I will never forget, a very special weekend in general, and yes, thank you everyone for your support, for your cheers,” Sainz said, expressing his elation after the race. 

Italian Grand Prix (Monza), 2023 (Ferrari) 

A race that is considered by many to be Sainz’s best race weekend in Formula 1 is the 2023 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. 

Another action-packed race where Sainz had led the weekend in practice and qualifying leading to his starting pole position on Sunday. 

With a dominant Max Verstappen breathing down his neck,  Sainz had a chance of holding the lead in his Ferrari and he put up an admirable fight, lasting a little over 14 laps out front before Verstappen came past. 

Surprisingly, this was the longest anyone other than a Red Bull had led that year. 

His one mistake was a small lock-up under pressure from Verstappen which cost him the lead, but with the dominance of the Red Bull last season, it is unlikely he could have kept the lead for much longer. 

Fighting to keep his second place with fellow Ferrari driver Leclerc behind, Sainz was able to break away from his team-mate, giving Perez in the Red Bull a chance to swoop past the Monegasque driver.  

Perez and Sainz had found themselves in a few intense battles this season and this one was no different, with Sainz giving his all until Perez was eventually able to overtake on the straight. 

However, it was the battle between Sainz and Leclerc that left us all on the edge of our seats as Sainz held on with sheer willpower and determination to the paramount podium at the Ferrari home race among thousands of Tifosi watching around the world. 

The two team-mates got the green light to fight it out amongst themselves but to ensure “no risk” was put on the possibility of a podium, and delivered a dramatic final few laps with Sainz coming out on top to stand on that illustrious podium among a sea of red. 

He may not have won the race but there is nothing like being a Ferrari driver on the podium at Monza, and on the week of his 29th birthday to top it all off.  

Sainz said: “It was a great weekend all along and to be able to celebrate a podium with the Tifosi is the perfect icing on the cake! I really want to thank every single one of them for their endless support. They are very special!” 

Singapore Grand Prix, 2023 (Ferrari) 

Carlos Sainz became the first non-Red Bull driver to win a race in 2023 at the Singapore Grand Prix in a humid, scorching and exciting race. 

With Verstappen knocked out in Q2 and starting P11, Sainz had an opportunity to break a 15-race winning streak and reach his second victory in Formula 1 by starting in pole position ahead of George Russell and Charles Leclerc. 

While the Singapore Grand Prix is known for its stifling temperatures, this puts an extra strain on the drivers as they have to manage their water just as carefully as their tyres. 

With hot and humid temperatures making the race that much more difficult, the pressure was immense from start to finish as Sainz fought to keep the arguably quicker Mercedes of Russell at bay for much of the evening. 

With Mercedes on fresh medium tyres, and Sainz nursing a set of the hard compound tyres that he’d had fitted under the early Safety Car, it was going to take a brilliant drive to keep them behind in the last few laps. 

Sainz might not have had his team-mate behind him to help defend but he had something just as useful - former team-mate and best friend Lando Norris in the McLaren. 

In the last handful of laps, Sainz purposefully dropped back to close the gap to Norris to ensure Norris could pick up DRS with which to defend from Russell and Hamilton, and the Spaniard admitted the idea was his own as he gave everything to this performance under extreme pressure.  

When informed by his racing engineer that the gap to Norris was closing, Sainz retorted “it’s on purpose,” letting his team know he was going off a new strategy using Norris and DRS to keep them both on the podium. 

In doing this, there was a risk the gap would close enough to allow Norris to attempt an overtake but this was a risk he was willing to take.  

“I knew he was on a hard, I knew if George [Russell] and Lewis [Hamilton] were passing him I was probably going to be dead meat also, so I needed him to hold on as long as possible. 

"I slowed down just a bit to give him DRS into Turn 7 to hold them off and keep my race under control. Not easy as you are putting yourself under risk and you cannot make any mistakes, but it was my strategy and it worked and I’m glad it did. 

“I think we should buy each other drinks, by giving him DRS I saved his P2 and by him defending as well as he did from Russell he helped me to get P1. Good ‘Carlando’ moments out there and it was nice honestly to get the podium with him, we have a great relationship and it was good also to see the McLaren guys there with Ferrari, good story.” 

As Sainz stood on the highest step on that podium, proudly looking out to his team, listening to his beloved Spanish national anthem, the Red Bull winning streak came to a humbling end and he demonstrated a new level of skill and talent to the world.  

Honorable mention: Bahrain Grand Prix, 2024 (Ferrari) 

Sainz took the first race of the season as an opportunity to show all the other teams on the grid what he brings to the table by snagging a podium behind the two Red Bulls in Bahrain. 

After a less than ideal start, he was able to overtake anyone in his way, including his team-mate Leclerc, in yet another thrilling battle between the two Ferraris. 

Luckily, he was able to snag the last podium spot just under three seconds behind Perez with Verstappen up ahead.  

“I felt really good out there today,” Sainz explained. “The start wasn’t ideal but from then on I just managed my tyres as well, and then from there I could do my pace, overtook two or three cars on the way to the podium. 

“Then keeping up with the Red Bull there at the end, which was a pleasant surprise. Still not enough, not where we want to be, but [it’s] good steps forward compared to last year and a solid start to the season.”

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