A happy Sainz on P3 in F1 Japanese GP: “Improved race pace allows us to have more strategic flexibility”

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari
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The Ferrari driver was the author of a brilliant performance today in Suzuka, which led Sainz to his third podium of 2024.

Starting from P4, he pulled off great moves at Spoon on both Mercedes drivers, as well as overtaking Lando Norris. Finally, he also passed Charles Leclerc on a one-stop strategy, taking the final podium position behind the two Red Bull drivers.

The Spaniard was pretty pleased with his day and even more with his final result, knowing that his SF-24 had strong race pace.

“We kind of knew our race pace was better than our qualifying pace. Still probably not enough to go for a win because, obviously, starting P4 and given how good the race pace of the Red Bull is, it’s almost impossible to think about a win, but I was hopeful of achieving a podium that in the end we managed to achieve, even if it was a very tough race, very strategic.

“The track condition changed a lot through the race. We went from a very sunny track that we hadn’t had all weekend to a very cloudy track. The degradation went down a lot and you could push a lot more on the tyres halfway through the race.

“And yeah, this changed the whole situation quite a lot. At one point, I thought the podium wasn’t possible, but then with a new Hard, the pace was mega and I could get back onto the podium.”

After his last stop, the Ferrari driver wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to beat Leclerc and Norris to 3rd, but ultimately he had been able to pull it off with much younger tyres.

“Honestly, I thought it was on, but I thought it was going to be very difficult to get back into the fourth or P3.

“I knew I needed a very big delta to approach Lando and Charles, and in the end, we managed. I was quick on that Hard tyre. I really liked how the Hard gave me a good feeling to push. And I could, yeah, get the moves done and get that podium.”

Asked about how it feels as a driver to have been able to reduce the gap to the current champions of Red Bull by a solid amount in such a short timeframe, Sainz praised the work Scuderia Ferrari has done over the winter, explaining all the advantages that entails.

“Very satisfying. We improved the car exactly in the places that we wanted to improve it, and Suzuka proves it. Still, places like Suzuka, we are not as quick as the Red Bull, which is the target, but as soon as we bring a good upgrade to the car that goes in the right direction, hopefully it can get us closer.

“But yeah, we’ve improved everywhere, and especially in the race pace. It also allows us to have more strategic flexibility, that last year we didn’t have. It allows me to go forward in the races and instead of looking in my mirrors all the time to offset myself with strategy and then overtake people, which is something that last year wasn’t on the cards at any point. So, happy and makes me enjoy more racing.”

The former McLaren driver, on podium in every race he has completed so far in 2024, also discussed the strategy employed by the team, mentioning that having a car with more performance and good tyre degradation allows more freedom from that point of view.

“I think we’ve made progress on strategy over the last three years, progressively, but if you see a jump this year on strategy, it’s purely down to the car, just having a car that allows you to have flexibility on strategy is something that last year we couldn’t have. We were boxed in to stop at certain laps, we couldn’t extend.

“We had so much deg that it looked always like people could extend and then come back on us on a harder tyre. Last year, we were just zero flexible and we couldn’t do anything without racing. So, it looked like we were not getting the strategy right a lot of times. But when you have a car that is better on tyres, two drivers that can push on the car more often and you have that extra flexibility, your strategy also looks better.

“And with this, I’m not underestimating the progress we’ve done. It’s just I really think this helps a lot,” he concluded.