Sainz: “Always a pleasure” to race Leclerc after the Ferrari duo’s fierce scrap at the F1 Italian GP

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Carlos Sainz finished on the podium at the 2023 Italian GP, but had to face stern competition not only from the Red Bull drivers, but also from his team-mate Charles Leclerc, as the duo battled away for the final spot on the rostrum, with the Spaniard saying it is “always a pleasure” to race with the Monegasque.

Photo Credits: Scuderia Ferrari

Sainz achieved a very popular Ferrari pole position at home soil on Saturday in Monza, but couldn’t resist the pressure from the defending world champion Max Verstappen, who was able to “force a mistake” from the Spaniard and grab the lead after just 15 laps of racing at the Temple of Speed, finishing eventually in third place after losing out to a charging Sergio Perez, and having to fend off his own team-mate Charles Leclerc to secure the final step on the podium.

Speaking after the race, the Ferrari driver said his race could not have been “any tougher” than what it was, explaining how he had to constantly push his car to keep pace with the much-faster Red Bull cars of Verstappen and Perez at the start of each stint:

“[It was] very tough, very tough,” said the Spaniard. “It cannot get any tougher than what it was today.

“Honestly, the whole race, pushing very hard to keep the Red Bulls behind [and] that obviously made me use the rear tyres a lot, trying to keep up with them and trying to keep them behind. In the end, I ended up paying a bit the price for the [worn] the rear tyres, but I did everything I could to defend [from] all the cars that I could,” he said.

“I was having to push a lot at the beginning of the stints to try to keep the Red Bulls behind, and it was costing me tyre deg and pace at the end of the stints, but I think today was a day to try, a day to try and keep the Red Bull behind, which I did for some time and had fun with it.”

When Sergio Perez finally got ahead of Sainz after several failed overtake attempts, the polesitter had to turn his attention to his team-mate Charles Leclerc, who was coming quickly and with more pace in hand due to his tyres being in a better condition.

The duo fought hard in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle for several laps, including some hairy moments as they nearly touched when Leclerc had a massive lock-up on the final lap. They eventually finished just over 0.1s apart, with Sainz praising his team-mate as a “great racer” and a “pleasure” to race against:

“It was tough, hard racing,” he said of his late race battle with Leclerc. “It’s always been a pleasure to race Charles whenever we’ve had the chance, and today was the same.

“[He is] a great racer, same as Max [Verstappen] and Checo [Perez]. We had fun out there today.

“First came the battle with Max, which made use a lot of tyres on the medium tyre, and then I had to box earlier than I would have liked,” he said. “Then came the battle with Checo, and soon after came the battle with Charles. It was a day to try everything and I think did.

“It was nice, very clean battles, and a good day for F1, not only for me.”

The Spaniard, who grabbed his first podium of the 2023 season at Ferrari’s home race, believes a podium finish was the minimum expected result after all their work and execution being “very good” throughout the weekend:

“It’s a great feeling, we deserve it after a very good weekend, a well-executed race [and] a perfect qualifying yesterday – the podium is the [minimum] that we could deserve this weekend.

“I think we just need to be working on our pace, on our tyre understanding – I think today it was obvious that we were wearing our tyres a bit more and we were just lacking a bit of pace.

“But it’s definitely a big step forward compared to Zandvoort, and this weekend we’ve been best of the rest, which is a good result for the team given the circumstances.”

With the good results in Monza, Ferrari has now overtaken Aston Martin in the constrcutors’ standings, and sits P3 with 228 points – 11 more than the Silverstone squad.