Carlos Sainz made another stride forward in qualifying at Portimão, the Ferrari driver clocking in fifth in Saturday’s shootout, a performance that he says validates his perception of progress with the Scuderia.
Both Ferrari drivers easily made it to Q3, with Charles Leclerc set to line up P8 on Sunday’s grid, three positions behind his teammate.
Although Sainz had qualified among the top-ten on his debut with Ferrari in Bahrain, the Spaniard just missed the Q3 cut at Imola, a shortfall that encouraged him to review his approach to driving and set-up work ahead of this weekend’s Portuguese GP.
And the changes have been productive.
“I felt progress, and the lap times show what I’m feeling today,” he said after Saturday’s qualifying. “I felt like I was driving the car better.
“I changed a couple of things since Imola on my driving style, a couple of things also in the set-up.
“It’s a lot of trial and error, go in one direction, come back, go in the other… We keep trying a lot of things, today we managed to put a couple of laps together in Q3 to be in the top five, so let’s keep going.”
While happy with his progress, Sainz is determined to keep the momentum going.
“It does give me a good feeling and obviously a feeling that there’s progress being made but also that we cannot stop here, we need to keep progressing.
“Because I’m sure there are a lot of secrets I still don’t now from this car and I want to discover them.”
Contrary to most of his rivals who pushed through to the top-ten on Pirelli’s medium compound, Sainz opted for the softs, a choice that could put him in defense mode at the outset on Sunday.
“Into tomorrow we are at a disadvantage as we are starting on the softs; four guys in front of me and Charles on the medium,” he said.
“I wish I could have gone through with the medium but we played it safe and we’re probably going to defend more than attack but that’s’ how it goes and we will try and put a good race together.”
Asked if he took anything away from the fact that he outqualified his rapid teammate, Sainz played down the achievement.
“I guess in the media a lot of people are giving importance to this but what I’m focusing really on is to try and understand the driving style, the set-up that I like,” he said.
“And today, the important thing is that when I felt that I was driving the car better and the lap times showed it. That’s the direction that we need to follow and we need to be making progress for sure.”
Leclerc admitted to enduring a difficult session during which he struggled to get the grips with the tricky track and the windy conditions.
“I’ve just not been good enough in those conditions,” he said. “There was a lot of wind and I struggled to be very consistent.
“None of my laps were very good and it was very difficult to put in a lap but that’s no excuse.
“I was trying to push a little bit too much, which works in most conditions, but in these conditions if you are a little bit under the limit and you managed to put in a clean lap it works. I struggled to do that.”
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