Feature F1 Unlocked
PALMER: Sainz’s Monza podium was just reward for one of his best and most entertaining F1 weekends yet
Carlos Sainz was in the thick of the action in Monza, taking pole position, leading the race and executing some superb defence en route to claiming his first podium of the season.
Overtaking at the Temple of Speed is thought to be straightforward because of the long straights and big stops of the chicanes, complete with a DRS zone into the first corner. But in fact it’s a myth that it’s easy to pass – and that’s the reason we had a great race on Sunday.
It’s the ultimate low downforce circuit where everybody seeks to reduce drag in a bid to increase straight-line speed, and this not only reduces the effect of a slipstream but also significantly reduces the benefit of DRS as well.
The chunkier the rear wings and the draggier the cars, the more the slipstream is effective, because the car has more air resistance. With the skinny rear wings, we see in Monza there is also less variation between the DRS flap being open and closed compared to usual.
This all combined to give Sainz a chance of holding the lead in his Ferrari and he admirably put up a fight, lasting a little over 14 laps out front before Max Verstappen came past. Unbelievably, this was the longest anyone other than a Red Bull has led this year...
Carlos is a superb racer. We’ve seen that throughout the years and he was in full force again on Sunday, as he put on a rearguard action from the first lap until the chequered flag. His one mistake was a small lock-up under pressure from Verstappen which cost him the lead, but he would never have kept the Dutchman behind for much longer anyway.
Tyre wear was a big factor once again for Ferrari and particularly for Sainz on Sunday. The Spaniard was the faster of the Ferraris throughout the weekend, but as the stints wore on, in race trim it was clear he was using up more of his rear tyres than those around him, not helped by the constant pressure he was under.
The best defensive option Ferrari had was to run line astern, as McLaren did for their one-two in 2021, but with Verstappen holding his second place off the line, that could never work for the lead.
It might have worked for second place though, as with the Scuderia running second and third after the stops, it looked like Sergio Perez might have a job on his hands to pass. Not only were Ferrari quick on the straights in Monza, but when Charles Leclerc could run within a second of his team mate, he had DRS to defend from the Mexican and never came under huge pressure as a result.
If they’d worked tactically from the get-go then this could have given Ferrari a double podium, rather than leave them brawling it out for third spot, but without co-ordination it’s difficult to achieve this strategy.
In second place, Sainz will have been feeling his own pressure from Leclerc and would have been pleased to break the one-second barrier even momentarily to his team mate. It was this moment though that allowed Perez his first attack, and he flew past the Monegasque driver with his second. From fourth place he was lurking like a shark waiting for his prey, and as soon as Leclerc dropped from the car ahead he snatched the spot.
Given how quickly Perez passed a DRS-less Leclerc, it was a surprise how well Sainz could hold on against the Red Bull. The Spaniard was covering the inside into Turn 1 and was so strong on the brakes that Perez was almost running out of ideas before finally launching it through Curva Alboreto and getting it done on the straight.
But the best battle of the day was saved for the two Ferrari drivers, and it was sheer determination from Sainz to cling on to the podium that made this fight so spectacular to watch.
I’ve been in Sainz’s position before where you’ve had such a strong weekend you feel you are almost owed the result at the end. It’s a desperate time. After taking pole, leading and bringing the fight to the Red Bulls as best he could, for Carlos to end up being stumped for a podium by his team mate at the end would have been unthinkable, particularly as he had yet to finish in the top three this season.
With ailing tyres, he chanced his arm a couple of times with some on the limit (or perhaps even over the limit) bits of driving. His dive down the inside to reclaim the position from Charles at Turn 4 was questionable and I’m surprised the stewards didn’t look at it.
He was also moving under braking on the final tour to stop Leclerc from pulling off a speculative dummy pass, nearly causing a Ricciardo/Verstappen Baku-style collision all over again, moments after Leclerc was told to take no risks.
But all of this added to the drama of the occasion between the two team mates who relished the battle. Credit to Fred Vasseur for letting them race like this and trusting them. The two drivers put on a showpiece final few laps to illustrate that sometimes team mates with respect for each other can drive right up to the limit, but have enough restraint to keep it clean as well.
The winner of the dual got to stand on the cherished Monza podium in Ferrari colours, and for Carlos Sainz it was the least he deserved after one of his best weekends in Formula 1 – and certainly his most entertaining.