Finishing both Friday practice sessions in third place is, without doubt, Carlos Sainz’s best result from the first day of running on a Grand Prix weekend. But the Renault driver was under no illusions that his team had miraculously jumped up the order going into the Mexican Grand Prix weekend, despite their encouraging start.
As Red Bull set a blistering pace in Mexico, with Max Verstappen finishing over a second clear of his nearest rival from another team in both Free Practice 1 and 2, Sainz was astonished to find himself as that nearest rival, faster than any driver from either Ferrari or Mercedes could manage.
“To be P3, to be honest, seems quite a bit of a surprise to all of us,” said Sainz after his day’s work was over, “but I think it’s more due to Mercedes and Ferrari struggling a lot out there than us being quicker than normal. We are only one-tenth ahead of Toro Rosso, one-tenth ahead of Force India, but we are still 1.2 seconds behind Red Bull. So I think it is something due to the others more than our proper pace.
“It’s very nice to see the two Renault cars and Renault power units also up there. The team is working hard, the team is working very well in this part of the season to secure that fourth in the standings. But again, I think it’s a bit misleading, those time sheets.”
Misleading or not, Renault certainly performed better on Friday than their rivals for fourth place in the constructors’ standings Haas, with both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean complaining loudly of poor tyre performance, the best either driver could manage throughout the day being Grosjean’s P12 in FP2. But did Sainz think there was any chance at all of Renault’s front-running pace – let alone midfield-leading pace – continuing into qualifying?
“I think I would be a bit naïve to think tomorrow we’re going to be third on the grid,” he said. “I’m always optimistic and I’m always going to try my best, but I think [Mercedes and Ferrari] had issues today. They were struggling also in the long runs. I was following them and they didn’t look comfortable. That’s the only reason for me to think that tomorrow things are going to turn. Maybe not as much – maybe we can still be half a second away from them instead of one second and a half, but it would surprise me to be ahead of them for sure.”