Carlos Sainz endured a nightmare start to his McLaren career in Australia, going out in Q1 after getting blocked by the punctured Williams of Robert Kubica before managing just 11 laps in the race when an MGU-K failure forced him into a fiery retirement. But the Spaniard was back smiling again after qualifying seventh for his new team in Bahrain.
Having had to watch on in Australia as team mate Lando Norris qualified P8 on his Grand Prix debut, in Bahrain it was Sainz who headed the charge for McLaren, his lap just 0.061s slower than Max Verstappen’s P5 effort for Red Bull, while Norris also made it to Q3 for the second consecutive race.
“Finally, the reset of this season has gone well,” said a delighted Sainz after qualifying. “I still feel in Australia we should have been in Q3, but at least today I can redeem myself a bit from it.
“I put in a good qualifying the whole way through… We kept improving, kept finding lap time and we are now P7 and P10 [which became P9 after Haas’ Romain Grosjean was handed a three-place penalty for blocking Norris in Q1], so good job to all the factory.
“I think the advice we took last year, with last year's car, trying to find out what was wrong and to put together a bit of a better package this year has definitely paid off, so congratulations everyone in Woking because I think they deserve this one. To see both cars fighting with a Red Bull for example, within one second of a Ferrari is a good step compared to last year.”
Despite a strong showing in qualifying, however, Sainz was aware that McLaren still had their work cut out for Sunday’s Grand Prix – especially given that 2019 sees an extra DRS zone added to the Bahrain track that should make it easier for any of McLaren’s lower-placed rivals to pull themselves back into contention.
“I think we need to keep working because it's not going to be easy,” said Sainz. “It's going to be a good fight with the Haas, the Red Bulls are going to be quick, the Renaults will be quick, Toro Rossos are normally good in race pace here. So it's going to be a good fight.”