Sainz – Renault’s cat-and-mouse tussle with Red Bull ‘felt great’
Bounce-back-ability - that’s what Carlos Sainz displayed at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Starting in P9, he was running as high as fourth, before a first pit stop dropped him out of the points. But again, the Renault driver forced his way through the field to finish a memorable fifth.
Indeed, Sainz's sensational performance secured Renault’s best result since their return to F1 as a full manufacturer for the 2016 season – and it was also their best finish since Vitaly Petrov came home in P5 at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.
It capped off an action-packed afternoon for Sainz and his team. They showed serious pace in Baku, with both the Spaniard and his team mate Nico Hulkenberg – who made a rare mistake to crash out of the race – battling hard with the Red Bulls in the early stages.
It was very tricky conditions out there but a great start put me in a good position
“It felt great. It was an eventful race as you can always expect in Baku,” said Sainz, speaking after his finish moved him to P10 in the drivers’ standings.
“[It was] very tricky conditions out there but a great start put me in a good position. We were battling with the Red Bulls at the beginning, and I had to make a couple of moves and [ultimately] pulled way.
“I then had to pit and all of a sudden it was a bit depressing, going from battling for P3 to seeing yourself have to climb up from the back of the points again.
“We had the Safety Car and after that, it was all about bringing it home - it was a very strong result for the team.”
Renault were already locked in an enthralling battle with McLaren for fourth place in the constructors’ standings, but their practice and qualifying pace at the Baku City Circuit had suggested their British rivals would have the upper hand in the race.
But such was Renault's race pace that in fact it was the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo they had their eyes on. At one stage, Renault were running in P4 and P5 – and Sainz admitted it was a battle that kept him on his toes.
“Suddenly with Renault pushing flat out here, and managing to beat Red Bull out there in the first 10 laps, opening up a gap and pushing pressure on them, it felt great.
“And then obviously they caught us back with the supersoft tyres and I immediately had to pit. In general, [I feel] very happy. Very happy because it was a very, very fun race - like it always is in Baku. I also felt comfortable in the car.”
After Sainz's impressive result, Renault now trail McLaren by just a single point in the constructors' championship. Fernando Alonso's P7 and Stoffel Vandoorne's ninth-placed finish in Baku combined to keep the Woking team ahead.