'We will put on a fight' says Sainz as he eyes podium after bagging first front row start for Ferrari
Carlos Sainz is set to duel his former team mate Lando Norris off the line on Sunday as the Ferrari driver qualified second for the Russian Grand Prix – while Norris took a stunning pole position for McLaren. With a Williams, Mercedes and Red Bull behind, the Spaniard said he was relishing something of a battle royale for the lead when the lights go out at Sochi.
In slippery conditions, Sainz grabbed a first front-row qualifying for the Scuderia and also became the first Spanish driver to do so in F1 since Fernando Alonso. Now a first victory is in his sights, but Sainz was under no illusion that the cars around him – including George Russell in P3 and Lewis Hamilton in P4 on the row behind – can easily throw a spanner in the works, given the long run down to Turn 1.
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“Obviously there’s the two Mercs [Valtteri Bottas starting P7] and the Red Bull of Perez [P9 on the grid] that are going to be much quicker tomorrow, and we expect them to go through but we will put on a fight and try and have some fun,” he said.
“It’s going to be fun,” he added. “Hopefully I can get Lando at the start or, if not, just get a good tow. Starting P2 here on the dirty side is really penalising so I’m going to make sure we do our homework overnight to make sure we don’t lose too much off the line on the dirty side, and then see if I can get into a tow. Or why not pass him into Turn 1?”
As for Charles Leclerc in the other Ferrari, the Monegasque driver starts back in P19 having taken a new power unit for the Russian GP. He’s not the only driver to have done so; Nicholas Latifi starts 18th and Max Verstappen 20th having also changed engines. While Verstappen chose not to run a single qualifying lap, Leclerc completed around five laps and ended up 14th-fastest.
Asked why he bothered running in qualifying, Leclerc replied: “To be honest, I actually wanted to do quite a bit of laps in those conditions. I think it’s conditions where we’ve been struggling in the past, so even though it seems like it’s only five laps for fun, it’s five laps where we can learn a lot and I think we did today.
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“We were also every competitive in those five laps, so we didn’t put the second set of tyres in Q1, just to not take too much risks, but we’ve learned a little bit which was the goal with these laps. So now, focus on the race tomorrow – it’s not going to be an easy one – so let’s see.
“So yes, even though it was normally a useless session for us, I think we’ve learned a bit, which is good,” concluded Leclerc as he prepares to start from the back row on Sunday.