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Sainz left ‘puzzled’ by Ferrari’s pace-setting start to their home Grand Prix weekend at Monza

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Carlos Sainz marked his 29th birthday by topping the timesheets during Friday practice for Ferrari’s home race in Italy, admitting that their smooth start to the weekend came as a surprise following on from their painful weekend at Zandvoort.

Sainz salvaged fifth place for the Scuderia at the Dutch venue last time out, with the Spaniard and team mate Charles Leclerc – who retired with damage after a first-lap clash – battling to tame the SF-23 throughout the weekend.

FP2: Sainz leads Norris as Perez crashes out during second practice at Monza

However, Sainz and Ferrari put that behind them as they hit the track at the vastly different, high-speed Monza circuit, with the birthday boy beating McLaren’s Lando Norris and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to the fastest lap time in FP2.

“It can’t get much better than that,” said Sainz after hopping out of the car. “It was a smooth day, to be honest. It’s great to be back at a track like Monza and from the first lap of FP1 to feel the car normal again after such a difficult weekend at Zandvoort.

FP2 Highlights: 2023 Italian Grand Prix

“As soon as we put the car on track here for some reason it just adapted a lot better and it was a lot easier to set up and drive it per corner. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be P1 tomorrow and in the race, but at least the feeling is much better.”

He added: “We put the car on track, it’s the same car basically, but for some reason it just felt a lot better, which is what puzzles me more. But let’s see tomorrow, I think everyone’s going to lower fuel tomorrow, higher engine modes and it’s going to be a bit of a different picture.”

READ MORE: Perez explains FP2 crash at Monza as Verstappen admits there’s ‘work to do’ at Red Bull

Pushed if the tifosi can ‘dare to dream’ about a special result at home, Sainz replied: “Yeah, dreaming is for free, no? This is one of my favourite sayings. Especially in tracks like this, I think we can all dream and it’s for free, no one can take it away from us.

“But being realistic, also looking at our race pace, that’s when we started seeing the true pace of the Red Bull, they were clearly again three-tenths, half a second ahead in race pace, and over 50 something laps that’s a lot of lap time.”

2023 Italian GP FP2: Onboard with Carlos Sainz for the fastest lap of Friday practice at Monza

Leclerc ended the day sixth in the other Ferrari, 0.361s down on Sainz’s table-topping time, admitting that he needs to make some gains overnight with his one-lap performance.

“I mean, really good on high fuel,” Leclerc said of his day. “On my side, I struggled quite a bit more on low fuel. I think we know what to do for tomorrow.

READ MORE: ‘We’re not as good as it looks’ – Norris plays down McLaren’s potential at Monza after P2 result in second practice

“I went in a bit of a different direction, so we need to reset a little bit for tomorrow and focus a bit more on the low fuel runs, as we were struggling a bit with the balance of the car there.”

Comparing his car’s balance at Monza to that of Zandvoort last weekend, he added: “I am happier. As I said, especially on the high fuel it was better, on the low fuel on my side it wasn’t great. I know what to do for tomorrow, so I’m not too concerned.”

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