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Sainz revels in P5 grid slot after McLaren were 'absolutely nowhere' in practice

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SOCHI, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) McLaren F1 Team MCL34 Renault

Carlos Sainz cut a dejected figure on Friday in Sochi after McLaren endured a frustrating day with the car looking well off the pace. But dramatic changes overnight turned things around. the Spaniard equalling his best-ever grid slot with fifth on the grid for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix…

McLaren have come under pressure from Renault in recent races in the battle for fourth place in the constructors’ championship but they put themselves in a strong position to strength that position as Sainz and team mate Lando Norris outqualified the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo.

Sainz ended up sixth fastest, with Norris eighth, but both gain a place courtesy of Max Verstappen’s five-place grid penalty for fitting a fresh Honda power unit for this weekend’s race, in order to avoid taking a penalty Honda’s home Grand Prix in Japan.

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Sainz ended up down in 17th on Friday, citing a lack of grip and performance, but improved to 13th in FP3 after McLaren made several changes overnight. Then in qualifying, he built up the pace through the three segments to end up best of the rest.

It’s going to be tough, as we’ve not run this car on race trim, with such a different configuration

Carlos Sainz

“I’m very happy, especially after yesterday,” said. Sainz. “We can call it a good day for the team. We changed a lot of things on the car. We went in the wrong direction in FP2. In FP3, the car was better. Then in qualifying. I managed to build up a good confidence and put together a good lap.”

“[We changed] a few things. I also want to congratulate my engineers. They did a great job because yesterday we were absolutely nowhere.”

Sainz admitted Sunday’s race remains a bit of an unknown as their race pace was poor on Friday and the team are unsure how the car will react in race trim following their changes.

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“On Friday, the race pace was the worst part of everything, as we were very slow,” he said. “We improved the car a lot since yesterday and hopefully that will replicate itself in race pace.

“It’s going to be tough, as we’ve not run this car on race trim, with such a different configuration. We’ve also added a bit of downforce compared to yesterday so we don’t know how we’re going to be on the straights. It’s going to be a bit of a question mark for us coming into tomorrow.”

Carlos Sainz: 'We can't generate the grip' ahead of challenging weekend

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