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Sainz smiling despite ‘very messy’ opening day in Texas

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Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr (L) and Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc race

Carlos Sainz came away with a smile on his face after Friday practice in Austin having turned laps at the Circuit of The Americas for the first time since 2019 – though the Ferrari driver said traffic and high temperatures meant things could get "very messy" out on track in Texas...

Sainz, who finished fifth in FP1 behind his team mate Charles Leclerc, and ninth in FP2 with Leclerc seventh, explained why he fell behind in the second session, and why the challenges he faced on Friday could rear their head on Saturday too.

READ MORE: Hamilton and Bottas concede they ‘lost some ground’ as Red Bull fight back in US GP second practice

“I have a smile because first of all I have enjoyed myself a lot, it’s a great track to drive and every lap that I do here I just enjoy it,” began Sainz. “And the car, the set-up in FP1 was quite tricky with the bumps, some set-up tuning and for FP2 we managed to improve it quite a lot – so I was a bit happier in FP2 although the timesheets don’t show it, because I had a pretty scrappy third sector with traffic and a mistake.

It’s traffic that Sainz reckons could be the spanner in the works as he elaborated: “Obviously these [are] sensitive cars to wind and dirty air, we need big spaces between cars… And if you encounter traffic like I did in the last sector, with how critical the tyres are at the end of the lap with overheating, how hot it is, dirty air plus overheating, it can get very messy.”

2021 United States GP FP1: Leclerc takes big slide into gravel at COTA

Team mate Leclerc – fourth and seventh in the respective Friday sessions – was positive about Ferrari’s pace despite a massive slide into the gravel in FP1 (above).

He said: “FP1 was very good, especially on the low fuel runs. And then, FP2 a little less positive on the low fuel runs but the high fuel runs looked good, so this is the most important for Sunday. Still lacking a little bit here and there but it is a very challenging track, and we need to find a little bit the balance between quali and the race.”

READ MORE: Verstappen explains traffic frustrations – and why he called Hamilton 'an idiot' – in FP2 at COTA

Just 7.5 points behind McLaren ahead of the United States Grand Prix, Ferrari are on the cusp of third place in the constructors championship. But where do they stand compared to their midfield rivals in Texas?

“We are very, very close as it’s been since the beginning of the year,” said Leclerc. “We just need to try and do everything perfect to try and beat them, and be consistent at our job until the end of the season,” he concluded.

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