Carlos Sainz hailed his fifth place in the Japanese Grand Prix brought an added significance than the others he has achieved this year after he had the pace to make Charles Leclerc give up his pursuit of the McLaren.
The Spaniard has finished fifth on three occasions now this year, adding to four other top-six finishes in an impressive season that now has him sixth in the drivers’ championship. However, in Japan the race pace was particularly notable when Sainz was able to prevent the recovering Leclerc from catching him and finished within 10 seconds of Alexander Albon’s Red Bull.
“Probably this one was a bit more special than the others because of the pace we had,” Sainz said. “It was incredible to feel for the first time the car working really nicely together in the first sector. And whenever the team asked me to pick up the pace, and I started doing 33.5s, and Leclerc couldn’t keep up, and suddenly we were managing to hold off a Ferrari and managing to match Albon on pace.
“This is the first time this year it has happened. Very pleased, proud of that … When you have a Ferrari 10 seconds behind, and normally they are a couple of seconds per lap quicker in race pace, you think you’re not going to make it.
“I had been saving my tires, and when I was required to push, I picked up half a second of pace. Although he was half a second quicker for the first three, four laps, he suddenly started degrading, and I started keeping up the pace, and they gave up. It was very nice.”
Sainz also made a strong start to briefly run third as he again battled the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap as he had in Russia. With it becoming a theme, he says McLaren deserves more credit than simply being called ‘best of the rest’ when able to interfere with the top three teams at times.
“I’ve been side by side with Lewis, and at the same time, I’ve been in the last 10 laps fighting with Albon, fighting with a Ferrari here,” Sainz said. “So we are not only best of the rest, we are managing that if something happens to the guys in front to sometimes profit, which is not easy.
“It’s not easy to finish best of the rest and qualify best of the rest as much as I’ve been doing in the last three races. Trust me, it is tight, but we’ve been putting together very strong weekends.”