Carlos Sainz says it is “incredible” how different the Ferrari is from the McLaren he drove last year, ahead of his first race for his new team at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ferrari struggled in 2020 but looked more competitive during pre-season testing, and expects to be in the fight with the likes of McLaren and Aston Martin for third in the constructors’ championship. Sainz was signed to replace Sebastian Vettel over the winter and admits he can’t comprehend how his new car can feel so different to his old one but be close in performance terms.
“(It feels) very different, it’s incredible,” Sainz said. “I have been asked this question many times and I still don’t understand how F1 cars can get to a similar lap time by feeling so different.
“It’s super interesting because every car has its strengths, its weaknesses, its things that always surprise you that you have to adapt, its driving style and you’re out there trying to discover how to adapt yourself to try and maximize all the weaknesses and all the benefits of that car gives you.
“What I am most surprised of is how different all cars feel but how close they are on lap time when it comes to qualifying. It’s actually quite a nice thing from F1 because you don’t have that in all the categories.”
After just three days of pre-season testing — one and a half per driver — Sainz faces a tough task being at his best for the opening race, but he says his experience of three different teams in four years prior to his move to Ferrar should help him prepare.
“I think it does help having that experience of changing teams so often. What I can say is that it’s not a rule of thumb — it’s not three races, it’s not five, it’s not seven, it really, really depends on the car and the first feeling of the driver with the car and the experiences you go through those first few races.
“What I am obviously sure of is that in race one you’re never as ready as you are in your second- or third-year experience with a car or team; but at the same time if the feeling with the car and with the team is very good, you can still perform at a very high level.
“It’s very difficult to know how long exactly it will take any driver. There were teams that it took me one or two races, some teams it definitely took longer than that. Difficult to tell and until I do the first few races I will not be able to really tell when I am getting closer to the limit to the car and the team.”