Carlos Sainz admits he wasn’t ready to fight for a championship last season due to his struggles adapting to the 2022 Ferrari, but believes he’ll be in a better position to target a title run this year.
A solid first season at Maranello gave way to a slightly tougher second year for Sainz, who finished fifth in the drivers’ championship and only beat Lewis Hamilton when the Mercedes driver retired from the final race. Although he won his first grand prix in 2022, Sainz saw teammate Charles Leclerc finish second overall, but the Spaniard points to the relatively solid return from a difficult year as evidence of his potential.
“I feel confident I left last season with things in mind of how I want to improve as a driver, and I have been working hard over the winter to arrive in this season prepared and convinced I can do it and become an even better driver,” Sainz said.
“Last year I did have my bit of success, but it is true that it wasn’t an easy season. And in a non-easy season, I won race, made a lot of podiums, three poles and in a car that I wasn’t at my best (in). When I find my groove and a good window of comfort in the car, I know I will be able to do good things and I’m very excited about what comes.
“Being honest, probably with last year’s car I wasn’t ready (to fight for the title). If the championship had been with the 2021 style of car I think I would have been ready, as I proved with my first year at Ferrari. But last year I found myself in that position, and it happens.
“It’s a long career as a Formula 1 driver, there’s always going to be cars that are made for you and you jump in and without even pushing you perform an exceptional lap time. And there’s other cars where you push, you try, and it feels like you lack that little bit. Maybe that I was lacking last year.
“It’s true that I also learned last year that fighting at the front is different to fighting at the midfield. The level of pushing is different, the level of management, how to win a race, how to make a pole position are things I hadn’t been doing for eight or nine years since my World Series days, in a way. It’s probably an experience that will do me well for this year. That’s what I’m on about – self-improving and analyzing and getting all that experience from last year and putting it into this year.”
Sainz said that being able to challenge for the title is the only goal he can have at this point of the year given the pace the Ferrari showed last season and the expectations around the team.
“When you drive for Ferrari and when you are as competitive as I am then the target going into a year has to be to fight for the world championship and to try to win,” he said. “This is in the mind of not only me but the whole team.
“In the short-term it’s clear that if you want to be world champion then you need to be the best driver and you need to be the best team, and what I focus on is that short-term: What can I do? What can the team do to become a better team and the best team on the grid and the best driver on the grid?
“Every year I have things in mind when I go into the winter; I think about it and obviously will try to execute them this year. I’m going to give it my best shot at whatever happens this year. I feel more confident after last year, I feel more capable, better prepared, I know how it is now to fight at the front, what I need to do and I feel ready for it.
“In February everyone is world champion, everyone wants to win, everyone is ready, but what matters is later. Once the season starts, how can you stay loyal and fair to your ambitions and to your short-term goals?”