Monza a real taste of Ferrari passion for Sainz

For Carlos Sainz, this weekend at Monza will be his first proper taste of what it's like to be a Ferrari Formula 1 driver in Italy.

Monza a real taste of Ferrari passion for Sainz

He raced at Imola back in April, but without a crowd. The Italian GP is not quite be fully back to normal in the COVID era, with a 50% capacity mandated by the government. However, the tifosi won't be shy about making their feelings known.

Zandvoort was an amazing experience for the whole of F1, but this weekend will be a reminder of the passion that flows in Italy when Scuderia Ferrari is in action. It's been along wait for Sainz, given that he was announced in May 2020.

"I am a Ferrari driver, but I haven't had the experience of being a Ferrari driver," he says. "I'm just driving for Ferrari, but I haven't had the experience of enjoying the tifosi.

"I do sometimes at Maranello, when they get close to me, when I go to the factory. But I must be one of the only Ferrari drivers in history that has taken more than a year to feel like a Ferrari driver!

"Budapest gave me that first opportunity, all the fan base there, and the love you get from everyone back at the hotel.

"I don't know if you saw my videos on Instagram, but it was crazy. And I cannot wait for Monza. I don't know how close they will allow them to get to us. But still, I think it's going to be incredible."

What the fans want to see is Sainz and his teammate Charles Leclerc, who will be making his third Italian GP start for the Scuderia and won the race back in 2019, running close to the front.

Leclerc took pole at Monaco this year, a very different track, and did so also at Baku, which like Monza combines flat out blasts with slow stuff – but also has some fast corners. Sainz doesn't know quite what to expect this weekend.

"Monza is weird, because the two first chicanes we should be good at," he says. "Obviously the straights in between, not so good. But yeah, I hope that if we get the low downforce package working well and delivering all the downforce that we want, then it can turn out to be also a good weekend."

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Erik Junius

Sainz has already done more than enough to win over the tifosi. He always seemed to be born to be a Ferrari driver, and on track, he has proved that he can get the job done.

Leclerc has generally had the edge, but often not by much. Sainz currently lies seventh in the world championship on 89.5 points, just two and half behind his team mate, who admittedly didn't get a chance to race in Monaco or Hungary.

After 13 rounds last year, the Spaniard was eighth on 65, four behind McLaren teammate Lando Norris.

"I was reading that in terms of points it was obviously my best start," he says. "But still as I said before the summer break I felt like I've done better first halves of seasons in terms of pure performance as a driver.

"I think my third season in Toro Rosso was properly maximising the car you have and scoring the best possible result that that car can do every weekend.

"Obviously, now I've got more points because the car is more competitive than back then. But I think I still have margin, and I'm staying critical and analytical, because you know that as a driver, you want to maximise what you can do.

"Let's see how the second half of the season season plays out, and how I can keep progressing with the team."

The first part of the year was a mixed bag. There have been highlights such as a superb second in Monaco and third (after Vettel's exclusion) in Hungary.

"Disappointments have included 11th places when the car proved tricky in Portugal and France, and 10th after a frustrating qualifying at Spa, where the race was aborted. But overall, it hasn't been too shabby.

"Well, I think it's been a good one so far. I wouldn't say an excellent one, but a good one. And considering the challenge that I had ahead of me, and considering all the unknowns, I think I can be pretty happy about it.

"The fact that I was so fast, straight away in the car, and that I felt pretty much at the limit of the car pretty much straight away, made me a lot more relaxed going into all the weekends, knowing that I was going to be on the pace.

"The challenge has been more to put the weekend together, the way I used to put it together in McLaren, that in the end brings the points and brings the overall result. But I feel like also on that side, there's been a lot of improvement since race one.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"And that if I keep improving at this rate, soon I should be as consistent as I want to be and, and then keep using the good speed that I have in the car."

The putting the weekend together aspect has also been highlighted by team boss Mattia Binotto. As others have proved – notably Daniel Ricciardo – in the modern era it's not easy to switch to a new team, so complex are the current cars.

"I know how challenging it is to change teams. I've done it a few times in the past. So I knew going into our team with a fast teammate, a car that I didn't know, a Ferrari team that I didn't know, that the speed could be potentially difficult. Or not difficult but it could take a few races to come in.

"But the fact that in Bahrain I was pushing right from the beginning, both in quali and race pace, and I was very close to Charles, that made me a lot more relaxed. And I could focus more on the on the details that are needed to put a weekend together."

Leclerc is the benchmark, and he sets a pretty high standard. He also had a two-year head-start in the team.

"Obviously against such a fast guy like Charles, a guy that knows the car so well, you never know you know when you come into the team, what you're going to find.

"But since race one, I've felt like I've been very close, and it's been one tenth up or down between each other, pretty much the same as with all my teammates.

"So that gave me a bit of relief, that I was going to be on the pace, and now it's a matter of perfecting the starts, first laps, feeling the car in dirty air, knowing what to do with the car through Q1 to Q2, Q2 to Q3, to maximise the performance, how to use the tyres, how to manage them.

"There's so many complex things. How to exploit the strategy with the team and with communications. Like you saw in Hungary, there's still things that need to be fine tuned before you are nailing every weekend, and are a maximising weekend kind of driver."

One issue Sainz highlighted earlier this year was braking, often an aspect that drivers need to time to fully optimise when they move to a different team. It's something that Ricciardo has struggled with at McLaren this year.

Sainz believed a few races ago that he was getting on top of it, but Spa was a reminder that there's still work to be done.

"It's there, and probably the wet exposed it. I had a few races without really thinking about the braking. And feeling quite at home, as you saw also in the results before the summer break, I was confident and all that.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

"But probably the wet weather in Spa and the lack of feeling on the braking there made me come back a bit to a weakness that we need to make sure we keep addressing and improving, because it's one of the areas where I think as a team we should keep improving in our distance to the top teams."

Spa was disappointing in general for Ferrari, with poor qualifying pace proving expensive for both drivers. "It's an investigation ongoing back in the factory, because honestly, we all expected a bit more.

"When it started raining I got excited, because I knew that in Imola two or three times during the race I set fastest lap, and it was my first time with the car in the wet.

"Since then, obviously, I knew how the car would behave in Spa, and it surprised me how little grip I had, and I was a bit lost to be honest in quali, which went really bad down on me because it's a condition that I normally love, and I'm normally pretty good at.

"This time it really hurt not to be competitive. But it's something that we're going to look into and we're going to come back stronger, I'm sure."

Sainz had a famously close relationship with teammate Norris at McLaren, and it didn't take long for him to develop one with the easygoing Leclerc.

"It's not that I give it a lot of importance," says Sainz. "It's just something that comes quite natural to me.

"I've always got on well with teammates, and I always go into an F1 weekend trying to enjoy the weekend, and trying to believe that I am an F1 driver, a Ferrari F1 driver, and I'm there not only to compete, but also to enjoy the atmosphere and having a good relationship with a guy that is actually a cool guy.

"A guy that even outside of the F1 world I could get on well with. It shouldn't be a limitation. I respect him as a driver. I respect him as a person.

"And once you have those two things covered, everything comes natural, and it makes me enjoy the F1 weekend more. and I think it's also positive for the team. But as I said, it's not that I do it also for the team. It's just that it comes fairly natural to me."

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