Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz has set his sights firmly on challenging Max Verstappen for victory in Sunday’s 2023 Austrian Grand Prix.
After four fifth-place finishes in the last five Grand Prix, Sainz regained his speed in Austria despite brake-by-wire issues during Qualifying, before finishing a distant third in the sprint behind Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
“Never say never,” said Sainz, when asked if he could challenge Verstappen for victory in Sunday’s race. “But you know how tricky it will be. We are in a good position, though, with two cars behind him and ready to attack.
“Very happy to be P3 today, after the day started with a brake-by-wire issue in Q1, [I] only managed to the one lap.
“To progress the way we did through qualifying and put ourselves today in P3 is [the] maximum. So very happy with this Saturday.”
Crucial to get past Hulkenberg
After Verstappen made a late lunge on Perez into Turn 3 during the Sprint, Nico Hulkenberg suddenly found himself in second place, holding his own in the mixed conditions.
But Perez proved too strong, and he sailed past his former Force India teammate back into second on Lap 12, with Sainz following suit a lap later.
“I think I passed him on the first lap that I could,” said Sainz. “Nico was very quick at the beginning, then I guess he degraded the tires a bit more than us.
“But around the time I passed Nico, I had my tires in the best operating window and quite a bit of pace.
“Checo was just a bit too far [ahead], and we couldn’t catch up, but in general [it] was a solid race. It was very easy to put a foot wrong out there today.”
At ease with the car at last
Although he holds an eight-point cushion over teammate Charles Leclerc in the driver standings, Sainz has sometimes struggled to gel with the Ferrari.
In Baku, Sainz struggled with a lack of confidence, and in Montreal, a shunt during FP3 put him on the back foot for qualifying in Canada.
Then coming into the Austrian GP, despite limited time to warm up his tyres, and only one run before the chequered flag, Sainz produced an excellent lap to advance into the second part of the Sprint Shootout, before eventually placing fifth.
“Yes, I’ve been very comfortable, especially today, since the first lap of qualifying [which] was my only lap of qualifying,” explained Sainz. “I looked very quick and very at ease with the car.
“Hopefully, tomorrow in the dry has confirmed a bit of a step [and] we can be stronger in the whole race.”