Possibly buoyed by the thrill of starting the Italian Grand Prix from pole position in a Ferrari, Carlos Sainz dared to hope on Saturday that he could defeat Max Verstappen and Red Bull and win the race.
The Spanish man admitted, “It is possible.” Nothing is out of the question. With a head start, I will do whatever it takes to keep up with Max.
This year, they have been noticeably faster in every single race. That leads me to believe it won’t be a simple task. They’ll try to find a way around it.
But, I suppose everything is possible. Today might turn out to be one of the best days ever. I’m just going to give it a shot, have an open mind, race as if I have a legitimate shot at winning, and adjust to the conditions and speeds of the other cars as I go.
I’m just going to take in the moment of being on the pole position for Ferrari at Monza. It’s going to be entertaining.
Sainz had been asked whether he could claim pole position the day after his 29th birthday, when he had posted the fastest time in Friday practice.
Dreaming, he questioned, was free. I love this quote and count it among my favorites. No one can stop us from dreaming, in my opinion.
The wish was granted. Whether or not this one can is another story.
Then, on Friday, he talked about “being realistic” and acknowledging that Red Bull had better race speed all year and again in the long runs during practice.
And on Saturday, he accepted it again despite the adrenaline of being cheered by tens of thousands of Italian fans.
This weekend, “the car has been very good, especially over one lap,” Sainz added. But I won’t sugarcoat it: I find the lengthy runs more challenging. It’s clearly a different image.
We have seen their strengths and racing pace all year long until the tires have been run for five or six laps and everything begins to decline a little.
“It’s a great chance. It’s reasonable to expect the Red Bull to outrun the competition. However, we intend to make things as difficult for them as possible in an effort to secure victory.
The performance by Sainz and his teammate Charles Leclerc on Saturday was impressive. On the last laps of qualifying, Leclerc set the fastest time. He was beaten by Verstappen by a margin of 0.054 seconds, but Sainz had yet to come and beat the Dutchman by 0.013 seconds.
In a normal season, Ferrari would have a strong chance of working together strategically against Verstappen with the red cars sandwiching him on the field. And even more so considering that his teammate, Sergio Perez, is down in fifth place, behind Mercedes’ George Russell, whose superb performance astonished both him and his team.
However, this is not a typical year, and it has been extremely difficult for anyone to challenge Verstappen in a race.
The current streak of nine consecutive victories for the world champion would set a new record if it were to be set on Sunday.
This year, only Perez has defeated Verstappen twice. After only 13 races, Verstappen has won 11. He is steadily approaching his third world championship.
However, Monza has before played a role in halting a winning streak. McLaren dominated the season in 1988 to an even greater extent as Red Bull does in 2023. The only place Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost hadn’t won a race was in Italy. In comparison to the Red Bull of this year, their vehicle was leagues ahead of the competition.
Everything went awry, though, in Monza. After seemingly cruising to victory, both Prost and Senna were forced to retire due to mechanical issues. McLaren’s only loss of the year came in this race.
This season, Red Bull has looked like they could break the record of winning every race save one. But Verstappen and team leader Christian Horner have been warning all year about the dangers of doing so.
However, if everything goes according to plan, Ferrari won’t be able to stop Verstappen on Sunday.
Ferrari has historically had difficulty in this season’s races. They are one of just two teams (together with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in Hungary) to have take pole position, and the only team (aside from Red Bull) to ever have both of their drivers do so.
However, they frequently reverse course on Sundays. Their tires’ deterioration has always been a problem. Even though Leclerc managed to hold on for third place after starting from pole position in April’s Baku race, the Red Bulls blew right by him.
Since then, Ferrari has worked to reduce tire wear, and the results showed in Friday’s race simulations. Sainz’s tendency to suffer more in races continued, as Leclerc was faster by roughly 0.2 seconds per lap, although Verstappen was the same margin quicker again despite grumbling about his vehicle, before he had optimized it the night before.
The Ferraris still appear to have a good shot at a podium finish, as only Alex Albon’s Williams (which qualified sixth) was faster than them on Friday. After such a trying year, even a home podium on a track that plays to Ferrari’s strengths and minimizes its shortcomings would be cause for celebration.
Despite the team’s difficulties, the famed tifosi continue to express their support for Ferrari with unwavering fervor. The hotel where Leclerc and Sainz are staying, the Hotel de Ville, has been surrounded all weekend.
On Saturday, they did so to the point where the drivers were 20 minutes late getting to the track, meaning that filming for Brad Pitt’s upcoming movie had to be pushed back.
After qualifying, reporters questioned the Ferrari drivers on how they were handling the scrutiny that comes with representing their country and the team’s failure to seriously challenge for the championship this season.
Leclerc admitted that the team had to deal with a lot of outside attention since, in the end, “we are Ferrari.”
Except for now, of course, when we are extremely pleased and happy, none of us is satisfied with the current performance we are displaying.
Everything else this season has been challenging. It’s only natural that Ferrari would get a lot of attention, given the brand’s prestige and rich history in the sport. It’s our responsibility to do everything we can to help bring Ferrari back to the top.
There is no additional stress for me here; rather, it serves as inspiration. A difficult week lies ahead. On the simulator, we spent two full days. When we hold events in Milan, the city’s enthusiastic support makes it clear how much the Italian people value the Grand Prix and Ferrari.
You can sense the significance and weight of the obligation. But in the end it’s more inspiration than stress.
Indeed, Sainz agreed. To “give this crowd and the country the best possible version of yourself” is “a sense of responsibility,” he explained.
For the past three years, every single Saturday has been the best weekend of my life.
Being a Ferrari driver at Monza is the greatest experience of my life. For someone like myself, living through these years and feeling this has been a lifelong dream come true. I know I’m blessed beyond measure.