Carlos Sainz defends controversial strategy move

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz won his second race with the Scuderia last weekend at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz revealed the risky strategy he employed during the Singapore Grand Prix, where he deliberately slowed down to assist his teammate Lando Norris in defending against pursuing Mercedes drivers. 

This calculated approach ultimately led to Sainz securing his first victory of the season.

Following a Virtual Safety Car period with 17 laps remaining, Sainz maintained a one-and-a-half-second lead over Norris, with Charles Leclerc, his Ferrari teammate, 4.5 seconds behind, and Mercedes’ George Russell trailing by 16 seconds in fourth place. 

With 11 laps to go, Norris closed the gap to Sainz, but Russell was also in contention, just 1.1 seconds behind. 

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Sainz’s mission was to ensure that he maintained a one-second gap to Norris while preventing Russell from accessing the DRS (Drag Reduction System) advantage during the final five laps.

Sainz’s logic was based on the idea that Russell, who had a significantly faster car, could be denied the use of DRS if Norris got close enough to Sainz to activate his own DRS, thus creating a gap to Russell on the straights where overtaking was possible.

Sainz reflected on his strategy, stating that preventing those behind him from exploiting their potentially superior pace was crucial to his victory. 

He remarked, “It was very difficult to tell before the race whether we would have the race pace to win. 

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“I felt like even if we didn’t, by managing and controlling the gaps and controlling the pace and the tire degradation, I could create myself the opportunity to win.”

The race initially involved maintaining his lead at the start and then focusing on pace management. 

Most of the leading drivers pitted during a third of the way into the race while the Safety Car was out. 

The Mercedes drivers, in pursuit, pitted again during the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period, gaining a tire advantage to challenge Sainz, Norris, and Leclerc. They easily overtook Leclerc.

Sainz admitted that he was initially “not so nervous” about the pace of the approaching Mercedes pair, believing that he had enough pace to push in the final laps. 

However, he encountered unexpected tire degradation when he began pushing, and Russell and Norris started to close the gap. At that point, he had to adjust his strategy.

Sainz made a calculated decision to slow down, allowing Norris, who was in second place, to get closer and use his DRS. 

This risky manoeuvre was an attempt to protect both his lead and Norris’s second position. 

He emphasised the commitment and risk involved in executing such a strategy, recognising that a single mistake could have jeopardised their positions.

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The pivotal moment came when Sainz slowed down significantly during a particular lap to allow Norris to regain proximity after he had lost time defending against Russell. 

Sainz acknowledged that this strategic move saved his own race and secured Norris’s second place.

Reflecting on his decisive actions, Sainz expressed his determination to win the race and explained, “I felt like that was my only real chance of winning the race, and I wanted to win.”