Carlos Sainz has faced an incredibly challenging 2022 season, coming off the back of beating Charles Leclerc in the 2021 Drivers’ Championship.
The Spaniard has faced calls from the media and even the Scuderia’s hierarchy to take up the spot as the team’s number two driver, instead of regarding himself and Leclerc as equals.
Leclerc has raised his personal game in the first season of the new aerodynamic regulations, whilst Sainz has faltered.
With four races remaining, Sainz trails his team-mate by 50 points in the standings, as a result of a mixed season.
Whilst the points difference may look substantial, the statistics are actually very similar between the two once they’re delved into.
To date, Sainz has claimed eight podium finishes in 2022, including, his first F1 victory at the British Grand Prix.
Leclerc has claimed only one additional podium; however, three of his nine podiums have been victories.
The big points difference between the two is due to how badly Sainz started the season, whereas his Monegasque team-mate was nothing short of flawless.
Leclerc won two of the opening three rounds of the year, with the other result being a second-place finish.
This gave the 24-year-old a whopping 46-point lead after just three rounds, with Sainz having claimed two podiums and a retirement.
Sainz actually went on to suffer from two DNFs from the opening four races, whereas Leclerc’s first retirement of the year came at the sixth round.
The 28-year-old can “understand” why people have hailed Leclerc as better based on the start of the year; however, Sainz believes that despite becoming stronger throughout the year, he has been left to feel like he should let “Leclerc win everything”.
“I can understand that after the first few races, Charles was clearly one step ahead in both qualifying and race pace,” the Spaniard said in an interview with Spanish daily AS.
“But in the middle of the season I improved a lot.
“I started getting into the fight more and it was kind of frustrating in a way because when I got into the fight it seemed like some people didn’t want me there.
“I was criticised for not being there, and when I started being there some wondered what I was doing up front, letting Charles win everything.
“It was frustrating, especially from the press. They criticise me, but just when I was there fighting, they don’t want me in front anymore. You saw I don’t pay much attention to what is said out there.”
Despite Leclerc having been in the title fight for some of the year, whilst Sainz has battled to simply be in the top five, team boss Mattia Binotto has continued to insist that the Maranello-based team won’t prioritise a driver over another.
This goes against what Ferrari president John Elkann seemingly wants, after referring to Leclerc as the Italians lead driver.
Despite Binotto’s argument that the team are stronger when working together, rather than having a number one driver, Sainz revealed that he feels like those that “follow Ferrari” want the side to have a lead driver.
“I think so,” he said.
“Also, Mattia [Binotto] and the team recognise it is a virtue, it is one of our strengths.
“But it is clear there was a part of the people who follow Ferrari who did not want, or do not want, there to be two drivers (at the same level).
“Perhaps it is a question for others because I’m convinced the best thing for the team is that we two are as close to each other as possible.”
Leclerc and Sainz appear to have turned their focus to maximising their 2023 potential, with 2022 having been filled with strategic errors, reliability problems and driver mistakes.
The Spanish driver has insisted he will “continue to be positive” and focus on improving next season.
“I’ve been in Formula 1 for many years and I know more or less how this sport works,” he said.
“I’ve had very good years, bad beginnings and good endings, good beginnings and bad endings.
“I know that more or less, in the end, the important thing is the head. Being calm, trusting oneself. Perhaps that is one of my strengths.
“The house can fall on me and I will continue to be positive and try to continue having good results without it affecting me too much.
“I know I have things to improve as a driver but I also know I am good, that I am capable of doing it in any race.”