Carlos Sainz has revealed his admiration for the work that Mercedes and Red Bull did ahead of the sweeping changes to the technical regulations after their championship battle last season.
Max Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton spent the entirety of 2021 battling for the Drivers; Championship, while their respective Red Bull and Mercedes teams went head-to-head for the constructors’ crown.
This gave Ferrari, who managed five podiums while the leading pair took 19 trace wins, more time to develop their 2022 car ahead of the changes being made ahead of this year, and they have utilised it to good effect.
Charles Leclerc led Sainz home for a one-two in Bahrain, before they both got onto the podium in Saudi Arabia behind race winner Verstappen.
Red Bull would appear to have the advantage on the straights, while Mercedes are a long way behind the Milton Keynes and Maranello sides as they attempt to resolve the multitude of issues affecting their 2022 challenger.
However, given how little wind tunnel time Mercedes had last year, the Spaniard maintains that the Silver Arrows have not done an altogether bad job with their machine.
“If anything I’m impressed with the car that both Red Bull and Mercedes managed to put together, with less wind tunnel time than us, with the championship fight going on,” said Sainz.
“It just shows they are two very strong teams performing at an incredible level, and at any point in the season, they can turn it up and put up a strong competition.”
As for the Scuderia sustaining their strong start to the year, the 27-year-old is aware that there is a long way to go this season, but is full of praise for the adaptable and exceptionally quick race car his team have developed this season.
“We just need to keep our heads down and keep maximising our chances. But at the same time, I also trust the development capacity of our team. I think this year’s car proves it. It’s a car that is very well thought out, with some special concepts to it,” he added.
Ferrari’s 20kph deficit on the straight was partly down to their downforce-oriented setup as they looked to capitalise on the first sector, but Honda’s power unit looks exceptionally strong, so that, coupled with the equally impressive chassis Adrian Newey has designed, leads Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto to suggest that they are the favourites this year.
“I believe Red Bull is the strongest and the favourite,” he said.
Sebastian Vettel won five races in both 2017 and 2018 during his title battles with Sir Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, but after three wins in the opening seven races in each of those years, the Scuderia’s development saturated, leaving Hamilton to ultimately cruise towards the gold on both occasions.
Binotto, however, insists that his team are more capable now of sustaining a title challenge than they were four years ago.
“Keeping up the level on a long season is a challenge, not just for us but all the teams. It’s true that our competitors have very strong development. In 2017 and ’18 we lost a bit of ground,” he added.
“But since then, in car design, we have improved our wind tunnel, technologies, processes and simulations and so today we are much better prepared than in the past to do a good job with development.”
Ferrari currently lead the Constructors’ Championship by 40 points from Mercedes, who themselves are one point clear of Red Bull.