Former Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle has warned that Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz may end up being asked to play the role of number two driver if he is unable to bounce back from his torrid Australian Grand Prix weekend.
Sainz was denied his first run in Q3 on Saturday after a crash for his compatriot Fernando Alonso caused a red flag, and a starter problem ahead of his final run prevented him from adequately warming up his tyres, leaving him in ninth place while team-mate Charles Leclerc took pole.
It got worse off the start for the Spaniard as he lost five places and, in his haste to try and recover lost ground, he span at Turn Nine, slewing across the track and into the gravel, terminating a horror weekend for the 27-year-old.
Brundle sympathises with the Ferrari driver after a concatenation of regrettable circumstances went against him.
“Carlos Sainz had the weekend from hell, missing out on a solid qualifying lap when his friend Fernando Alonso caused a red flag by crashing due to technical issues, and then with further engine starting dramas not delivering a representative lap,” he wrote in his Sky Sports F1 column.
“Out of true position in ninth on the grid, he needed a last-minute steering wheel change which led to an awful start, and he then proceeded to have a brutal midfield fight on Hard compound tyres, eventually impatiently spinning off the road.”
Sainz has been out-qualified and out-raced in all of the opening three rounds of the year, so the Briton indicated that the team may start prioritising Leclerc if Sainz cannot find a steep incline in form.
“He may well end up having to play a supporting role to Leclerc from here, depending on how the competition shapes up and if he can win the next couple of races, which is not out of the question,” he added.
But even if he does bounce back, the nine-time podium finisher affirms that the Monegasque is operating at a different level right now, so he will be difficult to beat.
“Leclerc has stepped up to a higher plane, delivering speed with consistency and seemingly always a half a step ahead of this car, rather than close to the edge of the car’s limit and the occasional heavy shunt as we’ve seen in the past,” he explained.
“The new regulations suit him and he’s developed confidence and increased self-belief.
“Two pole positions, two wins, a second, and three fastest laps in three races rather confirms that.”
Leclerc leads the Drivers’ Championship by 34 points from Mercedes’ George Russell, who has leapfrogged Sainz after his podium finish in Melbourne.