Ferrari finally find their chief strategist – and it’s Carlos Sainz
The twitchiness on the Ferrari pit wall was palpable. With five laps to go at the end of Sunday’s thrilling Singapore Grand Prix, less than two seconds separated race leader Carlos Sainz, in first, from Lewis Hamilton in fourth. McLaren’s Lando Norris, in second, was closing in, within the critical one-second DRS range. The warning from Sainz’s race engineer Riccardo Adami was quick: “Lando, 0.8 (seconds) behind with DRS.”
But the Spaniard was a step ahead, deploying a meticulous balancing act which ultimately secured his second Formula One victory. “Yeah, it’s on purpose,” he replied. At which point it all made sense.
For a team chasing its first victory in over a year, often maligned for their clangers in the strategy department, all it took was a clear sense of thought and direction from the driver in the cockpit. Sainz was not overly concerned with Norris’ pace behind him. On the contrary, the double threat posed by Mercedes’ George Russell and Hamilton, lapping over a second-a-lap quicker on fresh tyres in third and fourth, was the main focus of his thinking.
What a fine balancing act it was. Keep Norris close enough behind him – one second – to give him a crucial speed boost on the straights to defend from Russell, but not so close that Norris himself could make a move for the top spot. In the end, it was a masterstroke which worked to perfection.
“I knew more or less my pace versus Lando and how difficult it is to overtake here,” Sainz explained afterwards. “I knew he was on a hard and if George and Lewis were going to overtake, I would be dead meat also. So I needed him to hold on for as long as possible.
“[For] a couple of laps I was 1.2 or 1.3 seconds ahead of Lando so I slowed down a bit to give him DRS into turn