Motor racing: Hard to be fully ready for first race, says Sainz as Ferrari face rebuilding year

(REUTERS, AFP) – Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr expects it will take time for him to get fully up to speed with Ferrari, given the limited amount of testing before the season starts in Bahrain next month.

The 26-year-old has moved from McLaren to Maranello, where he will be racing for his fourth team since his debut at Italy-based Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) in 2015. He also drove for Renault in 2018.

“My intention is obviously to be 100 per cent ready for race one,” he told reporters at the team launch on Friday (Feb 26).

“But realistically speaking from my experience changing teams during all these years has been that that is very difficult to achieve.

“There’s always experiences, feelings that you need to go through race-by-race, or race weekend by race weekend, in free practices, in qualifyings, in the races that you always end up learning during the races rather than testing.

“One day and a half of testing per driver is not going to help (much).”

Formula One has scheduled three days in Bahrain from March 12 to 14 with Sainz and Charles Leclerc alternating in the car.

The pair are Ferrari’s youngest line-up since 1968 but Monegasque Leclerc is starting his third season at Ferrari and has two race wins from 2019.

Ferrari will not unveil their new car until March 10 and Sainz, who has driven some older cars at the team’s Fiorano test track, said much depended on the initial feel and where the limit was.

“I’m going to need a bit of time to find that out and I’m going to need a bit of time to experiment a bit with my set-ups, with putting the car a bit more to my liking and see where we can go for the future,” he said.

Team boss Mattia Binotto said the Spaniard, whose best finish was second in last year’s Italian Grand Prix, had settled in well and was already providing good feedback.

“We are not expecting him to be fully integrated 100 per cent at the start of the season but each single day will be important and I believe he will be ready… because at the end he is not a rookie,” he said.

He said that the campaign will be a rebuilding year for Ferrari following a disastrous 2020 season. Their car will largely be based on the 2020 version which delivered the team’s worst results in 40 years.

“In 2021, we will focus on developing the car of 2022,” Binotto told a virtual press conference. “This will be the main objective and therefore we won’t spend much time on the 2021 car during the season.”

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Binotto pointed out that facing changes in technical rules, a spending cap and the coronavirus crisis, Ferrari has frozen development as a cost-saving measure and is planning to unveil a new model for 2022.

“There is always a balance, it is a choice we have to make, 2022 represents an important change,” he said. “So a large part of the effort will be devoted to it.”

Ferrari finished sixth in the constructors’ standings last year with 131 points – 442 points behind world champions Mercedes and 188 behind second-placed Red Bull.

“The gap with the leaders was substantial”, said Binotto. “It is not something that can be corrected in one winter”.

Asked how optimistic he was, and whether he expected to stand on the podium again this year, Sainz said that was the million-dollar question nobody could answer until the opening race at the Sakhir circuit.

“There are some encouraging signs, some encouraging data coming out,” he said, speaking also in fluent Italian.

“At the same time, we don’t know what the others are doing. It’s the same question every winter. You might be progressing but you don’t know if the others are progressing more or less.”

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