Race Weekend Central

Carlos Sainz Starts Ferrari Farewell Tour on the Podium in Bahrain

One month after news broke that his seat at Ferrari would go to Lewis Hamilton from 2025, Carlos Sainz began his final season in Ferrari red with a podium result during Saturday’s (March 2) Bahrain Grand Prix. In the process, Sainz not only outperformed his teammate, but likewise laid down a pace to match the fastest car in the field, establishing and maintaining an impressive gap to Red Bull’s Sergio Perez throughout the race’s latter half.

“I felt really good out there today,” Sainz told Sky Sport’s ___ after the race. “The start wasn’t ideal, but from then on I just managed my tires well and then from there I could do my pace. Overtook two or three cars on the way to the podium and then keeping up with the Red Bull there at the end, which was a pleasant surprise.”

There was no mention of his impending free agency when Sainz spoke with Coulthard. Instead, attention turned quickly to the next round of the season in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“It will be a bit of a surprise for everyone to see where we are,” Sainz said. “I expect cars like the McLaren and the Red Bull – last year they were very good at high speed circuits – to be competitive there. But, you know, our car has also improved at high speeds so hopefully we can also be strong there.”

Sainz qualified fourth and ended the first lap of the race running fifth after a sluggish start from the second row on the grid. Following teammate Charles Leclerc and Perez, Sainz attached himself to a DRS train forming behind then-second-place runner George Russell. The opportunity to go for fourth place came on lap 11, by which point Leclerc had started to show weakness under braking as his Ferrari continued to lock up the right-front tire into the Sakhir International Circuit’s tricky turn 10.

Coming into turn 1, with Leclerc being given no DRS from third-placed Perez, Sainz made a late dive on his teammate under braking, which Leclerc with no choice but to try and hold it together around Sainz’s outside. Despite Leclerc’s best effort, the No. 55 Ferrari was through for fourth.

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Ferrari responded by pitting Leclerc for hard tires – and the undercut – on lap 12 while leaving Sainz out on track until lap 14.

Sainz emerged from the pits directly behind Leclerc, also on hard tires, while the latter was receiving DRS from Russell. Despite the team’s decision to leave Sainz out on track and pit Leclerc first (typically, the driver who has track position will be pitted first), Sainz had no issues hanging on to his teammate and made his presence known once again just a few laps later.

Coming to turn 1 on lap 17, commentator Martin Brundle noted that Leclerc was still in DRS range of Russell, prompting the suggestion that the DRS tow would keep Sainz behind.

“You can see, Leclerc’s got the DRS open, which will save his bacon,” Brundle observed. “For now… I think… maybe…”

Before Brundle could get the sentence out to completion, Sainz was again sticking the nose of his car to the inside of Leclerc as they entered turn 1. Resistance was futile the second time around and the Spaniard was over a second ahead of his teammate by the end of the lap.

One lap later, Sainz had set the fastest lap of the race to that point and was on the tail of Russell, who mounted a valiant defense through turn 1 but was then promptly relieved of third place entering turn 4. All that said, the most interesting fact of Sainz’s race was still a few seconds up the road.

After passing Russell on lap 18, Sainz was 2.7 seconds adrift of Perez, who was in firm control of second place. The gap fluctuated by a few tenths of a second for the next few laps, by lap 27, with minimal traffic for either driver, Sainz was less than two seconds behind Perez.

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Naturally, Max Verstappen was off in the distance flexing the strength of Red Bull’s 2024 entry, the RB20, to the extent that his fastest lap of the session was a full second better than the second next fastest driver. Meanwhile, Perez, in the same car, was 12 seconds behind his teammate and clinging to a gap over Sainz that barely eclipsed three seconds at its healthiest length.

When the checkered flag flew 30 laps later, Perez was 22.4 seconds behind Verstappen. The gap between Perez and Sainz sat at just 2.6 seconds. Sainz was voted Driver of the Day for his performance.

What Sainz’s pace says about Ferrari’s 2024 campaign, his individual pace, Leclerc’s standing in the team when Hamilton arrives next year, and so on is still up for interpretation. A lackluster year for Sainz or Ferrari as whole could leave his prospects less than desirable for 2025. If he snags a win, like he has the last two years, his departure from Ferrari may prove to be a career speed bump rather than a proper career transition.

During preseason testing, Fernando Alonso said that of the 20 drivers on the grid, 19 of them knew they wouldn’t win the title this year in reference to the anticipated dominance of Verstappen. What nobody said during preseason testing was that Sainz, and possibly Ferrari as a whole, would match a Red Bull on pace.

Whatever comes of this season for Sainz, a statement was made in the desert this evening.

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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