Carlos Sainz’s worrying Red Bull pace advantage prediction for Spanish GP

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen runs in FP2. Barcelona June 2023.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen during FP2 in Spain. Barcelona June 2023.

If Carlos Sainz is right in his prediction that Red Bull will be up to a second per lap faster during the Spanish GP, then his P2 starting spot may be as good as it gets.

When Red Bull’s Max Verstappen delivered a 1:12.272 out of the box in Q3, already it was very hard to see the World Championship leader being denied a first Spanish Grand Prix pole.

And indeed the best that the chasing pack could manage was weakening his advantage, Sainz ultimately the driver to secure P2 on the grid, albeit almost half a second off Verstappen’s benchmark.

That is one-lap pace then, and now the challenge for Sunday is to hang with Verstappen across 66 laps of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

It is not a challenge though which Sainz expects to rise to, as he predicts Verstappen’s advantage will only grow in race trim, while the multiplier effect of the laps will take him even further out of reach.

“I expect Red Bull to have more than half a second to a second of race pace advantage in that window, like they always have and that around Barcelona, fifty-something laps is a lot of seconds so it doesn’t matter where they’re starting,” Sainz told reporters after qualifying, with Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull set to launch from P11.

“But the rest of the field I think is tight and it’s going to be a good fight.” recommends

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There is positive news for Ferrari though, and that is that their major upgrade package for this event, which most notably featured the move to Red Bull-esque sidepods, has delivered a “step in the right direction” according to Sainz.

He explained though why this does not mean Ferrari will now have a performance surge in race trim that can worry Red Bull, Sundays having been a glaring weakness for the Scuderia so far this season, particularly when visiting high-speed venues.

“The new package was meant to improve mainly the medium to low speed and in that area, we have definitely felt a step in the right direction,” said Sainz.

“And as I said before the weekend, a step into a different direction is not so much a big upgrade or a big change in our performance, but opening a bit of a different window of working range for the car. That was the main target of this upgrade, not to suddenly go half a second quicker.

“And yeah, I think that is doing the job and it’s working well. We also want to make the car more predictable, more drivable, easier to put together a lap and hopefully it will go in this direction but unfortunately, we’ve come to a track that it doesn’t suit our package.

“Our high-speed performance really hasn’t been good since the beginning of the season. Since Australia, we’ve been struggling with the balance and with the bouncing and still many things that is happening to us in high speed. So yeah, we just want to now focus on that and see if we can improve that because as you saw, low speed for us is actually not bad at all.”

Ferrari head into the race P4 in the Constructors’ Championship, with the gap to Aston Martin in P2 standing at 30 points.

Sainz then will look to lead the charge to eat into that deficit, with Mercedes 29 points up the road, while for Charles Leclerc it will be a recovery mission in the sister Ferrari after a surprise Q1 elimination.