Carlos Sainz felt like the “sacrifice” from Ferrari to aid team-mate Charles Leclerc at Suzuka, though it was a role he accepted.
The Spaniard enjoyed a thrilling battle at the end of the race with the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, but was more possible?
Sainz was not pitted among the flurry of activity come Lap 37, when his team-mate Leclerc and Hamilton did box. The penny soon dropped for Sainz: “I guess we’ve been undercut,” he said over team radio.
Carlos Sainz accepts Ferrari team game to aid Charles Leclerc
Sainz made his second and final stop on Lap 39 and ultimately went on to clear one Mercedes, that being Russell, though P6 was the best he could manage with Leclerc crossing the line P4 and Hamilton P5.
“Obviously that undercut cost us a position with Lewis,” Sainz told media after the race, “because we were definitely quite quick out there today and we had very good pace, very good tyre degradation.
“But I guess the team decided to protect the position with Charles. It would have been obviously nice to have to defend the position, but in the end, team comes first and we were a bit of a sacrifice in a way.
“But I think we did everything we could, I had a good start, some very good pace and in the end I couldn’t quite get Lewis back.”
Despite Russell’s attempt to convince Mercedes that he should be allowed to stay ahead of Hamilton as Sainz closed in, he ultimately accepted the demand to let Hamilton through, a team decision which ultimately proved crucial as Sainz quickly dispatched Russell, but could not complete a pass on Hamilton.
“Maybe I missed a couple of laps and today I think overtaking proved quite difficult as well,” said Sainz of his Hamilton pursuit in the closing laps.
“So I think you could see Charles struggling to pass Russell, I was obviously in the dirty air of Hamilton with similar age tyres, so it was always going to be difficult to pass, but at least we got George and we had a good fight out there.
“They were smart, I think they played their cards well, but it didn’t work and I could pass George no problem.”
Ferrari were able to narrow the deficit to Mercedes and that P2 spot in the Constructors’ Championship, with Mercedes’ buffer now down to 20 points.