Carlos Sainz produced one of the most impressive drives of the season so far in Singapore on Sunday as he saw off the threat of Lando Norris and the two Mercedes drivers to become the first non-Red Bull Grand Prix winner of 2023.
The Spaniard’s weekend started well as he made it back-to-back pole positions for the first time in his F1 career, pipping Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ George Russell to the top spot following a mesmerizing end to Q3.
When race day arrived, Sainz locked himself in for the fight, benefitting from his team-mate’s defensive work to maintain a comfortable pace out front throughout the early stages of the race. An early safety car took away the Spaniard’s first line of defence as Leclerc dropped down the order, but Sainz remained calm as he kept Russell and Norris at bay.
A late VSC gave Mercedes the chance to pit both drivers onto fresh rubber and as they honed in at a rate of knots, it looked a certainty that Russell and Hamilton would steam through to secure a Silver Arrows 1-2. But Sainz had other ideas.
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Ferrari’s Madrid-born star deliberately backed off to allow Norris to move within DRS range, giving him a buffer between the two Mercedes cars and protecting his lead. The 29-year-old managed the lead perfectly to take his second career victory.
Once the celebrations in the Ferrari camp calm down, team principal Fred Vasseur will have plenty to consider. The Spanish star is out of contract at the end of next season and is yet to renew with the two parties believed to be apart in terms of their demands.
The Scuderia have historically favoured a clear 1-2 structure and with Leclerc’s star power and race-winning pedigree, the Monegasque driver is seen as the team’s number one. However, Sainz’s performances are beginning to challenge that narrative.
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Earlier this season, a report from Auto Action claimed that Sainz has already signed a pre-contract agreement with Sauber to join their project in 2025 ahead of the Audi rebrand a year later. While this has been denied, the Audi interest is believed to be based in reality, and Ferrari may have to bump up their offer if they’re to keep hold of the Spaniard.
Sainz has made public his desire to stay with Ferrari long-term, but as of now, there is no new contract on the table. Leclerc is believed to be on the verge of signing a bumper, long-term deal, but with Sainz in demand and ahead of his team-mate in the standings, it is becoming harder and harder not to warrant a longer extension for both drivers.
Vasseur now faces the prospect of upsetting his in-form driver if he opts to destabilise the power dynamic between the two Ferrari drivers at the next round of contract negotiations, which are expected over the coming weeks.
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