The Spaniard and his team-mate Charles Leclerc have struggled for most of this season with their SF-23 showing a lack of consistency, especially on Sundays.
As a result, the duo was unable to compete with Red Bull in the grands prix, although in qualifying the car often showed itself quite close to the RB19.
Ferrari has seen signs of progress in recent weeks in its understanding of what it needs to do, but it is not yet at a stage where it feels confident it has met all the factors in playing
Reflecting on why Ferrari faced such unexpected difficulties, Sainz thinks there was already evidence last year about the race-pace question mark over its F1 challenger.
“If you analyze it as a bigger picture, in the second half of last year you will see that we had a car capable of fighting for pole positions but, in the race, we were always beaten by Red Bull,” Sainz told Autosport in an exclusive interview.
“A lot of times people blame it on the strategy. But honestly, I think a lot of times we weren’t as fast as them in the race, like in Budapest or in Austin, or places where we put it on the pole and then we came back.
“Maybe the difference there is that we are on pole by one-tenth, and then at race pace, we are down by two or three-tenths.
“But the delta itself this year is we’re half a second in some qualifying, and then eight-tenths in the race. So, maybe a bigger delta.”
One lap pace is often an asset but the Ferrari was unable to translate it into race trim
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
The emergence of doubts over the race-pace consistency of Ferrari’s car last year came after the squad had already committed to its SF-23 concept, so the weaknesses went into the design for this season.
Sainz said Ferrari had no way of knowing at that stage what the situation was, especially as rivals Red Bull didn’t really hit their stride until the middle part of the season.
Reflecting on the timing of Ferrari’s work on the 2023 design, Sainz said: “I think it’s something interesting because, if you go back to last year, when this car was born, it was when we were still super competitive.
“So, we don’t have time to know what the second part of the season will be like. We didn’t know this car would struggle at race pace.
“We were fast in the race, and fast in quali, in the first six, seven races of the season. And that’s why this car was probably born this way.
“Also, because after six/seven races where you commit to a car or to a concept, maybe even the strong first six races of  season also made us trust maybe this concept and this car.
“Maybe if it’s the second half of the season, even earlier, maybe the first half [of 2023] it would have been easier. You can see it both ways.
“That’s why F1 is so complicated, and F1 is so hard to understand. It is very easy to criticize from the outside. You just have to take it on the chin, be reactive, make sure you take the right steps and keep working as a team.
Sainz said its concept for 2023 was locked in before the extent of its weakness relative to Red Bull was realized
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Ferrari car ‘might surprise you’
Although it took Sainz a while to get comfortable with the 2022 car, he was ahead of things this year – even if the car wasn’t as competitive compared to the opposition.
But despite outward appearances, Sainz admits the SF-23 isn’t a car that inspires confidence when pushed to the limit.
“I’m not going to lie, the feeling in the car is still not good,” he said. “It’s not a car I drive to the limit, and I’m comfortable with it at the limit.
“This is a car that surprises you. This is a tough car. You can see it from the outside, but at least I understand more or less how I need to set it up and how I need to drive it.
“If I cover these two variables, I know that every weekend, I know I can put the car more or less where it should be.
“Apart from Baku, which was a weekend I didn’t understand and I will never understand, every other weekend, more or less I went where the car was supposed to be. And in that sense, I’m proud of it.
“But I’m not happy because I still want to enjoy more, and I want to push more and I want to go backwards in the race.
“I want to hope. I don’t want to spend a career looking in the mirror. And this is what we are trying to improve now.”
Sainz says the 2023 Ferrari has features that could “surprise” its drivers
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
Vasseur right man
Ferrari’s difficult transition to 2023 comes against the backdrop of a change in management, with team principal Mattia Binotto stepping down and being replaced by Fred Vasseur.
One of the concerns expressed after Binotto’s departure was that the team would lose technical continuity, with the Italian having a deep understanding of aspects of car design.
Asked if he felt Binotto’s exit had an impact, Sainz said: “I don’t know and I won’t know. We will never know how much of an impact this has had. But I want to believe that all changes are for the better and it will bear fruit soon.
“I think we will see progress. Honestly, I think that the more we try, and the more we try and all the things we discover, there comes a point where we start looking for it. But time will tell.”
However, Sainz believes that Vasseur’s impact is starting to be felt.
“I think everything is starting to work,” he said. “It’s very difficult to back it up with proof when you have weekends like Barcelona, where you’re still a bit lonely.
“I feel that the more weekends we do like Charles in Baku, me in Australia and have positive weekends and more proof, the more encouragement we will get. But for now. I’d say it’s hard to show.
“But I have full confidence in Fred, the way he handles things, and the way he leads the team. I must say I was very impressed. And I get along with him. I like how he thinks, his ideas and the direction he sees for Ferrari.
Sainz has faith in team principal Vasseur to get Ferrari back to the summit
Photo by: Ferrari
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