The Azerbaijan GP was another difficult race for Carlos Sainz, who was unable to match the performance of teammate Charles Leclerc throughout the weekend.
Sainz was looking for a positive response after his late-race Australia incident, which cost him vital points and led to a prolonged saga with the stewards over F1’s three-week break.
However, unlike in the first three rounds of the season, Leclerc had a relatively clean weekend in Baku and maximised the points that were realistically attainable in his SF-23.
An 8-tenth gap in qualifying between the Monegasque and the Spaniard set the tone in Baku, with Leclerc finishing 24 seconds ahead of Sainz in the race.
Sainz was pessimistic about his chances throughout the three days of action last weekend, insistent that a lack of confidence prevented him from pushing the car.
With an intense sequence of races ahead, it will be imperative for the 28-year-old to bounce back quickly and start challenging his superstar teammate.
Races like Baku certainly cannot become the norm, although Sainz believes that avoiding mistakes and bringing the car home is a step forward from last season:
“If you already have problems with confidence like I did today, then you have to hold back,” he told the post-race media.
“Because you can hit the wall at any moment and throw ten points in the bin.
“Last year, I would have made a mistake, I think, because I had less experience with a weekend like this.
“But now I’ve taken it easy and made sure that I didn’t make the same mistakes as last year.
“Of course, I need some time, but in the past, we have turned the tide within three or four days.”
Very few drivers – if any – would envy the challenge of matching Charles Leclerc in the same machinery, but this is the task that Sainz must compare.
After an impressive first year with Ferrari in 2021, last season was a significant regression for the Spanish driver.
This was partly because Sainz was less comfortable in the F1-75 and partly because the unpredictability of battling in the midfield (as Ferrari did in 2021) can make head-to-head comparisons more difficult.
In any case, the first rounds of 2023 show a continuation of the performance gap that existed between Leclerc and Sainz from last season.
Avoiding incidents and securing decent points amidst difficult weekends is obviously important, especially after the series of DNFs that plagued the #55 last season.
However, if Sainz is to prove capable of fighting his teammate, he will need to do more than bring the car home.