Carlos Sainz celebrated the occasion of his 29th birthday by claiming the fastest lap in FP2 for Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Friday, the Ferrari pace on home soil is cause for optimism for long-suffering Tifosi.
Practice results tend to be deceptive, the Temple of Speed may have not seen the best of what the home team’s rivals have to offer when the chips are down, particularly Max Verstappen in his dominant Red Bull and even Mercedes.
Earlier in the day, Verstappen topped FP1 with Sainz second quickest by 0.045s suggesting the Spaniard has brought some fine form to Monza. Someone has to top the timesheets and it being Sainz, in a Ferrari at at La Pista Magica, is just the tonic needed to fire up this weekend’s action.
Sainz said at the end of the day: “Overall it was a positive Friday for the team. The car looks to be back on the pace this weekend and the track characteristics seem to be suiting us better.
“[Saturday] is not going to be easy, as the field is super tight with several cars within a couple of tenths. We’ll keep trying to find more performance, especially for the long runs where I think there is more room for improvement.
“It’s great to drive in front of this amazing crowd here in Monza! Let’s keep pushing!” declared Sainz, ahead of his third race at Monza as a Ferrari driver.
In the sister car, after his wayward (including a crash) Dutch Grand Prix weekend, Charles Leclerc could not match his teammate on Friday. The Monegasque, winner of the Italian 2019 GP, played second fiddle to the Spaniard all day.
Leclerc: I struggled with the car balance
In FP1, Leclerc was fourth, and a quarter second shy of his teammate Sainz in P2. At the end of the afternoon session, Charles was sixth, 0.361s down on Carlos in P1.
Leclerc has less to say than his teammate: “It was a rather tricky day overall. Our performance was quite good, however, I struggled with the car balance. We will have to work on that, especially for the short runs, as with high fuel it seems to be going better.”
Looking ahead to Saturday, the team report added: “Qualifying looks like being very closely contested, with traffic and the advantage conferred by slipstreaming being factors that can have a radical effect on the outcome.
“Added to this is the fact that, this season, the gaps have always been very close and in Q1 on Hard tyres, it will be a case of running all session long to make the most of the track evolution and so there is likely to be plenty of traffic on track.
“In Q3, the slipstreaming battle will be hard fought and there could be some surprises, as was the case in 2019, when most of the cars did not cross the finish line in time before the chequered flag was waved. On that day, courtesy of a lap time set on his first run, pole position went to Charles Leclerc and his Ferrari,” recalled the report.
Needless to say, a Ferrari victory at Monza on Sunday will blow the roof off the Royal Park. It would be the Scuderia’s 20th Italian Grand Prix victory and, as it stands, Sainz looks more primed to achieve it than Leclerc is right now.