Carlos Sainz Wins Maiden F1 Race Amidst Silverstone Mayhem
The Ferrari driver scored his first pole and won in his 150th race, and the other divers luckily walked away unharmed
Carlos Sainz will not believe the weekend he has had. Neither will Alex Albon nor Zhou Guanyu after suffering horrific crashes as part of the British Grand Prix's hectic and chaotic start. While the Ferrari driver scored his first pole and won in his 150th race, the other drivers will be grateful to have walked away relatively unharmed.
One could argue no one needed this win more than Sainz. Under pressure from the Ferrari camp despite having signed a longer contract till the end of 2024 after his team mate Charles Leclerc announced himself as the frontrunner to the 2022 season, at 27 years of age, Sainz, a veteran already with three teams, needed to keep his F1 dreams afloat. But the manner in which it came surprised him as much as others who had begun to doubt the Spaniard's ability to turn things around after a couple of first lap exits.
For Sainz, it was a perfect crescendo after the last race in Canada, when he pushed Max Verstappen for the better part of 17 laps towards the end, but never seemed to be getting past him. Former teammates, their fortunes seem to have swung in opposite directions. There was a feeling that not only did the Ferrari camp not know who their No.1 driver was, but they were also having a hard time pulling the rabbit out of the hat when it came to playing to their respective strategies and strengths as well as in the interests of the team. In some ways, the story was no different at Silverstone as both Ferrari drivers had their respective angst with the team, local hero and seven time world champion, Lewis Hamilton, seeming to enjoy the spoils in a rare change this season.
Max Verstappen, current leader on the board, seemed to have a near perfect pole position during qualifying Saturday before his plans were scuttled first by his own spin on track and thereafter on Sunday by the race restart after it was red flagged after he managed to leap ahead of Sainz. The British Grand Prix saw its second major disaster averted in the afternoon when even in Formula 2, there was nasty crash that saw the car of Dennis Hauger pile atop Roy Nissany.
In the case of the Formula 1 race, contact between multiple cars at the start saw Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu's car turtle and skid at high speed, beyond the barrier, flying into the metal cage barrier before landing sideways. While the 23-year-old Chinese driver had to be extricated out of the car, and sent in an ambulance for a check up, Alex Albon fared little better, and was in hospital for scans.
In both cases, it seemed the cumbersome but effective Halo and head and neck support equipment had done its job, protecting the men from life threatening injuries, despite the high impact nature of both incidents.
While the likes of Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri too suffered car damage as did George Russell in his Mercedes, the latter's attempt to reach out to help Guanyu in addition to having his own car assisted from the track to the pits meant that Russell could not participate at the race restart despite repeated pleas.
As the clock meandered close to an hour before the race could get underway again, Sainz was a picture of calm. While other drivers chose to hang back with their crew, he sat in his car, with his helmet on, focussed on the task ahead. This seemed to have paid off, because he had a fight on his hands to the very end, and not just from other drivers but from Ferrari itself.
Second time round, Verstappen did not get the better of Sainz who had his elbows out off the starting lines. But when he did seize the opportunity on lap 10 when Sainz under pressure went off the racing track, the Dutch driver found himself out of contention two laps later when apparently a piece of debris from an AlphaTauri car not only lodged under the chassis of his car, leading him to think at first that it was a tire puncture, but also, managed to damage the floorboard of his car so much that he could barely keep his interest on track thereafter, having lost a significant amount of downforce and believing that his car was "100 percent broken".
The defending champion was fortunate to even finish amongst the points in seventh place and that too after fighting off Mick Schumacher who scored his first points in Formula 1 racing after coming excruciatingly close on a couple of occasions. Verstappen's rival this year in the Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, fared little better luck wise. Leclerc also suffered car damage after colliding with the likes of Sergio Perez on the first lap on restart. However, even with diminished capacity, the Monegasque driver managed to stay competitive and even push, by lap 31, his teammate, Sainz, who was leading the race.
The only problem was that while Sainz fought off the calls from the Ferrari pit radio, stalling for time before the instructions to switch cars came, Hamilton was enjoying a rare streak of good luck, much like the break in the weather after a rather wet Saturday, having to work less hard with others doing the work for him.
Ferrari were once caught on the backfoot when it came to making plans and pulling off strategies. While Leclerc fumed over time lost behind Sainz the last time round, Sainz had to literally plead and then put his foot down when on the resumption post safety car towards the end of the race, he was asked to hold a ten car lengths gaps to give race leader at the time, Leclerc, time to warm his old hard tires.
Sainz's words over the pit radio said it all as the pack bunched up behind him with Leclerc in front of him behind the safety car, "I'm going to be a lot faster than Charles" and again, "Guys, I'm under pressure from Hamilton. Please don't ask these things. Let's stop inventing. Stop inventing. I am under pressure also."
This, even as the likes of those behind him including Sainz, Perez and Hamilton used the safety car to pit for soft tires for the final ten laps of the race, the safety car stint giving Sainz leeway to negate concerns from Ferrari about fuel levels. Ferrari's explanation for why Leclerc was not pitted similarly was their concern over the time factor over a double stack which might have cost both Ferraris a place to end up behind Hamilton. The botched double stack last time round that might have deterred Ferrari to go down a similar route again but it potentially cost Ferrari and Leclerc a podium place.
The final 10 laps were perhaps the smoothest Sainz could race on his own terms after initially splendidly overtaking Leclerc whose tires were no match for the fresh soft on the other cars. While Leclerc's growing frustrations have been a matter of concern after a great start to the season, Sainz could not be more thrilled for standing his ground and not missing the thrilling action that followed behind him as Hamilton and Perez fought tooth and tooth for places alongside Leclerc with Fernando Alonso also eyeing a bit of the action from behind.
In the end, it seemed that it was a reprieve for Hamilton and redemption for Sergio Perez who had to fight his way from behind after the initial damage to his front wing which put him right behind the pack after his pit stop. As they shared the podium with Sainz, it was not hard to see who was beaming the most, "I don't know what to say, it's amazing. First race win, 150 races later, with Ferrari in Silverstone. I cannot ask for more. It's a very special day, a day that I will never forget, a very special weekend in general."
It was literally a case of Sainz believing in himself, even as Ferrari had begun to feel less comfortable and clear about their own plans. While it seemed unclear how much was encouragement and how much was admonishment as Scuderia Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, was seen talking to Leclerc with finger wagging gestures immediately after the race.
What is quite apparent is that while there is one Ferrari driver who is feeling his race and his season slip from under his feet, there is another who is celebrating but not forgetting in the aftermath, how hard fought it was and not just on track.