When Carlos Sainz Jnr Jnr crossed the line on his final attempt in Q3 at a wet Silverstone to claim his first pole position in his Formula 1 career, he ended a 2,835-day drought since his last pole position in a competitive motorsport event, which occurred at Paul Ricard during the 2014 World Series by Renault.
Sainz won the afternoon's race against a lineup that featured future F1 drivers Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Nicholas Latifi, Sergey Sirotkin, Roberto Merhi, and Will Stevens — as well as W Series racer Beitske Visser. The next day, Sainz won his second consecutive race. It was the last time he stepped on a podium's highest step.
Sainz claims that he has not forgotten how to start a race from the top of the grid as he prepares to lead the pack around the formation lap for the very first time in a grand prix.
“Leading a formation lap will feel great in Ferrari – the first time I will do it,” said Sainz. “I think I haven’t forgot since I led a formation lap in World Series by Renault. I think I’ve led a couple of races in Formula 1. I think it was Portimão, and it felt great. So that’s a target, to do it again.”
Two weeks after chasing Max Verstappen home in Canada for his seventh second-place finish, the greatest question heading into Sunday is whether the Ferrari driver will be able to convert his career-best starting position into his long-overdue first Formula 1 victory. Asking the leader directly, he sees no reason why he won't be able to contend for the victory.
“Confidence is high,” said Sainz. “If I look back to FP2 the pace was there and I was feeling at home with the car and I’m pushing well on the tyres.
“If the feeling is like in FP2 then I’m confident that I can hold on to a lead and try to do my own race, pushing from the beginning. If the balance and the car is like FP3 then I think it could be a bit more tricky, but we’ve changed a few things since FP3, because we found ourselves with some issues that we didn’t expect. It looked like in qualifying we improved a bit, so hopefully the car is back like it was in FP2 and I can do my own race.”
Charles Leclerc, Sainz's Ferrari teammate, was among the most ecstatic when the Spaniard won his first pole position. Leclerc understands he has only himself to blame for starting behind his teammate in the grand prix, having wrecked on his last qualifying run and inadvertently slowed down Verstappen. On Sunday, though, Leclerc has no intention of playing a supporting role.
“Of course I will be very happy if Carlos wins the race tomorrow, but I’m not going to hide that I want to win too,” Leclerc said.
“I think what is most important is that we finish one-two, whatever way around it is, and if we can play strategic moves in between the cars, I’m pretty sure that we will. So, let’s see how it goes tomorrow. But, again, I feel confident with the car. So let’s wait and see.”
Between the two Ferraris lies Verstappen's Red Bull, which is second on the grid and from whence he sprinted to victory in last year's sprint qualifying race against Lewis Hamilton.
On Saturday afternoon, Verstappen made a lot of people in the paddock concerned by lapping almost half a second quicker than any other car that wasn't a Red Bull, despite the fact that Friday's only dry practice session hinted that this week's top of the field might be quite competitive. Despite missing out on the pole position after having to back off due to Leclerc's spin, Verstappen enters the race with his signature self-assurance.
“I think it’s going to be good,” said the championship leader. “The car was very nice in FP3, better balanced than FP2 and that’s, of course, important that you find that right balance.
“Tomorrow, it’s a bit of a question mark. The track will probably be quite green, because of the rain. How are the tyres are going to last? I have good confidence that our cars should be quick.”
Although he is comfortably dominating the championship as the season nears the halfway mark, Verstappen insists he will not play it safe if he has a chance to win the race.
“The target is always to score points and always, of course, as many as you can and that’s how I’ve approached every single race until now, so I don’t see why this race suddenly needs to be different,” Verstappen explained.
“If I have an opportunity to go for it, I will definitely go for it. It’s how it goes in F1. There are still so many races left where you need to score a lot of points, to have a chance to win the championship.”
Silverstone was meant to be one of the best weekends of the season for the Brackley-based Mercedes team after a string of challenging races. However, the team's Q3 strategy failed, leaving Lewis Hamilton in fifth and George Russell in eighth place.
Russell believes that if he can clear Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris in the early parts of the race, Mercedes will be able to demonstrate that they have finally made up considerable distance on their opponents after displaying encouraging long-run performance in practice relative to the Red Bulls and Ferraris.
“I think we’ve definitely got a faster race car that we do qualifying car,” claimed Russell. “We definitely closed the gap as well.
“It would have been really interesting to see where we could have ended up today had it been dry. So I just hope I get past Alonso and Lando as soon as possible to try and see the true picture, because I think we’ve got half a chance against the guys at the front.”
Norris having clinched 'best-of-the-rest' honors for his home grand prix, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl believes Sunday's goal is merely to solidify that position, even if they are unable to keep Russell's Mercedes behind them. While Norris starts sixth in front of one Alpine, Daniel Ricciardo is fourteenth with the second Alpine directly behind him.
“One of the targets for this weekend has been to be the fourth best team again,” said Seidl. “The target for tomorrow for the race will be to finish also as the fourth best team in terms of positioning. Our battle is with Fernando, our battle is with the Alfa Romeos and that would be a great achievement.
“A lot can happen in the race and obviously we’re looking for any opportunity in order to move forward. But as we have seen several times this year, if you don’t have fairly big incidents in the race and it’s pretty much a normal race, even if you have a quicker car than some guys in front of you, sometimes it’s very difficult to move forward.”
Using the three toughest compounds for this weekend, Pirelli predicts that the quickest road to the checkered flag will involve a two-stop strategy, beginning on the mediums and moving to hards before returning to the mediums for a third stint.
“In the dry conditions of FP3, most drivers ran the soft tyre, and we expect the medium to be the main race tyre tomorrow if conditions are dry – which is not entirely certain – with a two-stopper being the best strategy,” explained Pirelli’s Mario Isola.
As the first two days of the weekend have demonstrated, though, the Silverstone sky is susceptible to rain at any time. Current forecasts indicate that Sunday will have a lower chance of precipitation than the weekend's first two days, although this is of little consequence when discussing a British summer.
Regardless of the weather, Sainz is aware that he will have his greatest chance ever to win his maiden grand prix when he arrives at the track on Sunday, but he is also aware of how tough it will be to hold off the three cars closest to him on the starting row.
“I’m pretty sure that between Charles and me we can put a good battle with Max, and obviously not forgetting about Checo that will be also attacking,” said Sainz. “They were very quick in FP3, both Red Bulls. So I think if we can work like we worked all year, we can achieve a one-two. That is the main target.”