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Sainz: F1 title hopes not over if Ferrari starts 2023 badly

Carlos Sainz says a poor result for Ferrari in the Bahrain Grand Prix will not necessarily dash his team’s chances in the 2023 Formula 1 world championship.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Ferrari

Team-mate Charles Leclerc won two of the opening three rounds last season to thrust Ferrari into drivers’ and teams’ championship contention, but a combination of poor reliability and strategy – plus strong in-season Red Bull development – enabled Max Verstappen to comfortably defend his crown.

Added to how strongly Red Bull performed in pre-season testing in Bahrain last week, the Milton Keynes squad is the clear favourite heading into the campaign.

But Sainz has warned against assuming the title fight will be over if Ferrari is not immediately threatening Red Bull for victory in the season opener.

Citing the two fuel system faults that caused Verstappen to retire in Bahrain and Australia last year to trail Leclerc by 46 points, the Spaniard said: “What we learned last year very clearly is that whoever wins the first race, it doesn't mean you're going to win the championship.

“If you DNF with two cars on the first race, you're not going to lose the championship, because it's exactly what happened last year between us and Red Bull. We also know how it finished.

“Whatever happens in this first race, stay humble, stick to your plan of development of the things that you want to improve, because the championship is not won or lost in this first race and there's still 22 left.”

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Sainz added it was “impossible” to place Ferrari in the pecking order based purely on testing, with the “last two or three tenths” of a second compared to their rivals an unknown.

“What we don't know is the last two or three tenths,” he said. “But in the end in F1, the last two or three tenths are the most important because two or three tenths is a big number in this world.

“I have no idea where we will fall in those last two or three tenths with the Red Bull, with the Aston Martin, with the Mercedes. It's impossible to know.

“It’s no secret that they look like the strongest ones with Red Bull probably leading the way. Now we want to see where we fit into that matrix.”

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While 2022 points runner-up Leclerc was similarly coy on Ferrari’s early chances, he did emphasise that the SF-23 challenger has improved on all of its predecessor's problems.

Leclerc said: “Straightline speed was probably a weakness last year. We focused on that a bit more and we gained some of it, losing a bit of speed in the corners.

“But overall, I feel like we've done a good job and all the weaknesses that we had last year are improved. I'm confident that it's a better car.”

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