The Spaniard made the most of his openable soft tires to make his way past Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and lead several laps at the Algarve.
And while he never expected to move from seventh on the grid to top spot on the second lap, Sainz said the tire advantage he has over other cars made it very simple.
Sainz said, “Driving around in particular, it was actually very easy” Sky F1. “It wasn’t a really tough fight or anything like that, it was just driving around them as if they were driving around most of the time.”
Sainz believes the main factor that helped him was ensuring he got enough heat in his tires on the preform roll.
“I focused a lot on the warm-up cycle to try to make sure the tires reach the temperature,” he said. “Then you see some cars here on the mid-wheel, and others on the smooth tires, but I think those extra few grades on the soft tire and those extra grades that I put into the shaping course gave me this good first course.”
However, he admits that almost everything went wrong on that first lap when he was stopped due to Hamilton’s early braking.
“I almost bumped into him there because he was applying the brakes very early, but I can drive outside without any problem,” he said.
“Now I see Valtteri, and I was expecting, because it was no longer raining, I was expecting him to regain speed. I don’t know, I was very comfortable.
“Then I’m on his head, and I’m trying to show my nose to try to get him a little nervous and look in the mirrors, and he’s missing the top a little. I think showing the nose a little made him look in the mirrors and lose the top, and that put me in the front.”
Sainz couldn’t hold the lead for long despite overheated Mercedes tires, eventually slipping from the standings to sixth after struggling with grits. It is believed to be a problem that McLaren is particularly vulnerable to.
“Yes, in the last two races we have experienced low temperatures,” he explained. “Our car tends to not start a bit in the middle of the corner, and that hurts the left-hand a lot.
“It’s been a feature of our car lately, and we need to further investigate why, because today, without the nibs, after driving at first, I think we could have at least finished off the P4, P5, with a normal race.”
Co-coverage by Luke Smith