(Motorsport-Total.com) – If we put perennial winner Max Verstappen aside, he is currently the man in form in Formula 1: Ferrari star Carlos Sainz seems to be thriving after his forced departure from the Reds of Maranello, who prefer to rely on record world champion Lewis Hamilton from 2025.

Week after week, Sainz is delivering top performances and strong results, interrupted only by a brief absence due to appendicitis surgery at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. After his win two weeks ago in Melbourne, the fast Spaniard raced to the podium again on Sunday in Suzuka – finishing third behind the two Red Bulls, just like he did at the start in Bahrain.

Translated, this means that in all the races Sainz participated in in 2024, he ended up on the podium – and ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, whom the Scuderia had given a new contract to just a few days before the Hamilton announcement: currently, Sainz leads 3-0 in their team duel, and he also has the edge in qualifying with a 2-1 lead.

Sainz: In Formula 1, you need a good car

Asked about his recent surge in form after the Japan Grand Prix, Sainz can’t help but smile. However, he remains humble and gives credit to the team: “I’m in good shape this year, driving at a high level. But at the same time, a car that you can drive a bit longer with, that is easier to handle in turbulent air and allows you to play with the strategy better, also allows you to shine more.”

Sainz is convinced by the recent results: “We have simply improved the car.” Because, as the Spaniard explains, “Last year, in the races, it always seemed like we were falling back, we were always on the defense, terrible at managing the tires. So it was difficult to show good races.”

In 2024, it’s a different story: “This year, after three races, we have two podiums and a win, plus many overtaking moves. It’s a completely different picture, but it shows that in this sport, it is also very decisive: The reality is simply that the car is very important in Formula 1, having a good one.”

So Sainz surpassed Norris and Leclerc

In Suzuka, according to the three-time Grand Prix winner’s statement, this was true: “Honestly, I had a good race and I am very happy, because it was tough out there with tire degradation. But then suddenly the clouds came, tire wear became significantly lower. I thought that a stop might be faster than the two we were on. I had to overtake many cars, and that was difficult.”

But the strategy paid off because Sainz was able to overtake well: “As always in Suzuka, you have to get the last chicane perfectly to get a good run for turn one. I made my moves, but it wasn’t easy.”

Sainz never lost sight of the goal of a podium. “I needed a very large delta to attack Norris and Charles, but in the end, it worked. I was fast on the hard tire and liked the feeling it gave me to push,” the 29-year-old says contentedly.

The pace was “mega” in the final stint, says Sainz – and that was necessary. Because a few laps before the end, he was still behind Leclerc and Norris in fifth place, with slightly fresher tires, but facing the challenge of having to overtake the McLaren first. however, a small mistake by Norris solved this problem, and Leclerc then offered no significant resistance.

Also because of a request from the Ferrari command center: “Don’t waste time with Sainz. We are racing against Norris.” Leclerc obediently followed and let his teammate go, even though Suzuka is considered a track where overtaking is not easy. And the tire delta on the Hards between the two teammates was only about ten laps.

Immediately after his last pit stop, Sainz had a ten-second gap to Leclerc – and the two Mercedes ahead of him. In lap 43, ten laps before the end, he appeared for the first time in Norris’ DRS window. And in lap 44, he overtook the McLaren. It is likely that he would have got past Leclerc even without the voluntary position.

Red Bull remains the benchmark for Sainz in Japan

Only one thing has not changed for Sainz even in Japan: For realistic chances of winning, as in the last race in Australia, at least Verstappen must fall out of the race, it will be difficult on his own. “We knew that our race pace would be better than in qualifying, but probably still not enough to go for the win,” says the Ferrari driver.

“Considering how good Red Bull’s race pace is, it is almost impossible to think about a win anyway,” believes Sainz – who, with this information, and against the backdrop of his own stellar form, which has made him the hottest commodity on the driver market for 2025, may soon start thinking about something completely different.

On Sunday morning at Suzuka, Sainz entered the paddock together with Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko and chief engineer Paul Monaghan, with a cheerful atmosphere and good spirits. … A mischievous thought may come to mind.