McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was chuffed to keep Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and match Red Bull Racing’s Alexander Albon on pace in F1 Japanese GP.

Sainz has become rather familiar with the rear end of the top teams, as he’s consistently been best of the rest in the 2019 F1 season. However, in Japanese GP at Suzuka, he did two better than his usual seventh, finishing an impressive fifth in the race.

He even fought with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at the start, while he managed to keep Ferrari’s Leclerc behind in the later stage and also matched Red Bull’s Albon in terms of race pace, which he was particularly chuffed to do so.

Looking at Sainz’s lap time, the Spaniard ran mostly in the 1m33s and early 1m34s which was similar for Albon and also Leclerc. They were on different strategies but they were all on the soft tyres in their final stint.

“This one was a bit more special than the others because of the pace we had and we were able to, for the first time, feel the car working really nicely together in the first sector and whenever the team asked me to pick up the pace I started doing 33.5s and Leclerc couldn’t keep up and suddenly we were managing to hold up a Ferrari and managing to match Albon on pace,” said Sainz to the media.

“When you have a Ferrari ten seconds behind, and when they are a couple of seconds faster in race pace you think you’re not going to make it. But I had been saving my tyres at the beginning of the stint and when I was required to push I was able to find half a second of pace and although he was half a second quicker for the first three or four laps, he suddenly degrading and I started keeping up the pace and he gave up, and it was nice.

“It’s the first time this year it has happened, so I’m very pleased and proud of that, and from my side just an extremely long first stint, a good start and a good qualifying.” Before his supreme effort, his race almost ended at the start after the bump against Hamilton.

They were side-by-side when Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen collided. They even touched but were unscathed and could continue. “He was on my blind spot so I didn’t know where the Mercedes was,” explained Sainz.

“I knew he was somewhere on the inside and obviously they are a lot quicker through the Esses. I didn’t know where he was, so I had to lift a bit and leave a bit of space, and it was just enough for him to go flat and pass me, it was impressive.”

With another fine result, Sainz overtook Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in the drivers’ standings to be sixth with 76 points to the Frenchman’s 73. He has helped McLaren hugely to have 111 points in the fight against Renault, which has 77.

Here’s how the F1 Japanese GP panned out

Sebastian Vettel on his mistake and FIA’s clarification

Valtteri Bottas admits about concerns he had of Lewis Hamilton not pitting

Robert Kubica felt let down by Williams in Japanese GP

Charles Leclerc accepted blame for Turn 2 incident

Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton dedicate title to Niki Lauda

Sergio Perez feels he left enough space for Pierre Gasly in their clash

Alexander Albon says Lando Norris left the door open for the move

Daniel Ricciardo didn’t like team orders but it worked for them

Additional input from Dancan Leahy