Carlos Sainz says he was “a bit surprised” that he managed to stay ahead of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull after the Safety Car restart in which Perez fought engine sensor issues to battle the Ferrari.

Sainz retained his P3 position from Perez to the chequered flag – in the wake of losing his P2 starting position to Max Verstappen off of the line – after a short late-race fight between the pair for the final podium position. Teammates Verstappen and Leclerc rounded out the podium with the race victory and P2 respectively.

The Spaniard had endured a wretched duo of race weekends prior, with a string of costly misfortune, mistakes and crashes in Australia and Imola. During this time however, he secured a new long-term Ferrari contract until the end of 2024.

What started as bad luck in Melbourne qualifying resulted in a poor start, due to a steering wheel gremlin, and unforced spin into the gravel on the second lap. In Imola qualifying Sainz crashed by his own accord at Ravazza but was able to make up places in the Sprint on Saturday, only to be taken out in the Grand Prix at the first corner of the first lap by Daniel Ricciardo.

The inaugural Miami Grand Prix didn’t start on the right foot either for Sainz who had a high speed spin at the Turn 4 and 5 complex in FP1, resulting in a puncture that was followed by a spin into the concrete wall at Turn 14 in FP2.

A sweltering Miami race was therefore the first lengthy race distance Sainz had driven in a while, and he was at first under pressure from the charging Perez, utilising Red Bull’s weekend-long straight line speed advantage. The Ferrari driver explained how everything on the strategy side somehow went against him in the first phase of the race.

“I mean, on a new medium, against me on a very used hard, he had everything on the cards, you know, to pass me on the first two or three laps in the warm-up phase of the tyre,” remarked Sainz. “And I was pretty sure that, once I got the tyres up to temperature, I could maybe stay, more or less, ahead.

“But yeah, I think we did a good job on defending, managing all the battery. They’re also pretty quick on the straight, which doesn’t help. I think it was a tough, tough defence, but it was good,” summed up Sainz.

He was also asked post-race whether there was any consideration put to changing onto fresh rubber during the safety car period, but Sainz confirms that retaining track position was key around the hard-to-pass Miami circuit.

“No, because I would have lost position to Checo and in general, you want to keep track position, especially during the podium. I think you want to keep that position,” Sainz explained. “I knew Checo was going to pit because he had a new medium. Our alternative was I use a soft or a new hard which for me, both of them were not good enough for 10/12 laps to go like it was the case.

“So we were better off staying out on our used hard, which I think was the right call because in the end we managed to keep him behind. But it was tight, I think as I said before, he had everything, all the cards to actually pass me and yeah, a bit surprised that we stayed ahead because it was a tight, tight battle,” summed up Sainz.

Perez was all set to launch an attack on the diminishing Ferrari, as Sainz struggled with the onset of fatigue and a lack of race fitness, when he suddenly lost power and dropped back himself. Even though his team managed to reprogram the faulty sensor, his Red Bull’s clear straight line speed advantage was gone.

“I think we lost another one-two today, to be honest,” Perez said. “I think we had a tremendous pace in the car, I was pushing Carlos, I was looking after my tyres on the first stint, and then this unfortunate issue with the engine. That’s a big shame. I was a second from Carlos and then the engine dropped and I lost around 30 seconds in two laps and then the issue affected me throughout the race.

“We had the pace to be up there on the podium and I pushed as much as I could in the position we were in. I had a small opportunity with Carlos and I just went for it – I knew it was going to be very dirty. I even think that if I had got him, he was going to overtake me back, because I was just too slow on the straights.

“It’s very frustrating that these things keep happening, but on the other hand, I mean, on a bad day I managed to finish fourth, which is good. We are working really hard on reliability, and we will keep pushing as a team. It is unfortunate, but I am pleased we managed to finish today. In Barcelona, I want to be back battling at the top,” summed up Perez.

For Sainz, it just wasn’t Perez that he had to worry about, after mentioning his injured neck to podium interviewer Willy T Ribbs, he clarified later how the combination of a lack of recent race completions and his sizeable FP2 crash impacted how hard he could push during the race.

“Obviously, I’m coming back from a pretty heavy crash on Friday,” said Sainz. “So, I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent today, but maybe also the fact that I haven’t done the last two races,” revealed Sainz. “So also, the neck feels that. And it’s a combination of those two things that maybe I was paying a bit the price and at some stages of the race I couldn’t push 100 per cent.”

Here’s Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc talk of their fight