Carlos Sainz reckons he would have been “dead meat” against the Mercedes drivers without slowing down for Lando Norris in the closing stages of the Singapore Grand Prix.

Sainz, who began the race from pole position, resisted late pressure from Lando Norris and the Mercedes drivers to become the first non-Red Bull winner of the year.

The Spaniard believes it’s “difficult” to select one aspect he is most proud of, crediting the entire Ferrari team for seizing the sole chance it has had to win a race in 2023.

“We have to be extremely proud of the weekend that we put together,” he said. “We’ve had one opportunity this year to win the race, which was here in Singapore, and we nailed it.

“We didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend. There were a lot of moments out that we were a bit under pressure. We kept it calm, we kept our plan, our strategy.

“We had to play with tyre degradation, with pit stop gaps, with DRS. Playing with all that and managing to keep everything under control, we managed to bring home a win that was never easy, but that definitely feels incredible.”

Despite dominating all three practice sessions and claiming pole position, Ferrari was unsure about whether its troubles with tyre degradation would cost the side victory.

However, Sainz insists he was always optimistic, adding the only moments where his race wasn’t under control came when Mercedes initiated its late onslaught.

“Yeah, it was very difficult to tell before the race if we would have the race pace to win,” he acknowledged.

“I felt like even if we didn’t, by managing and controlling the gaps, and controlling the pace and the tyre degradation, I could create myself the opportunity to win. Obviously keeping P1 at the start, and then from there controlling the race, it was the whole plan.

“That Safety Car came a bit too early. Going onto a hard tyre on Lap 20 wasn’t my preference, especially because I had managed very well the Medium, and I felt like we could have gone a lot longer. But it was the right call.

“That stint on Hards was always under control until the VSC came out and gave the Mercs the opportunity to two-stop. And we were clearly under a lot of pressure at the end.”

Race winner Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari celebrates in parc ferme. 17.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Race Day.

After controlling proceedings, Sainz’s victory was placed in doubt in the final laps when the charging Mercedes pair rapidly latched onto the back of the Ferrari driver and Norris.

While Sainz and Norris had stayed out when a Virtual Safety Car was called on Lap 44 to remove the stricken Alpine of Esteban Ocon, both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton diverted to the pits for new Medium tyres.

Having comfortably swooped by the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, Russell was climbing all over the back of Norris before he crashed out on the final lap after being unable to bypass the McLaren.

When asked how nervous he was about the Mercedes threat, Sainz responded: “At the beginning, not so nervous, because I felt like I had a lot of pace in hand to push the last 12-15 laps.

“But immediately I felt like as soon as I started pushing, my tyre degradation started to kick in, and I think Lando and I were sliding a lot.

“Then it surprised me quite a lot how quickly the Mercedes managed to pass Charles and close the gap on Lando and me. And at that point, I thought, it’s not going to be easy, and these last five, six laps are going to be a fight, and at that point, I had to change a bit the strategy.

“I had to give Lando a bit of a cheeky DRS boost, and that helped us to keep them behind and win the race and get the win for Ferrari that feels great.”

Sainz remains convinced that without his decision to aid his ex-McLaren team-mate with DRS, Russell would have comfortably dispatched both of the top two runners.

“It always tricky, because you always put yourself under extra pressure,” he continued regarding the choice to allow Norris to close up.

“Then you know that then you cannot have a lock-up. You cannot have a single mistake or a snap, because it means then Lando is going to have a chance to overtake you if he has DRS. So at that point, you decide to give him DRS, hoping that will be enough to keep the Mercs behind.

“There was particularly one lap, I think Lando defended into [Turn] 16, 17, and then I had to slow down a lot in Turn 1, 2, 3 to give him DRS again.

“I think that move saved my race, also Lando’s P2, because I feel like if not, I would have been dead meat. If the Mercs would have passed Lando, I think they could have got past me pretty easily.”

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