We had to react quickly to Dani coming back to the team and we're delighted to welcome him back. He's a driver we've always rated very highly and of course we know him very well so it wasn't difficult to quickly say hello to him, integrate him back in to the team again. The week prior to the race we quickly got his seat fitting done and briefed him on the steering wheel buttons and the modes for the engine and all these things which are inevitably different from one team to another. He did a day in the simulator as well so he had some feel for what the car would be like around Barcelona and some of the various options we've got. He did some set-up tests as well.
(Carlos Sainz during F1 winter testing in Barcelona, 4 March 2016)
As for the Barcelona track, we felt its characteristics would suit us as it involves running higher wing levels than at recent past races. We felt we could maximise a little bit more our downforce potential, so we did that and it appeared to be working OK. Interestingly, there's a certain amount you can carry over from winter testing here but not a great deal because the track changes so much. The higher temperatures at this time of year the grip levels are different and the tyres behave differently. It is a hard track on tyres particularly when the temperature is high.
Carlos concentrated on tyre work, giving Dani as much time as we could for him to settle into the car. The Simulator work was useful for him but there's nothing like driving the real thing and he got quicker every run that he went out so he just needed laps. Carlos, having driven our car for a while and being a solid part of the team for over a year, was able to dive straight in and give us an idea of how things were feeling compared to previous races. Overnight we worked on sorting out some balance issues for Dani.
In the final free practice, we made some good steps on the set-up. We did a long run again with Carlos, just to validate some tyre and also gave him a quick short run on the softs. That looked reasonably competitive. For Dani, we made quite a big step forward and once again, every time he went out, he was going quicker so we targeted Q3 for both cars. Unfortunately, as a precaution which turned out not to be necessary, we ran twice in Q1 with Daniil, on the basis he was going faster every run. That slightly disadvantaged him in Q2 because he had one less set of new tyres and two new sets in Q2 would have given him a better chance to make it to Q3.
Carlos got through to Q3 without much of a drama actually, so that was encouraging, as it was an incredibly tight weekend. Q3 for Carlos worked OK. We were just a tenth or two off the Williams ahead of us in P7. Interestingly, the top three teams were particularly strong here. Maybe it's because it's such a chassis-based track but the top three teams were particularly strong, so for the rest of us, those in the top end of the mid group, it was really a race to be the first behind them and we ended up being the second, so we weren't too disheartened. Therefore our target for the race was to get both cars in the points and do as well as we could. We knew our race pace would be stronger than our quali pace.
They both started on used softs; in Carlos' case because of the rules for Q3 runners. It was very close between a two-stop and three-stop strategy here but it looked like defaulting to a two-stop race, fitting mediums both times after the used soft was the optimum strategy. That's what we did with Carlos, as did many runners around us. With Dani, we started on used softs because we wanted to save the new softs until the end because if you went for three stops, you'd use the new softs at the end. Carlos had a very strong race all the way through. We didn't quite have the pace to stay with Ferrari, which would have been fantastic, because we ended up P3 after the first lap incident with Mercedes. It was an absolutely stunning first few corners from him. Bottas got past us at the first pit stops, so after that, Carlos' race was just sitting pretty much in free air with a gap to the Williams and pulling away from the guys behind. Sixth was a good result for Carlos and very solid performance, at the end of a clean weekend. It was super smooth – just what we needed from him and what he needed as well.
For Dani, he made a reasonable start actually and again, he was still learning during the race. He got caught in traffic quite badly, so we switched him to the three-stop strategy. He again got caught in traffic in the second stint but by the third stint, he was free and he managed to squeeze into the points in P10. However he was massively compromised at the end because, although we were super quick on the new soft tyres we got caught behind the Vettel-Ricciardo battle and we decided it probably was best not to try and pass that just in case it got a bit complicated. You don't really want to get involved with cars ahead during a podium battle!
Dani was super quick in the closing stages and set the race fastest lap. He could easily have overhauled the next guy down the road that was Button. He went from as low as 17th back to tenth and a point, which was a good recovery. With testing this week in Barcelona, it means he gets another day running in the car, which is good timing, so he should be even more comfortable in the car in Monaco next week and we should be able to target a normal competitive weekend with him.