Carlos Sainz Jr has admitted to targeting a spot in the final phase of qualifying on his F1 debut, but knew that it would be a tough goal to achieve.
In the end, however, the Spanish newcomer managed to realise his dream, before producing a 'clean lap' to secure eighth place on the Australian Grand Prix grid – just as Toro Rosso predecessor Daniil Kvyat did last year.
“In testing, I just knew the car was feeling good,” Sainz commented, “I didn't know where we were [but] today obviously confirmed the good feelings we had with the car. We have a decent package and we came here quite well prepared.
“[Q3] was a target, but a very, very high target as you can imagine for a first time in F1 quali. To set your target in Q3 is not that easy, but it was one of my dreams, one of my targets and to achieve it makes me very happy.”
Potential rival Lotus appeared to have made inroads into Toro Rosso's early pace advantage during final practice on Saturday morning, but the Italian team again had the upper hand in qualifying – something Sainz ascribes to both the cooler evening temperatures and a series of tweaks his crew made in the break between sessions.
“I think track conditions probably helped somewhat as we saw in the winter that, when it is cooler, our car works a bit better, but we also did two or three changes to the car, very important changes that put us in a good position to extract its strengths in qualifying,” the rookie explained, “In the turnaround from practice three to qualifying, the idea of the engineers was good because, right out of the box in Q1, it felt like a step forward.”
Once into the top ten shoot-out, it was all about claiming the best position available, with the likes of Williams and Ferrari looking set to annex rows two and three behind Mercedes. In the end, Sainz emerged with eighth spot, just behind Red Bull team leader Daniel Ricciardo and ahead of the two Lotus drivers.
“To be honest, it felt like quite a nice lap,” he revealed, “Obviously, I cannot say it was a perfect lap and there was more performance to come from the car and me, as a rookie.
“For sure, there is more performance in the car and, for sure, I have margin of improvement, but it was a clean lap, a lap without mistakes. Unfortunately, I had a power loss at the exit of turn 13 and lost a couple of tenths, which gave me something to think about, [but] it's now a big objective to think that I am going to fight with guys like Ricciardo or Grosjean.
“They have a lot of experience so, from lap one, I'll be learning from them, looking to them, and enjoying myself a lot. I've been doing a lot of watching videos from last year of Daniel and Romain and, tomorrow, I'll be racing against them. It will be a big learning process for me - it is totally unknown and I have no idea what will happen with strategy, how many stops we are going to do, how many laps we're going to do on the softs - but I am looking forward to learning and seeing what happens.”