Carlos Sainz says taking sixth place for Toro Rosso at this stage of the season 'feels like a win' having benefitted from the virtual safety car period and holding his own in a fierce three-way battle between F1 stalwarts Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
The young Spaniard equalled his best result in F1 with sixth place at the chequered flag having, in his eyes, maximised the team's full potential in a tricky second half the season with an aging year-old Ferrari power unit.
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Having shown promising pace while preserving his soft tyres in the opening stint, Sainz was one of a handful of drivers to profit from effectively a 'free' pit stop under the virtual safety car to recover Max Verstappen's stricken Red Bull.
In the shakeout of the running order Sainz made it up to fifth, fending of Massa in the Williams, but was ultimately outpaced by McLaren's Alonso in the sprint to the finish.
Despite missing out on an outright best-ever result in F1, Sainz was still elated with sixth – to equal his finish in the Spanish Grand Prix – and feels the race in Austin trumps his home performance as it was relatively unexpected against faster rivals.
“This result is a very special one for myself and the team, it's a top result,” Sainz said. “What a boost and what a way to motivate the team and keep our heads up until the end of the season!
“To equal my best result in Formula 1 makes me very happy, but this P6 is a bit more special than the one in Barcelona because here we didn't think we really had the car to do so – our simulations before the race said we would only finish in P11 or P12 and here we were, fighting for a P5.
“We also got a bit lucky with the VSC period, which was great news for us, as we were suddenly in front of the Williams. We knew it was going to be very difficult to get to the end on the soft tyre, but we committed to that and went to the end on that set – during the last two laps I had no tyre left and just had to hold on to it as best I could.”
Even though the 22-year-old missed out on a maiden top five finish to his fellow countryman, Sainz relished the challenge of defending against his childhood idol at the Circuit of the Americas.
“The battle with Fernando was so much fun,” he said. “I knew that he would end up getting past me but I said to myself, 'let's make it a bit complicated for him.' I perfectly know how he attacks and how to defend against him, as I've been watching him race for the past 12 years and I think that to be able to keep him behind for all those laps until he just opened the DRS and said 'ciao, ciao' was pretty decent.
“I'm so pleased, so happy, you just can't imagine what's going on inside me now, I'm delighted. I will definitely celebrate with champagne, for me this feels like a win.”
Sainz's sixth place sees Toro Rosso record its first points finish since the Singapore Grand Prix and ends his own barren run which stretched back to the Hungarian Grand Prix in July.
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