Carlos Sainz believes he is performing at the highest level of his Formula 1 career to date after an impressive 2019 campaign thus far with McLaren.

Sainz moved up to sixth place in the drivers’ championship with a run to P5 in the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend, leapfrogging Pierre Gasly in the standings.

Sainz fought with Red Bull driver Alexander Albon through the first half of the race at Suzuka before forcing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to give up on chasing fifth in the closing stages, despite his McLaren car being far slower than those of his rivals.

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It was the latest in a long line of strong performances from Sainz that has seen him stand out as F1’s leading midfield driver this year.

Asked if he is in the best shape of his career, Sainz said: “I would say so, I’m not going to lie.

“Today I thought about it during the race when I was pushing to hold off Leclerc and suddenly, they told me the lap times, and I said ‘ooh, I must be driving quick!’

“And at the end of the race, I said to the team thanks for a great car all weekend, very proud to be finally a bit more than best of the rest. We were definitely a step clear this weekend.”

Sainz put his recent strong showings down to a better understanding of the McLaren MCL34 car through the backend of the 2019 season.

“I just get to know the car now in the second half of the season,” Sainz said. “In qualifying, I’m understanding the car a bit better, I’ve set it up more to my liking.

“Also both in qualifying and in the race, we’re a bit stronger on pace. In qualy I had a problem on the battery, I was losing a couple of tenths every lap from the battery, and I still managed to qualify a good P7.

“It just feels like everything is coming a bit more together in this second half.”