Sainz realized a Ferrari dream with his Monza pole. Winning is another question.

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“Tell me we have it!”

“Yep, we have it.”

Tell me we have it!!”

“Yes, we have it. Good job.”

Carlos Sainz didn’t really need to be told twice by his engineer. The huge cheers that went up from the tens of thousands of Ferrari fans in the grandstands, greeting him at every corner he completed his cool down lap at the end of qualifying, said all he needed to know.

He’d taken pole position for the Italian Grand Prix.

“Vamos!!” Sainz cried in his native Spanish. It was his fourth F1 pole, but by far the most significant. To succeed in front of the tifosi, Ferrari’s fiercely loyal fans, is a dream held by every single driver who wears those famous overalls and drives the iconic red cars. Few get to experience the high of success at the most special of races.

In a season where Ferrari’s form has swung dramatically from race to race, the occasional highs never being enough to truly fight Red Bull and Max Verstappen for victory — Ferrari sits fourth in the constructors’ championship — taking pole on merit at Monza was a big moment.

Sainz joins Ferrari history with his Monza pole. (Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)

Sainz had been quick right through practice, leading both FP2 and FP3, yet Verstappen, who is chasing a historic 10th consecutive victory this weekend, remained the favorite to spoil the homecoming.

And he so nearly did. Sainz had provisional pole after the opening runs in Q3, only for Verstappen to vault up to first place with his final lap of qualifying. Sainz found enough time through the final sector to ensure the tifosi’s disappointment would only last a matter of seconds, pipping Verstappen to top spot by just 0.013 seconds.

Standing on the main straight at Monza to conduct his post-qualifying interview, hearing the crowd at the circuit that has played host to so much F1 history and means so much to Ferrari, Sainz could take in the enormity of his achievement.

He is the 16th driver to take pole for Ferrari at Monza, joining the list of names including Alberto Ascari, John Surtees, Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher. It’s a who’s who of F1 greats, all contributing wins and titles to Ferrari’s rich history.

Now Sainz has a place in that. He may only have a single win to his name with Ferrari, and has struggled at times to match teammate Charles Leclerc for outright pace this year. (Leclerc took P3 in qualifying.) But no matter what happens from here, he will always have Monza and that pole that takes on a great significance given the stakes of racing for F1’s most famous team.

Sainz spoke after qualifying about the “sense of responsibility” and a “sense of wanting to give this crowd and this country the best possible version of yourself”, knowing the importance of Ferrari’s success to not only its fans, but the whole of Italy.

“I just cannot remember or cannot think about a better feeling than being a Ferrari driver at Monza,” Sainz said. “It’s a dream come true, something that I’m sure I will remember for the rest of my life, going through these years of experience feeling this.”

Then Sunday scaries

As special as this feeling may be to Sainz, the job is only half done. To really etch his name into Ferrari folklore, he needs to convert pole position into victory.

Doing so would require a big shift in the trend of this season. Verstappen and Red Bull have occasionally been upstaged on Saturdays in qualifying — Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton took pole in Azerbaijan and Hungary respectively — only to then pull away when it matters in the race. The Red Bull RB19 car goes easier on its tires through the longer stints, meaning Verstappen remains the favorite going into Sunday’s race.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 02: Pole position qualifier Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari talks to the media in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo Nazionale Monza on September 02, 2023 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Sainz spoke after qualifying about the “sense of responsibility,” knowing the importance of Ferrari’s success to Italy. (Bryn Lennon – Formula 1 via Getty Images)

What this result has done is galvanize the tifosi and provide hope that victory might be within Ferrari’s reach, a hope that has been lacking for most of this year. “Nothing is impossible tomorrow, especially starting from P1,” Sainz said. He made clear the mindset was to win the race, “and then adapt to the circumstances and race pace of Verstappen.” Compared to Spa, where Leclerc inherited pole after Verstappen’s penalty and still doubted his chances of victory, there is greater optimism.

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff said Ferrari’s long run pace on Friday had been “spectacular”, but still thought Verstappen was the favorite going into the race “because overall the car has just been so good and he has been faultless.”

“But it would be good for Formula One, I guess, if (Ferrari) give him a hard time,” Wolff added. “Seeing a Ferrari win at Monza, if it can’t be us, it should be the Ferrari.”

(Lead photo of Carlos Sainz: Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

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