Carlos Sainz admits that Ferrari's troubled start to its 2023 campaign is one of the toughest moments he has endured in his career in F1.
Ferrari's underperformance has left the Italian outfit fourth in the Constructors' standings after three races, and without a single podium to its name so far.
Sainz finished P4 and P6 in Bahrain and in Jeddah but was dropped out of the points in Australia due to a five-second penalty for which the team as requested a right of review.
On the other side of the Scuderia garage, a reliability issue and a clumsy first corner move in Melbourne that ended in the gravel trap have left Charles Leclerc with just a seventh-place finish and six points to his name.
Sainz admits that on a personal level, his opening stint this year has been one of the most difficult times that he's experienced since his debut season in F1 in 2015.
"For sure it’s one of the toughest moments – [I’m] not going to lie," Sainz said in Australia.
"Since 2021, we’ve been on the way up, since I arrived 2021 was already a good step in the right direction – we went from finishing P6 to finishing P3.
"Then there was the regulation change that allowed us to do a massive step in 2022.
"This year, we expected at least to find ourselves in a similar position but unfortunately there’s a team named Red Bull that has killed the opposition coming up with a car that is clearly superior to everyone else."
Red Bull is indeed currently in a class of its own, the Milton Keynes-based outfit proving unassailable in the first three races of the season, with Ferrari now contending with Mercedes and Aston Martin for the runner-up spot behind the bulls.
"If you look at Ferrari, we are there with Mercedes, we are not too far from Aston Martin in race pace, but there’s one team that have nailed it and this puts us a bit on the back foot again," Sainz added.
"But, at least we know - I think we know - where we got it wrong. It’s very clear to us where the weaknesses of our car lie, where the strengths of the Red Bull are.
"And now the whole team is pushing in the same direction, trying to cut that deficit."
Red Bull has succeeded in fielding a car that is not only a step up from last season's championship winning machine, but also a design that blends strong aerodynamic efficiency with massive straight-line speed, especially when DRS is activated.
Scuderia boss Fred Vasseur says his engineers continue to scratch their head to understand how Red Bull's RB19 has gained such a significant advantage over its rivals.
"Mega big, dare I say bigger than everybody else," said Vasseur, commenting Red Bull's edge, especially I race trim.
"We have to understand how they're able to do something like this. I think we've compensated for part of the gap, but we have to improve on this.
"I think that the difference was probably bigger last year, probably we were expecting to compensate a bit more, but the gap was bigger last year.
"For sure we have room for improvement for this area, but they are doing something different, and they are doing something better - but we are on it."