Carlos Sainz has laid down the ultimate benchmark for Charles Leclerc in the 2023 Formula 1 season: beat Red Bull.
For a while it was looking impossible that anyone could stop Red Bull from taking every victory this year, so how fitting is it that a former Red Bull Junior Driver is the one to topple its run of 15 successive victories?
It was a combination of factors that led to a shocking outing for the RB19 around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, but Sainz built up to the moment when he took only his second Grand Prix victory in Singapore last month.
Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur said Sainz has "stepped up" in the wake of his podium at Monza, in which the team produced a near-perfect weekend in front of the adoring Tifosi crowd.
When asked if his recent form has given him confidence for the rest of 2023, Sainz told media, including RacingNews365: "I'm feeling very well with the car and I'm driving very good, probably the best since I've been a Ferrari driver and finally I’m extracting my full potential.
"I'm happy with the work that I'm doing with my engineers to, little-by-little, keep extracting more and more potential and more performance out of the car."
Viewed by others:
Putting everything together
To understand the Scuderia's recent uptake in form, you have to roll back to Zandvoort where the team did a lot of setup work to understand how the 'peaky' SF-23 reacts to high downforce circuits.
Both drivers voiced concerns about how unpredictable the car had become through high speed corners, which hindered their ability to push during races.
By working on a compromise between the aero balance and understeer problems, the team managed to find a setup window that plays to the strengths of the SF-23.
In the case of Sainz, he added the finishing touches by studying exactly how he can maximise everything during a race weekend.
"Before the summer break there was this already decent feeling with everything," explained Sainz.
"I just sat down with my engineers in the summer break and we said 'Okay, what can we do to start putting the whole weekend together?'
"Clearly we have a lot of pace, we were doing some good things, but we are never putting the whole thing together. So let's see what we can do to improve that and start having consistent performances in the second half.
"Zandvoort was a very good weekend, Monza was almost perfect and Singapore I feel like it was the perfect one."
It's clear Ferrari still has not sorted out everything to become regular challengers to Red Bull yet, with the case in point being the latest outing at Suzuka.
There were encouraging signs for Sainz and Ferrari, after they admitted after the race that they were 'scared' to push on their tyres due to high degradation.
It turned out to be a sound strategy for Sainz to stay out, but the undercut was too powerful and enabled Lewis Hamilton to finish ahead in fifth to Sainz's sixth.
Sainz pushes Leclerc
The knock-on effect of Sainz's performances means that Leclerc is also feeling the pressure to perform, off the back of his difficult start to the year characterised by mistakes.
"Carlos in Monza and Singapore has been completely on it. He's been very, very strong," said Leclerc.
"It's great to have him on such a form because it pushes me also to understand a bit more on my driving style and try to fit my driving style to this car.
"I'm not completely comfortable with the car at the moment, [it's] a bit too much understeer for my liking and I struggled to drive around it. So there's a bit of work to do.
"But it's first of all great to see that at least the competitiveness seems to be up there, that Carlos feels at ease and now it's up to me to try and catch up."
Leclerc currently sits 15 points off Sainz in the Drivers' Championship, while the team is trailing Mercedes by 20 points for second in the Constructors' Championship.
If the tensions on track continue to boil over at Mercedes, the uptake in Sainz's form coupled with Leclerc's desire to match him on track could be the key to them finishing ahead of the Silver Arrows.
But for Sainz it represents a bigger opportunity to become the Scuderia's number one, as they look to mount their challenge on Red Bull for 2024.