Jolyon Palmer thinks that Ferrari may be re-evaluating their original assessment of Carlos Sainz after his strong first year with the team.
The Spaniard outscored teammate Charles Leclerc by the end of the 2021 season, having finished fifth in the World Championship ahead of Leclerc in seventh.
Palmer believes that Sainz was the most-improved driver of the year, and has been impressed by how he has adapted to the Scuderia.
"A tough call for most-improved given Sainz has been in the top six in the standings for the last three years now," Palmer wrote in his column for Formula1.com.
"On the face of it, the fact that Sainz and [Lando] Norris would both jump out as improved drivers this year demonstrates that they were probably underrated as McLaren teammates, at least by me.
"But I do think Sainz has stepped up at Ferrari wonderfully, with the culmination being his podium in Abu Dhabi to take him to 'best of the rest' in the standings and become the first driver to outscore Charles Leclerc as a teammate in any car racing series."
Potential to be a "top tier driver"
It was a common theme in the early stages of 2021 for the drivers who had switched teams to struggle in their new environments, with the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso having a difficult start to the year.
Sainz also faced this issue but appeared to be the quickest of this group to improve his fortunes, and he went on to deliver an impressive run of consecutive points-scoring finishes in the latter half of the season.
With this in mind, Palmer wonders if Ferrari may now be rethinking their initial idea of what Sainz's role in the team would be.
"Like many drivers who changed teams, he started slowly, but finished fast and improved well throughout 2021 as well," Palmer said.
"When Ferrari signed him early in 2020, it seemed he would be a great second fiddle to Leclerc, but perhaps they might just be re-evaluating that assessment now.
"I think this year he has shown the potential to be an absolute top tier driver."
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