Nico Rosberg fears that Carlos Sainz could be struggling to handle the pressure of racing for Ferrari, despite having recently signed a two-year contract extension.
Sainz's poor start to the season continued in Imola on Friday when his qualifying ended with his car in the barrier. As a result, he will start 10th for Saturday's Sprint race.
Meanwhile, teammate Charles Leclerc will line up on the front row with all eyes on passing and beating Red Bull rival Max Verstappen in front of the passionate Tifosi.
Sainz is yet to outqualify Leclerc in any of the four qualifying sessions held in 2022, nor has he finished ahead of him in any of the opening three races.
With big points on offer at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Sainz risks losing yet more ground on his younger teammate.
Rosberg worried pressure is getting to Sainz
The gap between the two drivers stands at 38 points after three race weekends, with Leclerc having made a 26-point gain following Sainz's retirement in Australia.
And Rosberg, who knows all about inter-team battles, having raced as a teammate to Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, is concerned that the pressure of performing for Ferrari may be proving all too much.
"I think we need to see the situation here is that maybe the pressure is getting to him a little bit," said Rosberg, speaking to Sky Sports F1.
"Being in a Ferrari and fighting for race wins and championships all of a sudden is the ultimate pressure situation in Formula 1 – it doesn't get tougher than that really, mentally.
"Maybe we're seeing him having some difficulties with adjusting to that situation, especially having Leclerc [as his teammate], who is on fire at the moment and is performing so incredibly well."
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Sainz needs to learn from his mistakes fast
With a repeat of his Australia retirement, Sainz could find himself as far as 72 points behind Leclerc heading into the season's fifth round, and at a team with a history of implementing team orders.
But the nature of the Imola weekend could play into his favour, with the 21 extra Sprint laps on Saturday only extending the time he needs to fight back to the front.
A strong charge through the grid could prove crucial for Sainz in a week it was announced that he will stay with Ferrari until 2024.
"Maybe we're seeing the stress get to him a little bit," continued 2016 World Champion Rosberg.
"He needs to figure that out and, of course, use those mistakes going forward.
"This has been a terrible start to the season so far, including this [qualifying crash]."
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