Carlos Sainz has admitted that Charles Leclerc is "making the difference as a driver" in the early stages of the 2022 Formula 1 season.
Leclerc holds a 34-point lead over his nearest rival - Mercedes' George Russell - after taking victory in Bahrain and Australia, and finishing second in Saudi Arabia.
Sainz was unable to qualify or finish ahead of Leclerc at any of the first three rounds, having also suffered a costly retirement last time out at Albert Park.
Sainz looking for "very little" to close on Leclerc
Despite these early setbacks, Sainz is confident that there are only fine margins involved and he will soon be able to take the fight to his teammate.
"What I know for sure is that it's not a lot," Sainz told media, including RacingNews365.com, when asked what's been missing on his side of the garage.
"I've been in the fight for pole position in all three races and maybe I was lacking one-tenth in the last Q3s, to fight for it.
"Australia, we will never know [what would have happened]. But even in the first two qualis, where I was really not at home with the car, I could somehow still find a way to fight for pole position in every case.
"This shows that it's very little what I'm looking for, and this keeps me motivated and keeps me awake that at any point this can switch."
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Sainz: Leclerc has done an exceptional job
As he continued to assess the situation, Sainz took a moment to praise Leclerc's driving so far.
"Of course, Charles has done an exceptional job with this car," he commented.
"I think he's making the difference as a driver and he's doing really well, but I don't feel I'm far [away from him]. I know I'm facing a very strong challenger.
"Even if I am not as at home and I cannot do everything that I want with the car, I'm still there or thereabouts, so it's all about the detail now and getting it right.
"As soon as it clicks, I think everything, like we saw last year... the rest of the year will just be simpler."
No concerns about Ferrari team orders
Sainz also dismissed the notion that Ferrari could already be thinking about putting their weight behind Leclerc, given how many races there are still left to run.
"I think in a year like this, it's particularly early," he said, after ex-drivers turned pundits Martin Brundle and Eddie Irvine suggested that Sainz could soon find himself as Ferrari's 'number two' driver.
"We are going into the longest season in F1 [history]. You need to think that we did a season in 2020 that was 17 races [long] and we still have 20 races left.
"For me to start talking about championships, with all the development that there's going to be, it's not even in my head.
"If you could let me choose, I would prefer to be 30 something points ahead, for sure – I would take it!
"But in a long year like this, with how much the cars are gonna change, the development, etcetera, talking about championships with 20 races to go, for me, is early."
Leclerc led Sainz in a Ferrari 1-2 during a wet first practice session at Imola.
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