Carlos Sainz feels the ‘shine' he experienced from his third season with Ferrari was put in the shade by a miserable last two races which played a major role in costing the Scuderia second place in the F1 constructors' championship.
After just eight minutes of first practice for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, a concrete seal around a water valve cover exploded beneath Sainz's SF23.
The resultant damage forced a chassis change, and crucially, a new energy store that led to a 10-place grid penalty and Sainz starting 12th after qualifying a superb second behind team-mate Charles Leclerc. He went on to finish sixth.
On the final weekend in Abu Dhabi, Sainz crashed heavily during second practice, putting him on the backfoot, before traffic in the first session of qualifying saw him eliminated and starting a lowly 16th.
On a one-stop strategy, hopes of a late safety car never materialised before a power unit failure, in any case, saw him retire on the penultimate lap.
Whilst there are other mitigating factors across a 22-race season, Sainz was left to reflect on a poor end as Ferrari missed out on finishing runner-up in the constructors' standings by three points to Mercedes.
“The last two weekends didn't go as I expected, or like we wanted to finish the year,” assessed Sainz.
“Honestly, I'm very disappointed and, obviously, not happy given how close it was in the end in the constructors' championship.
“Overall, I think it's been a decent year for me. We've had a more consistent year, we've shined a bit more, but I'm not happy with these last two races which cast a dark patch over my season.
“We've had a much stronger season than what the last two races show. Everything that went wrong for me in the last two races has been quite dramatic in a way but it is what it is. Sometimes years go like this.
“Normally, the end of a season is my biggest strength, but this season, for whatever reason, it hasn't been the case.
“It's time to sit down, analyse, see what I could have done better for these last few races, and come back strong.”
Given the points difference between Ferrari and Mercedes, Sainz felt the eventual situation was “fair”, with both teams enjoying highs and lows across the campaign for various reasons.
In Ferrari's case, in particular, Sainz did not start due to the discovery of a fuel leak, whilst a hydraulics problem led to Leclerc crashing on the formation lap in São Paulo and unable to take to the grid.
“We had our moments where we were quicker, and Mercedes had their moments where they were quicker,” assessed Sainz.
“Overall, maybe a bit of unreliability here and there. I think we were the quicker car but they were a little bit more consistent than us.
“Anyway, I think it's a season where the team has made a lot of progress, we've learned a lot from this car, from these tyres.
“We finished the season a lot stronger than how we started, and it's something we can bank for next year expecting, hopefully, a more competitive package.”
Suggested to Sainz that unreliability was a key area for Ferrari to tackle over the winter, he replied: “Yeah, 100%.
“At the same time, I prefer a team that shows progress in terms of pace and tyre learning with a car not fighting for a championship, than one or two races of unreliability.
“If we want to have the whole package, we need to improve how tight we arrive to the end of the season.
“The issue in Qatar, the issue in Vegas, and the chassis change, it's not going to help our reliability and scoring points.
“It's something to learn from, but at the same time, I'm proud of how the team progressed through the season.”