Sainz qualified third at Monza, behind the Mercedes pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and he has the Racing Point of Sergio Perez, the Red Bull of Max Verstappen immediately behind, with his teammate Lando Norris and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo next up.
The McLarens have usually made good starts this year, and Sainz suggested that he could mix it with the Mercedes drivers at the start, but would otherwise have to rely on something going amiss for them if he is to improve on his third place.
He agreed that his focus would have to be on securing third, with Red Bull and Renault in particular showing good race pace through the weekend – and stressed that Verstappen will have to fight his way past.
“I think more than third would require Mercedes doing something wrong, and we don't normally see them getting anything wrong, or get reliability wrong,” he said when asked by Motorsport.com. “But you know, never say never.
“And with Max, our target is if he's going to be quicker, hopefully we can keep him behind at the start, and he will need to fight for it, and get us either on race pace, or around the pitstops.
“Obviously, we normally get good starts. And I always think about going on the attack. I will still go on the attack independently of who I have in front, because that's the approach that's always worked for me, and I will not change it.
“But I agree with you that the rest of the race could be a bit of a defending race and we need to keep our eyes open and everything.”
Sainz stressed that he sees Verstappen as the major threat, given the Red Bull’s usual race form.
“It's been a bit of a surprise to be in front of the Red Bull and the Renault, because honestly looking at the long runs they looked like the quicker car. As we know our car when you get down on fuel it comes to life a bit more.
“But I think Verstappen is normally the only car that manages to keep up with the Mercedes on race pace and, and for us, I think it's impossible to do that.
"So if all of a sudden he manages to have the race pace that he normally has, with the Red Bull, which always comes to life in the race, it's going to be very difficult for us to keep him behind.
“With Ricciardo I guess it’s a bit more of a question mark, because he's starting a bit further back.
"But that Renault on race pace looked very strong in Spa, and looked very strong in FP2. So I think those guys are going to be the trickiest ones, and the Racing Points I don't know.
“We'll try to keep behind whoever we need to try to keep behind. We are obviously in a very good position, and we're going to try and keep ourselves there, knowing that Verstappen and the Renaults are gonna be very, very difficult to keep behind.”
He added: “I think they definitely have at least two-tenths a lap on race pace. It's enough I think around Monza to overtake, and to make my life very difficult.
“But it's a very long race here in Monza, a lot of laps and two-tenths a lap over 50-something laps is a lot, so we'll see how it pans out."