RACE DEBRIEF

    The final Sprint and penultimate Grand Prix of the season take place this weekend in Sao Paulo – where Mercedes or Ferrari could end Red Bull’s winning streak. Join in with the F1 Play predictor game as we look at the favourites for pole, podium, points and victory.

    Vying for pole

    The winner of Friday evening’s qualifying will start first for Saturday’s 100km Sprint – which then sets the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix – but rest assured that this season pole position still goes to the qualifying winner, not the Sprint winner.

    And once again, the shootout will likely be too close to call. Max Verstappen has been on point in recent qualifying sessions as he took pole in Japan and Mexico, with Carlos Sainz the qualifying winner at Austin, but one would expect Ferrari’s one-lap pace to give them an advantage on Friday in Sao Paulo.

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    Leclerc still leads the way in the qualifying stakes this season

    After all, the Scuderia have taken 12 of 20 pole positions this season, nine of those going to Charles Leclerc – who last put it on pole around the streets of Singapore. But Mercedes have emerged as contenders as they were firmly in the fight before Q3 issues cost them in Mexico City. Though it's undeniable that thinner air in high altitudes helped their cause last time.

    Mercedes’ strategy boss James Vowles has said “I don't think we will quite enjoy the same level of competitiveness [in Brazil],” but the Silver Arrows are getting closer to the top-two teams – and rain could help their cause too...

    This could be a three-team fight for pole position, but it’s hard to ignore the facts: Ferrari have been quickest in qualifying this year, while Verstappen is finding his one-lap form.

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    Qualifying winners in the last five years:

    • 2021 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2019 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
    • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2017 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
    • 2016 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: Interesting insights here in the early voting. No surprises that world champion Max Verstappen is clear at the front with more than half of the poll so far, but his nearest rival is Mercedes man George Russell. Then come Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc getting very little support.

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    Verstappen's qualifying pace has been creeping up...

    In the mix for victory

    Red Bull have the advantage in both the Sprint and the Sao Paulo Grand Prix this weekend. Verstappen has won eight of the last nine Grands Prix, setting a couple of records along the way, while Sergio Perez took the Singapore win.

    With a 10th-straight victory, Red Bull could pull off a feat last achieved by Mercedes from Brazil 2018 to France 2019. Verstappen’s race pace has been towering in the second half of 2022, with little in the way of riposte from his rivals.

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    Qualifying is crucial here in Sao Paulo too, as from 2014 to 2021, five of seven winners had come from pole position. Sebastian Vettel, who won from second in 2017, and Lewis Hamilton – who won from 10th in 2021 – are the outliers, though both had capable hardware. As favourite to win the Sprint, Verstappen is therefore the frontrunner to start first for the Grand Prix.

    Ferrari will be closer to Red Bull than they were in Mexico City, where Carlos Sainz finished fifth and Charles Leclerc sixth, but they’ll need fortune and forecasts to fall their way. As will Mercedes, of course.

    Wins in the last five races:

    • 2021 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2019 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
    • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2017 – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
    • 2016 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: A very different scenario here, with Verstappen completely dominating proceedings with more than 70% of the votes on F1 Play, while seven-time world champion Hamilton is a clear second best on around 20%. The rest of the field are virtually friendless, and that includes Perez, Leclerc and Russell.

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    Red Bull are on the verge of making it 10 straight wins

    Podium outsiders

    Red Bull are undeniably contenders for victory, and it could again be difficult for Perez to match Verstappen, but the Mexican driver has enjoyed high-downforce circuits this season with wins in Monaco and Singapore. Calling Perez an outsider would therefore be unfair.

    As for Red Bull’s rivals, has the balance switched from Ferrari to Mercedes? Not quite, despite Hamilton cruising to the podium in Mexico City. Again, thinner air and high altitude helped Mercedes work around their straight-line deficit, and Ferrari will still expect to outscore the Silver Arrows in Sao Paulo. But the difference between the two teams is slimmer than before.

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    Hamilton has now scored as many podiums as Sainz (eight), and Russell is just one away from that tally, while Leclerc is on 10 podiums for the season so far. Mercedes might be coy about having closed the gap to their rivals, but it’s clear that they have begun to fare better than the Scuderia on Sundays; Mercedes have outscored Ferrari in the last two rounds, and by some margin.

    In the midfield, Alpine and McLaren are best set to land on the rostrum, but Imola – where the first Sprint of the season took place – is the only time we’ve seen a non-Red Bull/Ferrari/Mercedes driver take to the top three. That was Lando Norris.

    Podiums in the last five years:

    • Mercedes – 6
    • Red Bull – 4
    • Ferrari – 3
    • Toro Rosso – 1
    • McLaren – 1

    FAN VIEW: The big six take up just about all of the F1 Play votes polled so far, and if anybody, it is Ferrari who are now the outsiders of that select band. Verstappen and Perez are virtual locks, Mercedes are again coming in for good support while Leclerc and Sainz combined are back in third place.

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    Hamilton took his second consecutive podium in Mexico City

    Points potential

    McLaren have been on fine form in recent races, outscoring Alpine in both Austin and Mexico City, but Alpine are still seven points ahead in the constructors’ championship.

    We don’t yet know whether Fernando Alonso’s Mexico City DNF will call for a new engine in Brazil, but the Spaniard has been on fine form recently. As for Norris, he’s scored in six straight weekends – the longest streak of any midfield driver.

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    Aston Martin enjoyed three consecutive scores before Mexico City and will be hoping to return to the points in Sao Paulo, but Alfa Romeo have shown signs of a resurgence, with Valtteri Bottas qualifying sixth but settling for 10th last time out.

    In 2019, Pierre Gasly took a podium for his squad, but the ninth-place AlphaTauri have found points hard to come by in 2022. Haas and Williams may also find it difficult to reach the top 10 on Sunday.

    Points in the last five years:

    • Mercedes – 154
    • Red Bull – 123
    • Ferrari – 91
    • AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso – 33
    • Alfa Romeo/Sauber – 30
    • McLaren – 25
    • Aston Martin/Racing Point/Force India – 23
    • Alpine/Renault/Lotus – 15
    • Williams – 6
    • Haas – 6

    FAN VIEW: Fernando Alonso has been terrific for Alpine in 2022 and he again dominates this category, with around four times as many votes as team mate Esteban Ocon. There is renewed support on F1 Play for McLaren man Daniel Ricciardo after he claimed Driver of the Day honours with an excellent P7 in Mexico City.