FRIDAY DEBRIEF: Why the Sprint format and some ugly weather has created an unsettled picture for Sao Paulo
One practice and one qualifying session does not large quantities of data make, as the old saying goes. But there’s still some useful nuggets that we can gather from Friday’s running at Interlagos to build a picture of how the rest of the weekend – featuring the Sprint Shootout, Sprint and Sao Paulo Grand Prix – could go. Let’s start crunching the data.
McLaren the big losers in qualifying
P7 and P10 for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri respectively is a poor return for a McLaren team who, according to our data, had the pace to challenge for pole on Friday afternoon. Norris agreed, saying that his car had felt “amazing – easily probably quick enough to be… on pole”.
But McLaren were one of the last teams to send their cars out for the first runs in Q3, a costly mistake with a biblically black cloud closing over the circuit. Norris duly fell foul of the worsening track conditions, while Piastri – in his first ever outing at Interlagos – was caught out at Turn 12, running off track to leave him P10.
When the ideal laps – created by putting all of the drivers’ best mini sectors together – are tallied, our data shows Norris with a slight margin over pole-sitter Max Verstappen, with Piastri then improving to P7, albeit a chunk off his team mate.
So... disappointing, yes. But McLaren will be hoping that that raw pace translates into some decent points over the next two days of action.
Red Bull making amends for 2022 Sao Paulo performance
An uncharacteristically off-kilter performance in the Interlagos Sprint weekend 12 months ago allowed Mercedes and George Russell to capitalise, the Briton claiming his first and only career victory here.
But though Verstappen admitted on Thursday that he was worried by the performance last year, the evidence suggests that Red Bull have learned from their mistakes and hit the ground running in 2023.
Verstappen profited from McLaren’s misfortune to take his 11th pole of the campaign, with Sergio Perez feeling he could have been starting Sunday’s race alongside his team mate had Piastri’s off and subsequent yellow flag not hindered him.
Looking at race pace, Red Bull wrench the advantage back off McLaren – with their closest challengers in that metric actually the improving Mercedes team, a tight 0.03s back, with Ferrari third. The usual Sprint caveat of Friday’s lack of running applies here – but it’s a fascinatingly close picture for the rest of the weekend.
Aston Martin ride their luck
After a bruising couple of weekends for Aston Martin, the team in green managed to get both cars into Q3 before timing Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso’s laps to perfection to net a second row lock-out for Sunday with P3 and P4.
That proved a particularly canny move given how our data team judged Aston Martin’s pace – the AMR23 just fifth quickest in qualifying trim, and dropping to seventh fastest in terms of race pace.
That means that both Saturday’s Sprint and Sunday’s Grand Prix could be a struggle for Aston, with all the cars having entered parc ferme conditions at the start of Friday qualifying – meaning only minimum changes are now permitted.
AlphaTauri slip back
AlphaTauri were one of the shock star performers in Mexico City a week ago, Daniel Ricciardo netting P4 on the grid and finishing the race in seventh, while Yuki Tsunoda was on course for his own strong result after starting at the back before contact in the Grand Prix with Piastri.
But neither driver made it out of Q1 on Friday in Brazil, with Ricciardo feeling that a mistake had cost him the chance to make it all the way to Q3. Our data doesn’t quite agree, judging the team to have been the second slowest. But where AlphaTauri should be more confident is in their long-run pace, the numbers suggesting they’re the fifth quickest team in race trim this weekend.
Some strong results for the rest of the weekend would be welcome then, after the team lost both cars in Q1 for the first time since Silverstone...
A tight battle – and tyre allocation headaches – expected
The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace – or Interlagos as we tend to call it – is one of the shortest laps on the calendar at just 4.3km. That being the case, it’s unsurprising to see the pack bunched tightly together, with just 0.83s separating the field in qualifying pace (Alfa Romeo bringing up the rear there) – while that stretches to just 0.86s in race pace, with Haas propping up the order in that metric.
However, one crucial point worth noting this weekend is the performance of the hard tyre, which looks set to be unfavoured by the teams.
Our data showed that the white-walled C2 rubber was suffering from overheating on the long runs. That could cause a headache for the strategists, who will be keen to use either two new mediums or two new soft tyres for Sunday’s Grand Prix – but who could well be hindered in that desire due to the challenging tyre availability effects of the Sprint format.
With a tight field spread, a choice to compromise one session could have a big impact on others – meaning the strategists will be earning their money across the next two days in Sao Paulo.