Verstappen clinches victory from Norris and Perez in thrilling Sao Paulo Sprint
Max Verstappen added to his tally of wins in the Sprint race at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, having taken P1 from Lando Norris off the line.
The Dutchman launched ahead at the start of the 24-lap encounter and remained mostly unchallenged throughout, despite Norris piling on the pressure at times.
With the Sprint format offering a free tyre choice, most of the grid opted to begin the race on the soft tyre, as only Logan Sargeant at the back and the Haas duo selected the mediums. It was a good start for Norris, but Verstappen soon swept past into the lead in Turn 1, while George Russell took P3 from Sergio Perez. Lewis Hamilton was quick to join the fight with Perez and came out on top to claim P4.
Norris then fell victim to Russell as the latter dived down the inside of the McLaren into Turn 10. Further back, the AlphaTauri pair of Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo lost out to the Ferrari duo, while Oscar Piastri had an off-track excursion.
Four laps in and Perez was looking racy, with the Mexican getting back past Hamilton at Turn 1, before Leclerc approached to try to make a move on the seven-time world champion, though ultimately had to back out.
FORMULA 1 ROLEX GRANDE PRÊMIO DE SÃO PAULO 2023
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||30:07.209||8|
|2 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||+4.287s||7|
|3 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||+13.617s||6|
|4 George Russell RUS Mercedes||+25.879s||5|
|5 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||+28.560s||4|
It seemed to be a tough moment for Mercedes, as Russell also lost a place further ahead after Norris utilised the DRS to pass into second. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso – who suffered an early exit in the Sprint Shootout following a collision with Esteban Ocon, putting him in P15 on the grid – was making moves, overtaking Kevin Magnussen for 12th place.
While the top four of Verstappen, Norris, Russell and Perez seemed to have broken away slightly at the front by Lap 7, a DRS train was starting to form further back. The troubles seemed to continue for the Silver Arrows as Perez closed in on Russell. Initially the Red Bull looked to have got ahead into Turn 1, before Russell made a move back into Turn 4.
However, by Lap 10 Perez had got the overtake done, having again surged through at Turn 1 before holding it into Turn 4 this time. Elsewhere, Ricciardo went wheel-to-wheel with Carlos Sainz in a fight for P8 and stayed ahead until Turn 4, where Sainz reclaimed the position.
At the front, Norris was continuing to close the gap to Verstappen, bringing it down to 1.3s by Lap 13. Plenty of battles were playing out across the field, with the Aston Martin pair working their way forwards. Lance Stroll picked off Ocon for P13, while a chasing Alonso tried to find a way past Pierre Gasly in the scrap for P11.
Things were starting to go wrong for Ricciardo, who lost a place to fellow Australian Piastri, as Alonso relentlessly duelled with Gasly behind them. Alonso eventually came out on top following a very close battle.
As the race headed into Lap 17, Verstappen and Norris looked to be in a race of their own, though the gap between them remained at just under two seconds. Meanwhile the Haas drivers seemed to be having a nightmare afternoon, having slipped back to 16th and 17th after starting from 11th and 12th on the grid.
The Alpine cars also seemed to be struggling, as Stroll capitalised on Gasly’s apparent tyre struggles to snatch P12. Just up the road, Piastri – in P9 – had Ricciardo, Alonso and then Stroll close on his tail.
With just four laps remaining, Ricciardo attempted a pass into Turn 1 on Piastri, but the McLaren continued to hold position. Up ahead, Charles Leclerc had closed in on Hamilton before making a move through into P5 into Turn 1, before Tsunoda tried to follow suit. The Mercedes stayed ahead after the pair engaged in a drag race down the straight.
One lap later, Tsunoda used the DRS to overtake Hamilton for P6, while Ricciardo made it past Piastri for P9. The determined Alonso was soon chasing Piastri for P10, while three drivers – Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas – were scrapping for P17.
Alonso seemed to have got the better of Piastri in the dying moments of the race in Turn 1, but Piastri took the place back.
It was smoother sailing up ahead for Verstappen, though, who crossed the line to take his fourth Sprint victory of the season, with Norris in second and Perez in third.
Russell followed in fourth, while Leclerc ended the event in P5, just six-tenths clear of Tsunoda in P6. Hamilton held onto seventh, while Sainz claimed the final point in P8.
Ricciardo and Piastri rounded out the top 10, with the Aston Martin pair of Alonso and Stroll in 11th and 12th. Two Alpines in the form of Gasly and Ocon followed in 13th and 14th, while Alex Albon claimed P15.
Kevin Magnussen took P16 in the 100-kilometre dash, with Zhou, Nico Hulkenberg, Bottas and Sargeant completing the order from 17th to 20th respectively.
“It was important to get ahead at the start,” said Verstappen. “Then it was all about management, 24 laps on one tyre set is very long. We managed the race quite well out there today. Last year was very difficult for us around here, today was much better. I think we learned a lot and hopefully we can do something similar tomorrow.”
The Aston Martin cars were on the charge during the Sprint, with Alonso working his way forwards from P15 on the grid to P11, while Stroll finished in P12 after starting in P17. Things went in the wrong direction for Haas, though – Magnussen and Hulkenberg had lined up in 11th and 12th respectively, but ended the event in 16th and 18th.
With the final Sprint event of 2023 complete, attention now turns to the Sao Paulo Grand Prix on Sunday. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch all the action.