Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Takes Charge From Start, Wins Sao Paulo GP for 17th Win of 2023

Max Verstappen, starting on the pole, led from the start and handily won the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, his 17th win of the Formua 1 season and the latest in a number of anti-climactic wins after clinching the world title in Qatar on Oct. 7. 

Verstappen crossed the line over eight seconds ahead of Lando Norris, followed by Fernando Alonso, who dramatically held off Sergio Perez for the final podium spot. Perez took fourth, Lance Stroll finished fifth, completing a strong day for Aston Martin. Carlos Sainz came home sixth as the lone Ferrari finisher, Pierre Gasly took seventh, Lewis Hamilton was eighth, AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was ninth, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon joined his teammate Gasly in the points with a 10th-place finish.

“The whole race was about the management of the tires,” Verstappen said. “We were good on every tire, but in the middle stint we could create a bit of a gap. It was a very strong day.”

“It couldn’t have gone much better, to be honest,” added Norris. “We had good pace, similar to yesterday, which was the main thing. P2 is as good as we can get nowadays and for the time being.”

In the driver standings, Verstappen passed the 500-point plateau and now has 524 points, with Perez well back with 258. Hamilton is third with 226.

In the constructors’ standings, Red Bull leads Mercedes 782 to 382, Ferrari is just 20 points back with 362 points.

The Race

The race start was delayed when Charles Leclerc lost his steering due to a hydraulic failure and crashed into the barrier. The incident may be the clubhouse leader of Ferrari mistakes this year, coming at a time when Ferrari is engaged in what could be a down-to-the-wire battle with Mercedes for second in the constructors standings. 

Verstappen reacted quickly off the line and, with Leclerc out of second place, had no challenge entering turn 1 after the short run-up to the first corner. Norris used a tremendous launch to move up to second from sixth, while Hamilton picked up two places to third. Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen crashed after Albon made contact with Magnussen’s teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who was squeezed into the predicament by Albon and Magnussen. Magnussen spun into the back of Oscar Piastri’s McLaren, damaging the rear wing. The race was red flagged, which allowed Piastri’s team to attempt to replace the wing and resume. Piastri was eventually able to restart from the pit lane.

The race resumed with a standing start, and again Verstappen led into turn 1 as Norris and Hamilton jockeyed for second. With his attention on Norris, Hamilton was overtaken by Alonso for third. 

Verstappen quickly opened up a one second gap to Norris, again announcing that his challengers would have to do something dramatic to beat him for the win.

Norris refused to let Verstappen get too far away, and chipped a few tenths off the Red Bull’s lead by lap 7. Norris had a look to overtake twice on lap 8, but was denied by Verstappen, and the Dutchman soon built his lead to outside of DRS range. 

See also
Fernando Alonso's Thrilling 3rd-Place Finish Leads Banner Day for Aston Martin

Hamilton and George Russell ran 4-5, and with Leclerc out, a solid points day for Mercedes would give the team a healthy, and practically insurmountable, lead over Ferrari for second in the constructors’ standings.

Russell asked his team for team orders on lap 10 as he felt he was being held up by Hamilton, who was losing touch with Alonso in third. Russell was being hounded by Perez in sixth, while Stroll was right on Perez’s tail. Team Mercedes insisted Hamilton was not experiencing any type of mechanical difficulty, and was just managing his tires.

Perez got past Russell on lap 14, with Russell again asking for some teamwork, and being told by Mercedes “We’re still discussing,” an answer which surely infuriated Russell.

Verstappen’s lead was nearing 2.5 seconds on lap 16, with Norris and Alonso holding equally healthy leads for second and third, respectively. Perez slipped by Hamilton for fourth on lap 18, and was desperate for a strong result after his disastrous DNF in Mexico.

Hamilton was the first to pit, and came on on lap 19 for a set of medium tires. Russell soon followed for the same, and the Mercedes duo came out 10th and 11th.

Perez pitted on lap 20 and came out behind Hamilton, as Hamilton successfully achieved the undercut, while Perez complained about it. Perez, however, easily got back by Hamilton on lap 24 for seventh.

Zhou Guanyu retired his Alfa Romeo on lap 24, upping the number of retirements to four.

Verstappen’s lead was nearing three seconds on lap 25, and Red Bull and McLaren were likely playing the waiting game for pit stops, seeing who could get the most life out of their soft tires.

Alonso pitted for mediums and emerged in sixth. Sainz, Gasly, and Tsunoda all pitted on lap 27, with Sainz losing a little time as Tsunoda came through just as Sainz was exiting his pit. Perez assumed fourth place, less than three seconds behind Alonso for third. 

Versappen and Norris pitted on lap 28, and Versatappen’s slightly quicker stop helped build his lead, which was up to over five seconds by lap 31.

On lap 32, the running order was Verstappen, Norris, Alonso, Perez, Stroll, Hamilton, Russell, Sainz, Ocon, and Bottas.

Russell was again right behind Hamilton, and probably didn’t bother asking about team orders this time. Sainz was right behind Russell, and a finish ahead of the both Mercedes would be crucial for Ferrari. Sainz easily picked off Russell for seventh and eyed Hamilton in sixth. On lap 37, Sainz blew by Hamilton to take the position. 

Alfa Romeo suffered its second retirement of the day as Valtteri Bottas retired his car on lap 40 with an engine failure. 

Up front, Verstappen was cruising with a five-second lead on lap 44, while Norris’ lead over Alonso was almost 15 seconds. Alonso had increased his lead over Perez, who had neared DRS range just a few laps earlier.

Russell was struggling, and had fallen to ninth, and came into the pits for soft tires on lap 46. Russell came back out in 11th. Perez stopped for softs on lap 47, attempting the undercut on Alonso. Hamilton was in for softs and resumed in ninth, with Ocon between Hamilton and Perez. Hamilton was quickly past Ocon for eight, and began his charge for seventh, at that time held by Tsunoda. 

Sainz pitted for soft tires and rejoined in seventh. Stroll pitted one lap later, and a somewhat slow stop left him less than two seconds ahead of Sainz. 

Hamilton and Ruussell were mired and ninth and 10th and were making little headway for position. 

One of the few close battles was the Alonso-Perez duel for third. On lap 56, Perez had closed to within DRS range, and Alonso’s vaunted defensive skills would be put to the test. 

Verstappen stopped for a set of soft tires on lap 57, and with only 14 laps remaining, he could go all out with little worry of tire wear. Only a safety car could give Norris in second any hope for the win. 

Russell was forced to retire his car on lap 59 due to high oil temperatures, bad news for Mercedes but good news for Ferrari.

Norris pitted on lap 60 for softs and came back on the track over 13 seconds behind Verstappen. Barring some disaster, Verstappen and Norris had the top two podium spots locked up, with Alonso and Perez still fighting for third. 

With five laps to go, Perez was still within DRS range, but had yet to be able to make a serious attempt to pass Alonso. Alonso’s reputation for being one of the toughest drivers to pass was only growing. But Perez finally got by on lap 70 with a bold move into the Senna S turn, but Alonso fought back and regained the position into Decida do Lago, then held off Perez down the front straight to hold on to third. 

Verstappen crossed the line well ahead of Norris to record his 17th win of the year. 

The Good

The Alonso-Perez battle over the final laps may have arguably been the highlight of this season. However, if you argued that it wasn’t, you would surely lose said argument.

Alonso and Perez put on a show, with Perez showing the patience he lacked in the Mexico City Grand Prix, and Alonso showing the skills that make him nearly impossible to pass, even in a much faster car. And Alonso’s resilience to fight back for the position was made all the more impressive because Perez does have the faster car.

Even before the Alonso-Perez battle, this race featured more action before one lap was completed than there have been in some full races this season. Leclerc crashed on the formation lap, then the two Haas cars and Albon made contact and crashed, and a stray tire made a scary trek down the frontstretch.  

The Bad

I had penciled in “Ferrari” in this space prior to the start of the race, and much unlike Ferrari, they didn’t disappoint. Leclerc’s crash on the formation lap takes the cake of Ferrari mishaps. Ferrari’s never had a problem getting their cars to the start; it’s what they do after that’s often laughable. 

Luckily for Ferrari, that wasn’t the worst thing that happened at Interlagos. Martin Brundle’s “Grid Walk” interview with the musically-gifted yet conversationally-challenged Machine Gun Kelly was an outright disaster. MGK may have an ear for music, but he certainly doesn’t have an ear for Brundle’s voice. Even when he could hear Brundle’s questions, his answers were dumb and incoherent. MGK is not cool and not funny. Who in their right mind thinks they can get Martin Brundle, of all people, to do “air piano?” Is that even a thing? Is there a beer promo for MGK in which he can play the “Most Uninteresting Man In The World.” 

See also
Max Verstappen Dominant Again for Win in Sao Paulo Grand Prix

The Disappointing

Ferrari has to be disappointed, not only for the fate of Leclerc, but for their overall day. With Mercedes struggling, and with Russell retiring early, the opportunity for a huge points day, and a huge dent into Mercedes’ lead in second place in the constructors standings, was there for Ferrari’s taking.  

The Driver

Norris had this award in the bag until the final straight, when Alonso held off Perez to preserve third place, and Aston Martin’s first podium since the Dutch Grand Prix. So, Alonso snatched the “Driver” award right out of Norris’ hands just as he did third place from Perez. 

The Results (Rolex Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT711:56:48.89425
24Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES71+8.277s19
314Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES71+34.155s15
411Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT71+34.208s12
518Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES71+40.845s10
655Carlos SainzFERRARI71+50.188s8
710Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT71+56.093s6
844Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES71+62.859s4
922Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT71+69.880s2
1031Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT70+1 lap1
112Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES70+1 lap0
1227Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI70+1 lap0
133Daniel RicciardoALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT70+1 lap0
1481Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES69+2 laps0
NC63George RussellMERCEDES57DNF0
NC20Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI0DNF0
NC16Charles LeclercFERRARI0DNS0
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Now THAT was a finish (for 3rd). Most exciting couple of laps all season.

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