George Russell delivered a dominant performance to claim his first-ever Formula One win in the Heineken Brazilian Grand Prix at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Russell’s brilliant victory was also Mercedes’ first of the season, this breakthrough infusing the team with renewed energy to challenge Red Bull for the 2023 title.
Fitted with Mercedes’ new front wing and significantly lighter floor, Russell’s W13 was unchallenged out front until a late safety car put his victory in question. Nevertheless, the Brit delivered a perfectly managed restart and never allowed teammate Lewis Hamilton to get close enough to attack wheel to wheel.
Hamilton finished second, but what might have been had it not for his early collision with 2021 title rival Max Verstappen, which dropped both drivers down the order and left them with car damage.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz claimed the final podium ahead of fourth- place teammate Charles Leclerc, who charged back from being spun into the barriers earlier on by Lando Norris.
Fernando Alonso claimed a superb fifth position for Alpine with an emotional charge through the field from 18th to remind fans why he remains one of F1’s best drivers.
The Spaniard finished ahead of Max Verstappen, who refused Red Bull’s team order to let teammate Sergio Perez swap positions last on the final lap to mitigate some of the points lost to Leclerc in the battle for second in the championship.
Esteban Ocon finished eighth ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll, who took the final two points-paying positions.
Haas’s Kevin Magnussen took an extraordinary pole position for the Sprint race at Interlagos after Mercedes’ George Russell spun off the track in wet conditions in Q3.
The 30-year-old Magnussen returned to F1 after a year sabbatical at the start of this season. His previous best qualifying performance was fourth, achieved twice for McLaren in 2014. Having established a solid opening time, his fortune’s turned from good to miraculous as Russell’s spin brought out the red flags, suspending the session.
With rain beginning to fall heavily with the cars waiting in the pits, it slowly dawned on everyone that Magnussen’s time would be unbeatable when the track reopened.
George Russell won Saturday’s sprint race to join team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the front row. Russell’s win, his first of any description in Formula One, owed much to Red Bull’s strategic error. They elected to put double world champion Verstappen on medium tyres for the 24-lap race when everyone in the top 10 was on softs.
It rapidly became clear they had erred as Russell swarmed all over the back of the Dutchman’s gearbox even before he passed Haas’s surprise pole-sitter, Kevin Magnussen, at the start of the third lap.
Russell eventually managed to pass Verstappen on Lap 15 after multiple attempts, with Sainz and Hamilton making it past the Dutchman before the finish. Kevin Magnussen would start eighth following his extraordinary pole-winning performance in qualifying.
Russell had a superb launch compared to Hamilton’s decent one, as Mercedes led 1-2 into Turn 1. Leclerc dropped back at the expense of Lando Norris, now up into fifth.
Ricciardo tried a clumsy move down the inside of Magnussen at Turn 8. They touched, spinning the Haas around, as the McLaren collected the Dane’s car as it faced the wrong way. They were both out of the race as the SC controlled the race while the workers cleared debris.
Racing resumed on Lap 6, with a rolling start. Russell backed the pack up for the restart and held on to the lead.
Verstappen was ready to take no prisoners, going around the outside of Hamilton at Turn 1, Hamilton on the left and Verstappen on the right. The Brit tried desperately to hold onto the place, but they collided. Verstappen kept going but had significant front-wing damage as they dropped back.
Moments later, Norris tried to put one up inside Leclerc at Turn 7 and punted him into the barriers. Miraculously, Leclerc managed to keep going.
Verstappen pitted for front wing damage, as did Leclerc. Hamilton lost some of his floor but retained a good pace.
The stewards penalized Verstappen and Norris five seconds each.”Where did they expect me to go?” said Verstappen.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was into fifth after getting Vettel into Turn 1 and was now chasing down Lando Norris with a considerable pace advantage. Hamilton was only nine seconds off the lead. Moments later, Sainz pitted his Ferrari for soft tyres on Lap 17, elevating Hamilton into third.
Perez pitted from second on Lap 24, making it a Mercedes 1-2 for now. Perez pits, switching from soft tyres to mediums and comes out behind Bottas and in sixth. Russell wants to go long but is ordered to pit. It’s a slow stop. Hamilton now leads.
A lap later, Verstappen came in to change tyres, serving his five- second penalty and then had a slow change on the rear-right tyre. By Lap 31, he had only moved up to 16th place. Meanwhile, Russell led Perez by 5.3s. Sainz was a further 3.5s behind, with Hamilton 3.1s behind the Ferrari driver.
By Lap 44, Hamilton was up on Perez’s rear wing at Turn 1. Perez’s tyres grip had disappeared. With DRS enabled on Lap 45, Hamilton’s around the outside even before the braking zone of Turn 1. It’s a Mercedes 1-2 again. The gap to Russell ahead was now just over 10 seconds.
Verstappen clawed his way into sixth on Lap 47, but he was still 54 seconds behind Russell. In came Perez into the pits. Hamilton responded for softs a lap later to cover Perez’s advantage.
Norris lost power on Lap 52. He came to a standstill in the middle sector, stranded. Carlos Sainz pitted under the VSC from second. Russell asked his engineers.” What are we doing? Are we racing, or are we securing the 1-2?”
They respond that he was racing as Sainz doesn’t have a massive tyre advantage. In fairness, Sainz also had to pass Perez to attack the Mercedes cars.
Norris’ mess finally triggered a full SC on Lap 55. with the restart on Lap 60. Russell led Hamilton, Perez and Sainz.
Could Russell hang on and secure a maiden Grand Prix victory? We were about to find out.
Russell set the fastest race lap on Lap 62, keeping Hamilton out of crucial DRS range. Sainz passed Perez for third on Lap 63 with Hamilton three seconds ahead. Perez was the only driver in the top nine on mediums, and he was going backwards with Alonso right on his tail.
Verstappen took Perez for sixth on Lap 67. Russell led Hamilton by 1.2s, as Lewis closed marginally in the first sector but Russell pulled out a couple of tenths in the middle sector which was crucial. The gap was 1.5s as they crossed the line.
It was a close as Hamilton would get. Russell took the flag and by Turn 2 the tears were flowing.
“It’s just been such an emotional rollercoaster. From go-karting up and down the country as a boy – all the support my parents gave me. It’s not a straightforward life in Formula One.
“We are all living our dreams, but your emotion is based substantially on performance. I’ve dreamt of this so many times.”