Mercedes driver George Russell has won the Formula 1 sprint race in São Paulo. The Brit was the first to cross the finish line after 24 laps in the José Carlos Pace autodrome on Saturday, and will be rewarded with eight world championship points and first place on the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday (7:00 p.m. CET, in the FAZ live ticker for Formula 1, on RTL and skies).
Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) was second, record world champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) third. However, Spaniard Sainz will be dropped five places for Sunday’s starting grid due to an illegal engine change.
Sebastian Vettel finished ninth in the Aston Martin and went away empty-handed, Mick Schumacher in the Haas-Ferrari, having started from last place, finished twelfth. Schumacher’s stable mate Kevin Magnussen from Denmark, who had sensationally secured pole position the day before with a hussar ride in the rain, was unable to keep up on a dry track, finished eighth and thus secured a World Championship point.
There could hardly have been a better present for Gene Haas: On his 70th birthday, the American team owner was allowed to watch his driver Kevin Magnussen in the Haas VF-22 in front of world champion Max Verstappen starting the short race from pole position and the field at least two led for laps.
“Magnussen is a tough fighter who also fights that are actually pointless for his position,” said Red Bull Motorsport Director Helmut Marko on Sky. However, he was beaten at the beginning of the third round and was passed from first to fourth. First Verstappen overtook him at the end of the start-finish straight, shortly afterwards he also had to let Russell and Sainz go. In the six-year Formula 1 history of the team, a Haas car had never been at the front at the start, and fifth place for Magnussen in Canada had been the highest of emotions so far.
While Magnussen went backwards, Mick Schumacher got off to a brilliant start and quickly made up positions. “I had a good first lap, that helped,” said Schumacher on Sky. And further: “But early in the race I had the feeling that something was wrong with the engine. So we worked a lot on it, it was a bit wild. If everything had gone perfectly, there would have been two more places.”
It got tricky on the tenth lap when Sebastian Vettel was pushed off the track by his teammate Lance Stroll at high speed and only thanks to some effort and a lot of skill did not shoot uncontrollably into the barrier, but kept the upper hand over his Aston Martin. “Ok,” Vettel commented laconic on the hair-raising incident over the radio. The Canadian Stroll was given a ten-second time penalty by the race control for this dangerous manoeuvre.
Verstappen on the wrong tire
For the third and last sprint of the year, only Max Verstappen and backbencher Nicholas Latifi chose the medium-hard tires in the Williams, everyone else started with the soft Pirellis. Pit stops are not mandatory for this format, which means that drivers are relieved of the obligation to use at least two different types of tyres. Red Bull, as it soon turned out, had made the wrong choice.
At the front, George Russell worked his way up to Verstappen and attacked at the end of the long straight at the beginning of the twelfth lap. The world champion fought back and initially stayed in front. This game was repeated on the following lap, again before turn four. Verstappen struggled with his tires, which offered less grip than the soft rubber and also proved to have a shorter lifespan. But the world champion knew how to position himself in this gripping duel in such a way that the Brits only had the unfavorable outer lane to attack.
Ten rounds before the end, however, the Mercedes driver found his way past the known spot with excess speed, and Verstappen was beaten. The silver arrow quickly pulled away, Verstappen’s eyes were on the rear-view mirror. Behind him, Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes and Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari fought for third place.
Six laps before the end things got worse for Verstappen: first Carlos Sainz squeezed past him, destroying the front wing of the Red Bull car. Shortly thereafter he also had to let Hamilton pass and was therefore only fourth.
The world champion had already had a hard time in Sao Paulo on Friday, struggling in his understeering RB 18. Now he had to watch as Russell clinched the first win of the season for Mercedes. A small but sweet triumph for the series winner of yore. “I didn’t think we’d have that speed,” commented Russell.
Before the penultimate Grand Prix of the year, which leads over 71 laps on Sunday, Max Verstappen has long since secured his second world championship title and his Red Bull racing team can no longer be caught in the manufacturers’ classification either. Behind it, however, it is still tight. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez (284) and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc (278) fight for second place.
Ferrari and Mercedes duel for the place behind Red Bull, but the other teams are also fighting bitterly for every point: the better they are in the final calculation, the more prize money there is – sometimes this has dramatic consequences for the budget and thus the competitiveness in the next year.