Sainz fastest in São Paulo as F1 prepares for last sprint weekend
By Ian Parkes
Saturday 4th November, 2023 - 2:45am
Carlos Sainz edged George Russell in the sole practice session ahead of this weekend’s São Paulo Grand Prix.
With a late soft-tyre run from Ferrari duo Sainz and Charles Leclerc, they pushed long-time leader in Mercedes’ George Russell down to third, albeit with the Briton’s time posted on mediums.
Russell, who won both the sprint and grand prix last year, had looked set to end the hour-long run at Interlagos out in front with a time of one minute 11.865s, only for first Sainz and then Leclerc to edge ahead by just over a tenth of a second.
Oscar Piastri finished bottom of the timesheet, albeit there will be no cause for alarm inside the McLaren garage as at one stage late on he purpled the first two sectors on medium tyres before aborting the lap.
Unsurprisingly, with only one practice session, the majority of the field was quick to take to a windy track, and perhaps even less surprising was that it was Max Verstappen who set the benchmark with a lap of 1:13.950s on the hard tyre.
Desperate to make amends for his first-corner crash on home soil in Mexico, Sergio Perez opened up with a lap a second slower than Verstappen, who soon reported his “seat was not fitted correctly”, to which he was informed it would be resolved on his return to the garage.
As the times tumbled throughout the field, Verstappen improved to a 1:13,138s before Perez proved he could be a threat to his team-mate on occasion with a lap just 0.025s down.
It was not long before the teams made the first of their setup changes, with Aston Martin notably to the front suspension on both cars, before Fernando Alonso’s session was further slightly compromised when he was forced back to the pits with a rear-left puncture.
It was at that time, with the track noticeably quieter compared to the initial 15-minute burst, that AlphaTauri strapped a set of medium Pirellis onto Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri, allowing the Japanese driver to take over at the top with a 1:12.802s.
Tsunoda’s leading time, however, lasted for only a short period as Russell became the first driver to dip below 72 seconds with a 1:11.865s, almost a second quicker.
Remaining on the hard compound, both Alonso and Verstappen slotted in between the duo, albeit with the former three-quarters of a second off the pace.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, who took a sensational pole position for the team a year ago as he made the most of the mixed conditions, was the first to fit the soft tyres on his car – rubber that team boss Guenther Steiner said would be of no use for the race – and slotted into P3 at the halfway stage with a 1:12.663s.
As for Magnussen’s team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, another driver who has been on pole at this track in the past, he was then involved in a 50-50 incident with McLaren’s Lando Norris, with the Briton appearing to miss the apex of the final corner initially.
As Hulkenberg turned in, contact was made between the two, with the German making catching the rear of the MCL60. The stewards are investigating.
Hulkenberg then soon pitched in with a 1:11.928s, just 0.063s behind Russell, albeit given the considerable compound difference.
Aside from the two Haas drivers, the majority continued to run on the hard tyres to gather long-run data, with little impact on the times with 15 minutes remaining.
Logan Sargeant, whose future has still to be decided with Williams, became the first driver to make a noticeable error, taking to the run-off at the Senna S, complaining afterward that there was “something wrong with the front left”.
It soon became apparent there was a major problem, with his car running on three wheels for the remainder of the lap, leading to an obvious instruction for him to box.
Shortly after, and with less than 10 minutes to run, it appeared as if Piastri would set a new pacesetting time, but as mentioned, he pulled out of the lap and returned to the garage, leaving him two seconds down on hard tyres.
The late quick laps from Sainz and Leclerc pushed everyone down the order, with Hulkenberg ending up fourth quickest ahead of Albon, both on softs.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly in his Alpine were sixth and seventh respectively on mediums, followed by Guanyu Zhou in his Alfa Romeo, Sargeant, and Magnussen completing the top 10, all on softs.
The best times from the bottom 10 drivers were either on hards or mediums, with Lewis Hamilton 12th quickest, Daniel Ricciardo in his AlphaTauri 14th, whilst Verstappen and Perez finished 16th and 18th respectively.