Verstappen wins race of attrition in Sao Paulo GP
By Mat Coch
Monday 6th November, 2023 - 6:04am
Max Verstappen has cruised to victory in a Sao Paulo GP that saw Daniel Ricciardo and Oscar Piastri strike trouble and five others fail to finish.
Verstappen started from pole and led throughout to head Lando Norris and a brilliant Fernando Alonso to the flag.
However, the race was blighted by a pre-race crash for Charles Leclerc and an opening lap stack for Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen.
Alfa Romeo Sauber also had a disastrous day with a double DNF for technical reasons while Ricciardo and Piastri picked up damage in the opening corner clash to compromise their respective races from the opening corner.
Due to start second, Leclerc never made the start, crashing out on the warm-up lap at Ferradura.
He immediately reported a hydraulics failure in his Ferrari, driving the car out of the barrier and into a gap in the fence to retire.
It left Verstappen alone on the front row, leaving the Dutchman an unincumbered run to the first corner.
He therefore led with ease at the race began while the two Aston Martins behind were swamped by Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton.
However, contact in the pack saw Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen crash out at Turn 1 to draw an immediate Safety Car.
The Williams driver was on the outside, banging wheels with Nico Hulkenberg which speared him into the other Haas.
Also caught out was Oscar Piastri, who copped a whack to his rear wing from Magnussen. Daniel Ricciardo too was pushed into the garage as the red flag was shown after a bouncing tyre from Albon’s car hit his rear wing.
At McLaren, the team worked in an attempt to repair Piastri’s car with a long stoppage expected to repair the tyre barrier at Turn 1 and also clear the debris that littered the circuit.
The order under the red flag was Verstappen from Norris, Hamilton, Alonso, Stroll, Russell, Perez, Sainz, Ocon, and Tsunoda.
The red flag lasted 25 minutes, McLaren and Scuderia AlphaTauri both managing to repair the cars for Piastri and Ricciardo respectively.
Repairs were also made to Hulkenberg’s Haas, though carried out in the pit lane meaning he was able to rejoin the standing restart from the grid.
The two Australians, as their cars had gone into the pit lane (and were both a lap down), were both forced to take the restart from the pit lane.
At the restart, Verstappen again jumped well to head Norris, who fended off Hamilton into the first corner as Stroll dropped more spots.
Alonso attacked Hamilton for third at Turn 4 to steal the place with Russell in fifth and Perez in sixth.
Having remained in DRS range, Norris forced Verstappen to defend into Turn 1 on Lap 8.
The McLaren driver remained behind, looking to attack at Turn 4 at the end of the back straight.
He couldn’t make the move and fell back through the middle part of the lap, Verstappen breaking clear of DRS range.
With the front two skipping away from the back, Hamilton found himself at the head of a DRS train that included Russell, Perez, Stroll, Sainz, and Pierre Gasly.
Russell slipped out of DRS range and found himself vulnerable to Perez as they started Lap 14, the Mexican completing the move and holding the Mercedes at bay down the back straight.
Exposed, Hamilton fell victim to the charging Red Bull on Lap 18 to move up to fourth.
The Mercedes driver headed to the lane at the end of the lap to swap his soft tyres for a set of medium rubber.
Russell was called in a lap later as the pit cycle began as Red Bull reacted with Perez.
A 2.2s stationary time wasn’t enough to mitigate the undercut as he fed back out behind Hamilton.
The pair battled at the start of Lap 23, Hamilton defending into Turn 1 but powerless to keep Perez at bay into Turn 4.
on Lap 28, Verstappen and Norris both pitted, the last two to do so as the rejoined first and second on track – as they had been prior to their stops.
Hamilton reported concerns as his car began pulling to one side as he soon dropped behind the recovering Stroll.
Russell was stuck behind Hamilton and was soon after picked off by Sainz for seventh on Lap 35, both Mercedes were struggling for pace on the medium rubber.
Three laps later, Sainz took sixth from Hamilton as they entered Turn 4.
With 25 laps remaining, the second round of stops began, Mercedes pitting its two cars and swapping them onto a set of soft tyres.
Following their final stops, Perez reeled in Alonso in the battle for the final podium place.
The Spaniard managed his pace, ensuring the Red Bull behind was never close enough out of Juncao to offer any real threat.
Verstappen pitted on Lap 57, handing Norris the lead and, temporarily at least, leaving his at risk should a Safety Car be deployed.
It was an optimistic play, and he pitted for the final time at the end of Lap 59 to hand top spot back to Red Bull.
At Mercedes, rising oil temperatures forced the team to retire Russell with 12 laps remaining.
The battle between Alonso and Perez continued, the latter finally forcing the Aston Martin to defend into Turn 1.
It was masterful from the two-time world champion who was positioning his car through Bico de Pato, a third of a lap earlier, in order to defend by when he got to Turn 1.
Perez finally stole third place away as they began the penultimate lap, using DRS to finally draw alongside and take the inside line.
Alonso immediately caught back but the Red Bull ahead defended well into Turn 4 to hold the spot.
It continued on the final lap, Perez losing the spot into Turn 4 once more.
It still wasn’t over as Perez closed out of the final corner, using DRS to draw alongside in a thrilling finish that saw Alonso hold on by 0.053s in a thrilling finale.
Ahead, Verstappen had cantered to victory by 8.3s over Norris while Stroll in fifth offered valuable points for Aston Martin.
Then came Sainz, who had downshift issues in the final laps, Pierre Gasly, Hamilton, and Yuki Tsunoda.
Ricciardo and Piastri both saw the flag, though in 13th and 14th, the final two cars on the road, owing to being innocent victims at the first corner melee.