Verstappen beats Norris after crash-strewn start in Sao Paulo

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leads at the start of the race as Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW45 and Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas VF-23 crash. 05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images
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Max Verstappen chalked up yet another victory in 2023 with what was ultimately a simple win in Sao Paulo, although McLaren's Lando Norris pushed the Red Bull hard after the McLaren made a flying start from sixth on the grid, and Fernando Alonso beating Sergio Perez to P3 in a breathless battle to the line.

It was a nightmare day for Mercedes, despite a strong initial start for Lewis Hamilton. Both he and George Russell then suffered from tyre degradation and slid down the order, Hamilton finishing eighth while Russell was forced to retire due to high oil temperatures.

Charles Leclerc failed to take the start after crashing on the formation lap after suffering a power steering failure on the Ferrari. The race was also red-flagged at the start for a multi-car accident initiated by contact between Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen.

After a day of Sprint racing, it seemed an age since the dramatic stormy conclusion to qualifying on Friday. Fortunately there was no sign of any ill weather today as the cars prepared to take up their places on the grid at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace with Max Verstappen on pole and an all-Aston Martin second row consisting of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso. But Lando Norris and Sergio Perez were P6 and P9 respectively after being caught out by the deluge and red flag at the end of Q3 leaving them with a mountain to climb.

By the time the field reached the grid, they were already down to 19 cars after a bizarre incident which saw Charles Leclerc spin off on the formation lap after a hydraulic failure on the Ferrari, which cut the engine and sent him spinning off into the barrier. "Why am I so ***** unlucky," he cried over the radio before climbing out. It was a long walk back to pit lane for him.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23 retired on the Formation Lap.
05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Price / XPB Images

There was no delay to the start of the race, Verstappen blasting into the front corner with no opposition. But having an even better start was Norris, who got the perfect launch when the lights went out and scythed his way past Lewis Hamilton and then put the two Astons to the sword to emerge from the first corners in second place.

Seconds later the safety car was scrambled after a multi-car incident further back after contact after Nico Hulkenberg got squeezed between Kevin Magnussen and Alex Albon. He ended up clipping the the Williams, sending it into the path of the second Haas. "Kevin was going for a spot, and couldn't see Albon, and squeezed Nico who spun Albon around who spun Magnussen," summarised Haas team principal Guenther Steiner. "Unlucky us."

Oscar Piastri had then been hit by the out-of-control Magnussen leaving the McLaren's rear wing was shattered. Daniel Ricciardo was hit by a shredded tyre carcass flicked up into the air by Hulkenberg sending him crawling back to pit lane to have a new rear wing fitted on the AlphaTauri.

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW45 crashed out at the start of the race.
05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

With so much debris scattered across turn 1 and even onto pit lane from all the collisions, race control was obligated to throw a red flag to allow the track to be cleaned and the barrier repaired after its heavy hit from Albon. The standing restart came 25 minutes later with Verstappen on pole again, now joined by Norris, Hamilton, Alonso and Stroll. Ricciardo and Piastri were able to use the red flag stoppage to get their cars repaired, although both then restarted from pit lane.

When the lights went out a second time, a steady start for Verstappen discouraged any audacious moves by Norris, who instead had his hands full with Hamilton. That didn't work out for the Mercedes driver who ended up ceding a spot to Alonso instead. However Stroll got squeezed out and dropped to seventh behind George Russell and Sergio Perez.

By the time DRS was enabled, Verstappen was already more than a second ahead and out of activation range from Norris. Job done, it seemed. Except Norris wasn't lying down and soon punching in fastest laps of his own to reacquire DRS on the Red Bull. On lap 9 Norris was in position to launch two attacks on Verstappen in turn 1 and turn 4, who was forced to defend with more urgency than we've seen for some time. But Verstappen survived the assault and put his foot down to pull out a safe gap. Job done for good this time.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leads at the race restart.
05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Hamilton was struggling to keep up and causing something of a tailback. Having said he wouldn't challenge his team mate, Russell was now frustrated and concerned by the hold-up backing him up into Perez. He asked the team pit wall what to do - implying that team orders allowing him past Hamilton would be a really good idea right now as far as he was concerned - but it didn't come quick enough to save him from Perez' do-or-die dive into turn 1 on lap 14. Russell tried to fight back but Perez finally sealed the deal in turn 4, Russell was further provoked by the Mercedes pit wall telling him to manage the throttle to protect the tyres.

Close behind this battle was Stroll, who was himself being caught by Carlos Sainz. The Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were also coming into play and inside the top ten, although Ocon couldn't stop Yuki Tsunoda from passing him and opted to pit for medium tyres on lap 16. Tsunoda meanwhile had gone off onto the grass, losing a place to Valtteri Bottas as he made it back onto the track.

Perez passed Hamilton into turn 1 on lap 18, both Mercedes clearly struggling with tyre degradation as had been the case in Saturday's Sprint. Hamilton duly pitted for mediums and temporarily dropped out of the top ten but with clear air ahead. Russell was likewise summoned on the next lap, coming out just behind Hamilton who was reporting a problem with his front-right not steering properly.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23.
04.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sprint Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: XPB Images

Perez was next to pit and found he had been undercut by Hamilton. He was immediately on the attack to retrieve the position down the back straight. Russell was in a similar state of decline as his team mate, losing out to Stroll on lap 25. There were a flurry of further stops including Alonso, Perez, Sainz, Tsunoda and Gasly, with Verstappen and Norris finally in on lap 28 to retain P1 and P2 respectively.

With Mercedes seemingly prioritising Hamilton's campaign for second in the championship standings, Russell was again left stuck behind, leaving him painfully open to a DRS-assisted attack from Sainz on lap 35. Two laps later the Ferrari picked off Hamilton as well at turn 4. The mediums were clearly failing Mercedes, with Russell soon passed by Gasly. By comparison Norris put in the fastest lap of the race so far in the McLaren on the same compound, although by now he was five seconds behind Verstappen.

Under growing pressure from Tsunoda, Russell pitted for used softs on lap 47 with Perez, Hamilton and Gasly in on the next lap and Alonso responding on lap 49 to fend off the Red Bull's planned undercut. Even back on the softs, Hamilton was still unable to stay ahead of Gasly. By comparison, Alonso was performing a heroic defence of his podium position from Perez which culminated in an epic battle between the pair in the final two laps, with Alonso narrowly coming out on top in a drag race to the finish.

Marta (BRA) Football Player waves the chequered flag for race winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 at the end of the race.
05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Verstappen had pitted again on lap 57 with Norris staying out and assuming the lead for three laps before his own service. After that it was a clear run to the finish for another record-setting win for Verstappen. Behind Norris, Alonso held on to the final podium in a breathless dash to the line. Stroll, Sainz and Gasly were next up, Hamilton finishing P8 after Russell retired from high oil temperatures; both Alfa Romeos had also earlier ended their day in the pits.

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