Welcome to the Sao Paulo Grand Prix – 2023

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Alonso annoyed by rumours of Red Bull switch

Fernando Alonso has made it clear he is annoyed with claims that he could switch to Red Bull from Aston Martin. Sergio Perez is reported to be at risk of losing his seat at Red Bull if he fails to finish second in the driver championship.

Alonso said he was “not enjoying” it, and dismissed the idea as “the normal paddock rumours from people who try to make fun of it and gain some followers… I will make sure there are consequences.”

Alonso did not elaborate on what those might be, or whom they might be directed towards. Telling the press conference, “You are all journalists, professional people who have been in F1 for many years, and you gained your respect, and this is how it should be. The rumours are coming from people who are not in this room, are just there to make fun. And it is not funny when they play with anything.”

I haven’t seen these rumours personally from a credible sources but we know that these are often a consequence of on track form, you have to say he has outperformed his teammate Lance Stroll this season who has struggle. We know also that Red Bull’s “intention” is for Perez to stay.

Last weekend’s home Grand Prix was just the latest in a series of difficult races for Perez, who is now only twenty points ahead of third-placed Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.

Alonso added that the stories “of course” served to disrupt his Aston Martin team, who are suffering from a decline in form as the season has progressed. The Spaniard scored six podium finishes in the first eight races as Aston Martin’s leap to the front became the story of the start of the season. But the team’s performance has tailed off dramatically in recent races.

Normally with these stories, I find the truth is somewhere in the middle but we know that he has a history for being disruptive within teams. in both the past two races in the US and Mexico, a new floor introduced as an upgrade has been taken off at least one of the cars before the race.

Alonso said: “We are not as competitive as we wanted and we all try to get to our best level, which is not the one we are showing now. We are analysing some of the upgrades we brought lately. Here in Brazil we have a sprint format and maybe it is a more traditional weekend for us not experimenting as much as the last two.”

I think the key word is ‘more,’ because Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi are night races, but I think he was saying the format was normal with practice, qualifying and the Grand Prix.

In Mexico last weekend, Alonso had spins on two consecutive days, a most uncommon sight, and said he “always felt on the back foot and was not trusting the car”. But he emphasised that he had qualified fourth in Qatar, the race before the USA, and showed good pace after starting from the back following a set-up change before the race in Austin.


Elliott leaves Mercedes

Mercedes chief technical officer Mike Elliott has left the team in the wake of the eight-time champions’ failure to win a race this season. Elliott moved to his current role in April after Mercedes’ realisation that their car would be uncompetitive for a second year running.

Elliott has worked for Mercedes for eight years and was a central figure in their eight consecutive constructors’ championships and seven drivers wins from 2014-2022, first as head of aerodynamics, then technology director.

CEO and  team principal Toto Wolff said Elliott’s exit was his own decision. Saying, “It’s clear that he’s ready for new adventures beyond Mercedes. I know this is the right step for him.”

Adding, “ Mike has been one of the pillars of the team’s achievements over the past decade and it’s with truly mixed feelings that we say goodbye to him today. Mike is a fiercely intelligent technical brain and a great team player. He has made a strong contribution, not just to winning racing cars, but also to building the culture of our team.”

Elliott’s promotion to technical director came in mid-2021 ahead of the biggest technical overhaul for four decades in 2022. But the team admits now that the ‘zero sidepod concept’ while radical was very different from Red Bull, who have gone on to dominate the last two seasons.

The Mercedes design team chose to continue with that approach for this year, but Hamilton has said he knew as soon as he drove the car that they had made a mistake. After first practice at the first race of the season in Bahrain, Hamilton said that the team were “on the wrong track”.

The following month, Elliott swapped roles with James Allison, who had been technical director from 2017 but was promoted to chief technical officer in 2021. I think this is Elliott taking responsibility for getting it wrong last year, he moved to a more ‘strategic role,’ midway through last year.

This seems to be his own decision and he has potentially put in the foundations for the team’s future success.

Mercedes taking nothing for granted

Mercedes won this race last year with George Russell taking his maiden victories with him winning both the sprint and Grand Prix, but ahead of this weekend’s race CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says the team are not taking it for granted.

Like last year, the German manufacturer heads into this weekend winless, with Ferrari being the only team other than Red Bull to win a race this season. But the progress and Lewis Hamilton’s second place, before disqualification in Austin, has given the team hope to repeat how strong they were a year ago in Interlagos.

But Wolff says that the strengths and weaknesses of cars are not necessarily the same this season as they were last, so there is little point in his squad believing that it has the package needed to come out on top.

Asked if he felt the W14 could be an even better prospect for Brazil than last year’s W13, Wolff said: “To be honest I don’t know. I think we can see with all teams that there is a certain degree of correlation of last year’s performance and this year. But there is not enough data to make that solid assumption, so I don’t know. Both feet on the ground and let’s see where we are at Interlagos.”

Last weekend following their last major upgrade in Austin there has been speculation that Mercedes could challenge Red Bull in the closing races. While Wolff says there is a great deal of encouragement to be had from the fact that the improved W14 appears to be more confidence-inspiring for its drivers.

he said, “I think we’ve seen that it is providing more downforce, more driveability. The car is a little bit less tricky. Still, the genes are there, Lewis said to me [in Mexico] ‘she’s still so difficult to drive although she’s faster’, so I think for us it was important to see whether directionally we were going in the right directions for next year.”

Wolff says there is a great deal of encouragement to be had from the fact that the improved W14 appears to be more confidence-inspiring for its drivers. Adding “I think we’ve seen that it is providing more downforce, more driveability. The car is a little bit less tricky. So I think for us it was important to see whether directionally we were going in the right directions for next year.”

Mercedes are I believe heading on the right track, but they need to make a big step over the winter to challenge Red Bull. I think they can do it if they. Get their resources in the right place I think they can bounce back look at the in season turn arounds we have seen that in the last two years.


Abu Dhabi not at risk because of Israel-Gaza war

F1 insists the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix does not face an increased risk of being cancelled amid speculation linking the stability of the race to the Israel-Gaza war. Rumours have started spreading that the final race on 24 – 26 November could be cancelled following an update from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

On 29 October, the FCO updated the terrorism alert level for the United Arab Emirates to declare that “indiscriminate” attacks are “very likely”, including at places “visited by foreigners”.

The FCO notes: “Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region. These include references to attacks on Western interests, including residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques.

“You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places and at public events. These include references to attacks on Western interests, including residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping centres and mosques.”

On the 7th of October Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organisation by many Western governments, launched an unprecedented assault on Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,400 people and taking 242 hostages. It was the most serious cross-border attack Israel has faced in more than a generation.

Since then, Israel has been carrying out retaliatory strikes on Gaza, in which more than 9,000 people have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. As of Thursday, the Israeli military says Hamas is still holding at least 242 hostages in Gaza.

The increased alert level places the UAE at the same terror status as other recent F1 host nations Germany, France, Belgium and Bahrain.  F1 has therefore moved to say that the Abu Dhabi GP is not at heightened risk of being cancelled. understands that the situation has been clarified with the teams and team principals.

Last time the sport faced this was in Saudi Arabia in 2022, eventually went ahead amid fierce resistance from drivers following a missile strike on a nearby Aramco oil facility during the first practice session. But eventually went ahead following negotiations and security guarantees,

Russia had its contract terminated in 2022 following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, while the 2011 Bahrain GP was cancelled due to anti-government protests pertaining to the Arab Spring.

Talking Points Soa Paulo

The final sprint race of the season bring F1 to Sao Paulo and the famous Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, better known by the neighbourhood name of Interlagos. Fifty years of racing, has produced some of the most dramatic and chaotic races in the sports history especially given unpredictable weather.

Since it first joined the calendar in 1973 including a chaotic 2003 race in the wet, Lewis Hamilton’s last-gasp maiden title in 2008, Sebastian Vettel’s rollercoaster ride on his way to the 2012 championship and Max Verstappen’s all-out attack defence against Hamilton in 2021.

Verstappen broke his own record for the most wins in a single season with his 16th triumph of 2023 last time out and will be looking for a second win in Brazil. But just under twelve months ago, George Russell took his maiden sprint and Grand Prix win after fending off team-mate Hamilton in a Mercedes one-two and Toto Wolff is hopeful they will go strong once again this weekend.

A week ago, Verstappen comfortably broke his own fifteen Grand Prix wins in a season and his dominance sees him the favourite with two wins are on offer this weekend while anyone other than Verstappen is a long shot, there is still plenty to watch out for from the front to the back of the field this weekend.

The track is medium-speed and high downforce, with a 1.2km-long uphill straight that makes engine power important, particularly for overtaking. Throw in unpredictable weather and the unexpected could happen. Verstappen has won four of five sprints this year with Oscar Piastri winning in Lusail.

Hamilton is just twenty points behind Sergio Perez in the battle for second in the drivers’ championship and Mercedes hold a twenty-two-point advantage over Ferrari in the race for runners-up in the constructors’ championship.

The main race could be a different picture, particularly if the rain predicted for qualifying upsets the grid. That said, overtaking is easier than at many circuits, so even an out-of-position Verstappen could climb through the field.

Last year’s race was the only one where Red Bull weren’t on the podium, but that was mainly because Verstappen collided with Hamilton and ended up in sixth.

George Russell won for Mercedes last year and the team has secured a double podium in each of the last two events in Brazil. In recent years, several podium finishers have come from low down on the grid. Carlos Sainz is one of them, coming from twentieth in 2021 and from seventh last year. He is 5.20 for a podium this time.

Fernando Alonso tends to run well in Sao Paulo, finishing on the podium eight times, so although his Aston Martin has been falling down the order in recent races his talent on this track could bring it up. Past performances at higher downforce circuits that also have long straights suggest McLaren could also recover momentum and secure top six places.


“Absolutely no doubts” that Ricciardo would return to top form

AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost says he had “absolutely no doubts” that Daniel Ricciardo would return to top form after re-joining the Faenza team this summer. Ricciardo’s progress was halted by the hand injury that he received at this third appearance in Zandvoort, which cost him five races.

However, in Mexico, he stunned the F1 paddock by qualifying fourth and hanging on to a valuable seventh place in the race. Tost who moves to an advisory role for 2024 says he knew that Ricciardo – who drove for the team in its Toro Rosso guise in 2012 and 2013 – would get up to speed.

He told, “Absolutely no doubts. I didn’t have any doubts, because he’s experienced, and he couldn’t have lost the ability to drive an F1 car fast. Once you know this, you don’t lose it. And what he missed maybe in the past was the trust in the car, trust in the team. Therefore, he couldn’t perform on the level which we know he is normally able to do.”

Tost also conceded that Ricciardo did exceed expectations last weekend in Mexico City, where the team expected him to be in the top six but he ended up fourth on the grid. Before losing out through the mid-race red flag, restarting on a used set of hard tyres which resulted in him dropping down the order.

Tost stressed that the resurgent Ricciardo will play a significant role in the team heading into 2024. He said “It’s very important because the team needs one experienced driver. Daniel is the absolute right choice. And I said to him, it’s good now, because now you’re in the race mode. And we are looking forward now to Sao Paulo.”


The Weekend Ahead

This weekend is the final sprint race of the year, as we know with only one practice session teams have to be on it from the start. Anything can happen at Interlagos we saw that last year with Kevin Magnussen taking pole thanks partly to one of the key factors weather. If we get rain, I can’t think of a race weekend where we have not had rain at some point in the weekend.

Max Verstappen is unsurprisingly as the favourite, in Mexico he beat his own number of wins in the season, he has been strong at every kind of circuit this season. However, Interlagos is one of those circuits which is unpredictable for the reasons above and teams need to be wary and reactive to that.

Don’t discount Mercedes, they won both the sprint and Grand Prix last year, they looked to have made another step in Austin with their upgrades and this race is one of the more difficult too win. The watch word is communication as this is one of the shortest laps of the year and drivers can trip over each other through out the race.

Also, Safety cars and red flags are common throughout the weekend because of the factors above, that can make for an interesting qualifying sessions, in my view its somewhere in the middle in terms of importance.

Being at altitude like last weekend, we saw very fine margins behind Verstappen and teams need to bare that in mind given how tight it was in qualifying. I suspect it will be the same again in Sao Paulo and keep an eye on Williams they were one of the stand out performers at these more slower technical circuits, and recent upgrades.


You can join us for coverage of this weekend’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix with reports and analysis on our website. FP1 starts Friday 11:30 BRT /14:30 GMT, Qualifying 16:00 / 18:00, Sprint Shootout Saturday 13:30 / 15:30 and the Sprint 15:30 / 18:30and the Grand Prix Sunday  14:00 / 17:00
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