SAO PAULO GP – Max Verstappen takes sprint victory by four seconds ahead of Lando Norris

News & Analysis

Max Verstappen has beaten Lando Norris by four seconds to win the sprint race at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver made a lighting start of the line into the Senna S to pass Norris at the first corner before the Englishman lost out as well to the McLaren early on. Norris starting on pole appeared to get bogged down allowing Verstappen to take the lead on the inside followed by Russell.

For much off the sprint, Russell maintained second as Verstappen drove steadily to his fourth sprint victory in 2023, but Norris wasn’t giving up and with the Mercedes looking to struggle for pace came back at Russell.

The McLaren driver aided by DRS mounted an attack into the Senna S to retake second where he had lost it on the opening lap. He then tried to go after Verstappen but the Dutchman had already pulled too far ahead. The gap swung between one and two seconds until the final five laps when Verstappen began to pull away due to superior tyre wear.

Russell could not get near Verstappen and the Dutchman was given the opportunity to start expanding on his lead to fend off the slightest hint of a battle with DRS. His pace vanished allowing Norris to easily pass and though Verstappen was able to retain the lead.

Also closing in on the Mercedes was the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, a few laps later the Senna S and the Mexican was past Russell. The Mercedes driver then settled into a steady drive but dropped twelve seconds behind Perez but in clean air was able to stay comfortably ahead of Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen said: “Initial getaway wasn’t that fantastic but the second bit was very strong and I could get alongside. Twenty-four laps around here is all about tyre management. Just incredibly difficult around here. Last year we were struggling with that already in the sprint and that’s why I was a bit careful.”

Norris said he had been “caught napping” by Russell, adding: “He was pushing quite hard in the first few laps but then was suffering a lot later on. It’s a tough circuit. You don’t feel like you can push anywhere. You do two laps and then you have no grip. You’re managing, you have one little wheelspin and it costs you 0.2-0.3secs.

Both Mercedes looked to be struggling for some reason, Lewis Hamilton losing sixth with two laps to go to the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda before settling for seventh. Hamilton was safely ahead of Carlos Sainz in the closing laps as the Ferrari driver fended off Daniel Ricciardo for eighth.

In the first half of the sprint Hamilton looked to join the fight with Perez, who he is fighting for runners-up spot in the drivers, but he suffered with greater tyre wear than Russell.  Mercedes’s lack off pace saw the seven-time champion hold a gaggle of cars behind him in the closing stages which couldn’t find a way past.

This could suggest that tyre wear could play a huge role in the Grand Prix, though Pirelli will crutch the data overnight it suggests that the race will be a two-stopper. Where strategy will have a big role. Mercedes and Ferrari could be the teams at a huge disadvantage given Mercedes struggles in the sprint and Ferrari struggling with tyre life all season.

Sainz ended the sprint nearly two-tenthss ahead of Ricciardo and Oscar Piastri, rounding out the top ten, along with Pierre Gasly and two Aston Martin’s of Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly stuck in the DRS train behind Hamilton.

Bu that didn’t stop them from scrapping for position, Sainz eventually securing eighth two-tenths ahead of Ricciardo as they fought for eighth. After Sainz passed the Alpha Tauri as Piastri Alonso, it left the two battling for ninth and tenth with Ricciardo coming out on top and the McLaren dropping two seconds behind. The fight allowed the two to close in, with them looking to pass at Larnjimba and Ferradura.

Alonso finished the sprint four-tenths ahead of his teammate Lance Stroll. The two-time champion carving through the bottom half of the field along with Esteban Ocon, the duo, had crashed in sprint qualifying earlier in the day in SQ2. Both Astons found a way pass Pierre Gasly who finished two seconds ahead of his Alpine teammate Ocon.

Alex Albon was fourteenth the Williams driver coming through the back markers after starting from nineteenth. The British-Thai driver finished half a second behind Ocon and comfortably ahead of Kevin Magnussen. Guanyu Zhou spilt the two Haas’s the Chinese driver having two seconds either side, behind Magnussen and ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.

Zhou’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was two tenths ahead of the second Williams of Logan Sargeant.


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