MOTORSPORT

São Paulo GP: Smells like team spirit…or not.

Mercedes' strength and a maiden victory for George Russell. A race weekend with more drama and excitement than any other.

TopGear Reporter
November 14, 2022
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São Paulo GP: Smells like team spirit…or not.

São Paulo – the Hector Autódromo José Carlos Pace played host to the Brazilian GP and the second-highest race on the calendar at 800 meters above sea level. If the altitude had anything to do with it, then let's tweet Elon to stage a race on the Moon because this weekend had it all. 

Drama. So much of it further electrified the atmosphere at one of the season's most exciting race weekends. Blink, and you'll miss something. This is what we signed up for. The cultural flare of Brazil and the lead-up showcased the vibrancy in street art, the people and the fun nature of the country. All this time, I'm thinking how similar Johannesburg could be on the vibe check when we eventually get our turn.

Quali Drama

The drama started in qualifying, and just like how we've seen with changing conditions, it brings with it the need for bigger gambles. Damp conditions make it incredibly tricky for everyone to choose when to go from the intermediate compound tyres to the full slicks. There was, once more and regrettably, more indecision from Ferrari around Charles Leclerc's tyres and strategy, which once more caused a delay. 

These delays prove costly when track position is everything. As Kevin Magnussen proved, getting out first and putting in the quickest lap time down of Q3 before George Russell beached his Mercedes, causing a red flag. With eight minutes remaining, the heavens opened, and a downpour stopped any further ambitions. This meant that Kevin Magnussen would start the sprint race in pole. What a moment. You can only imagine the energy on that call from Guenther Steiner to Gene Haas. Classic Guenther. Verstappen would start behind Magnussen, followed by George Russell.

Brazilian Dash: The Sprint Race 

Knowing that the pack would eventually consume him, Magnussen's great start was admirable. Teammates Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso made contact on the opening lap around turn 4, almost taking each other out. Alonso sure isn't leaving without burning a bridge or two. That theme spread when, on lap 9, Vettel attempted a pass on the grass but then Stroll forced him off the track, which again could not have made Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack too happy. I suspect there was a lot of tongue-biting in that garage. Whatever happened to team spirit?

Then there's Red Bull's odd choice to field the medium compound tyre when everyone else was on the soft. But let me share a pearl of wisdom with you. Sometimes everyone else is wrong. This wasn't one of those times. Regardless of the success Verstappen had in Mexico with the medium compound tyres, the conditions of Brazil proved that one glove doesn't fit all. This gifted an opportunity to Russell, who fought it out with Verstappen from lap 12 to 15, eventually capitalising on a DRS opportunity after exiting the Senna Esses, creating quite the spectacle. Good clean racing. Who would have thought? Enjoy it while you can, George, who secured his first F1 victory. Sainz was next to pass Verstappen, who finished in P2, with Hamilton in P3. A grid penalty that saw Sainz pushed down the order allowed Hamilton to lock out the front row of Sunday's Grand Prix for Mercedes. The sprint race format proved how exciting things can be; hopefully, it's here to stay.

Race Day

George Russel's Maiden GP win.

This time, the race start saw everyone getting away well until Daniel Ricciardo made contact with Kevin Magnussen. As a result, the Danish driver's weekend went from Hero to Zero, with the Australian adding to what would be a woeful weekend for McLaren's hopes in the Constructor battle against Alpine. This brought out the safety car for seven laps, and, on the restart, Verstappen made a lunge into turn two, making contact with his old foe, Lewis Hamilton. 

Verstappen needed to pit to replace the front wing, causing him to drop down the field. Lando Norris made an error clipping Charles Leclerc on the same lap, sending the Ferrari off the track. After managing to rejoin, he'd have a mountain to climb. As if Leclerc needs any more character-building moments. From the earlier incident, Hamilton dropped down the field and needed to fight back hard, charging through the field, making up places clinically. It was the old Hamilton we knew. He soaks up the pressure when he's against the ropes and always delivers, eventually making his way to P2.

But the moment belonged to George Russel, who captured his maiden Grand Prix victory in a convincing way that says this won't be the last time. He's tasted it now and will lust for more of it. Carlos Sainz completed the final step on the podium, with Charles Leclerc finishing in P4.

We're confident there were very little in the way of diplomacy from RB's team boss.

But this is where it got weird. Verstappen, who was in 6th position, was being asked to swap places with Perez to earn an extra 2 points so that Perez could better his chances in the championship battle against Leclerc. Verstappen ignored the request. This caused some ripples in the airwaves, but I can assure you that Max would not be champion if he gave anything away. I'm not saying I agree with him, but he is the number one driver, and that's more evident than ever.

Further comments indicate that this hinted towards retribution after the Monaco drama, which prevented Verstappen from getting pole after Perez crashed. Either way, it wasn't good to see from a sportsmanship perspective, and Red Bull's chalice looks poisoned. All this gives you a slight glimpse into these high-performance environments' toxicity and the cutthroat nature of the sport. It makes a desk job at a big corporate company seem like an episode of Barney the Dinosaur.

For one last time in 2022, we'll see F1 cars as the season finale heads to Abu Dhabi this week on the 20 November. Less flair is expected, but as we saw in Brazil, just because the Championship and Constructor battles are over doesn't mean it will be any less exciting. Leclerc and Perez enter the weekend matched on points, 290 apiece. Could Verstappen save some face and help Perez? I wouldn't place any bets on it, but it's possible. Obrigado, Brazil

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