The Formula 1® calendar wraps up its final triple-header of the season with the Sao Paulo Grand Prix (November 3-5), where a classic old-school circuit plays host to the last instalment of the Sprint format this year, and where Red Bull Racing has a rare score to settle.
Interlagos last year is what Singapore will be known as this year – a rare time where the sport’s dominant force stumbled. Red Bull has won 28 of the past 30 Grands Prix, but didn’t win either the Sprint or the main race in Brazil last year, George Russell taking both for Mercedes for his first F1® victories.
Whether it’s the echoes of Brazilian drivers of the past, the memories of Ayrton Senna that greet you at every turn, the endless madcap title deciders (think Lewis Hamilton in 2008, and Sebastian Vettel in 2012 to name but two), things just happen at Interlagos. The circuit isn’t a modern layout with acres of run-off, the facilities are a bit ramshackle and the whole event has a throwback vibe, but it’s always unmissable – throw in the stormy weather that’s bound to lash the track with rain at least once on the weekend, and it’s a recipe for entertainment.
Talking points for this weekend? After Mexico, there’s plenty – here’s our favourite trio.
Checo’s perfect storm
Speaking of storms … could there have been a worse time for Sergio Perez to so spectacularly turn the spotlight on himself after last weekend’s first-lap retirement at his home race? A repeat of the podiums for Red Bull in Mexico in 2021 and 2022 would have been considered the minimum requirement for a team with as dominant a car as Red Bull; instead, his heart-over-head first-corner lunge at Charles Leclerc smacked of a little desperation, and portrayed a man under the pump.
It didn’t help that Daniel Ricciardo had outqualified Perez – in an AlphaTauri that sat dead-last in the constructors’ standings before Ricciardo’s seventh place single-handedly saw the Red Bull ‘B’ team leapfrog Haas and Alfa Romeo to eighth – and it hurt more when Max Verstappen crushed the field twice – once before the mid-race red flag caused by Kevin Magnussen’s crashed Haas, and again after it – to win a record 16th race in one season.
Perez’s post-race interviews gave an insight into his mindset, and there’s no question he’s massively under pressure. The Mexican was under scrutiny as it was, but expect his performance this weekend to be more under the microscope than usual, particularly if Ricciardo can go some way towards replicating his Mexico speed.
The Sprint picture
Like them, loathe them or plain shrug your shoulders at them, Sprint races in F1® are here to stay – in what format, what quantities and with what tweaks remain to be seen, mind you. But with Sao Paulo set to host the sixth and final Sprint this year, the results of the short-form races in isolation so far in 2023 making for interesting reading.
Of the 180 points available across the five Sprints in Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar and Austin, it’s no surprise that Verstappen has the most, 37 of them including three wins and three poles (sorry, first place in the ‘Sprint Shootout’) to his name. From there, things get strange.
Carlos Sainz, fourth in the championship as a whole for Ferrari, sits second in the Sprint-only standings (21 points), while Perez is third (19). Fourteen drivers have scored points, while anomalous results include Oscar Piastri out-scoring McLaren teammate Lando Norris (15-14) despite Norris leading the Aussie rookie by 82 points across the season, and one-third of Nico Hulkenberg’s tally for Haas coming in the Sprint in Austria, where he finished sixth and pocketed three of his nine points this year.
Russell, one year on
It’s been 51 weeks since Russell took that breakthrough pair of wins at Interlagos, beating Mercedes teammate Hamilton in both races as Red Bull suffered rare fumbles in both Brazil starts.
It was the undoubted high point of a stellar first campaign at a true A-list team for the Brit, who took on and beat Hamilton over the season to give us a clearer picture of his quality that wasn’t easy to ascertain after three seasons scrapping for crumbs at Williams. His 2023 encore? That’s been more problematic.
Hamilton leads Russell 220-151 this season coming into this third-last round, and has six podiums to his younger compatriot’s one, even with losing a second-place result in Austin two races ago because of his Mercedes failing a post-race scrutineering check. Russell has absorbed the worst of the duo’s luck – think Australia and particularly Singapore, when he crashed out of third place on the final lap – but he’s not kicked on this year as many observers felt was certain.
That Hamilton is lurking behind Perez to steal second in the championship in a car that can’t hold a candle to the Red Bull says plenty about the seven-time world champion (and Perez); with that in mind, you can expect Mercedes – and Russell himself – would be slightly peeved to be eighth in the drivers’ standings as he returns to the scene of his greatest success.