The best of the action from a dramatic Sprint at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix
Max Verstappen’s showing in the Sprint on Saturday might have looked ominous but there are several reasons for believing Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix could be completely different.
Verstappen, who will start Sunday’s race from pole, passed Lando Norris into the first corner at Interlagos before easing to victory by a margin of four seconds over the McLaren, with his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in third.
The fact Mercedes’ George Russell in fourth finished more than 25 seconds back from Verstappen in the 24-lap contest would suggest Norris is the only driver capable of challenging the world champion on Sunday, but the Brit will start from only sixth on the grid.
Russell, who claimed his only F1 victory in Brazil last year, has an even greater task after a two-place penalty for impeding in the pit lane exit dropped him back to eighth on the grid.
Lando Norris retakes second spot in the Sprint as he overtakes George Russell in Sao Paulo
Mercedes had come into the weekend hopeful of repeating their 2022 Sao Paulo speed but were left baffled by a level of performance on Saturday Russell described as “pretty awful”.
Despite a negative feel around the team on Saturday evening, Russell explained the forecast of a three degrees Celsius drop in temperature for Sunday’s race could create a totally new playing field.
“So I don’t know going into tomorrow [Sunday],” he told Sky Sports F1 after the Sprint. “Right now, obviously we’re not too optimistic, but conditions are different and that can totally change everything.
Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz is in the paddock to review all the big talking points from an eventful Sao Paulo Sprint
“I’m 100 per cent sure it will look different [on Sunday] because it’s three degrees different, which sounds like nothing and should be nothing, but in these F1 cars with these tyres, it’s everything.
“So fingers crossed it changes everything for the better for us, but of course there’s no guarantees.”
Verstappen: Rivals will have learnt from Sprint
Verstappen, who is seeking a record-extending 17th victory of the season after wrapping up a third successive drivers’ title, is not taking anything for granted.
The Dutchman produced a similarly dominant performance in last month’s Sprint at the United States Grand Prix before being pushed much closer in the race by Hamilton and Norris.
While Verstappen always appeared in control at Interlagos on Saturday, he admitted managing his tyres at the high-degradation circuit had been a significant challenge.
Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez agree Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix will be a very different race compared to the Sprint
“It’s the same for everyone, it’s just the deg is so high that you’re sliding around a lot,” he told Sky Sports F1. “Of course you try to limit that, but it’s tough.
“Tomorrow, also with the full fuel tanks, it’s going to be colder but I think it’s all about managing that.
“Maybe tomorrow is different. I think a lot of teams will learn quite a bit from today, maybe approaching it a bit different for tomorrow.
“So it’s not a given that tomorrow it’s going to be the same like today.”
Leclerc encouraged by Tsunoda display
Starting alongside Verstappen on the front row will be Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who came from seventh on the grid to finish fifth in the Sprint.
After leapfrogging AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda in the opening stages, Leclerc drove a measured race to manage his Ferrari in the hot conditions before catching and passing Hamilton in the latter stages.
While it was quite surprising to see Leclerc failing to pull away from Tsunoda, who also passed Hamilton, the Monegasque actually took encouragement from the AlphaTauri’s display.
The Ferrari drivers are hoping for a better Grand Prix Sunday after struggling for pace in the Sao Paulo Sprint
That’s because, unlike the rest of the points scorers in the Sprint, Tsunoda was on brand new soft tyres. Leclerc could hold a similar advantage on Sunday after sacrificing his chances in the Sprint Shootout to preserve a fresh set for the race.
“I think the pace of Yuki encourages me, seeing that he was on a new soft,” Leclerc told Sky Sports F1.
“We expected them to not have the same pace as us, but with a new soft he was very similarly to our pace.
“So I think it’s a good choice what we’ve done.”
Norris targets ‘overtaking fun’
For a second successive race weekend, McLaren arrived talking down their chances and claiming the track did not suit their car.
Given Norris has been pretty much on a par with the imperious Verstappen throughout the weekend, few will be paying much attention to McLaren’s assessment of their chances in future.
The main reason Norris is not starting from the front row on Sunday is the extraordinary storm that hit the circuit at the start of Q3 on Friday, reshuffling a pack which Norris had been top of in the more regular conditions that Q2 took place in.
McLaren’s Lando Norris says the team should be proud of the progress they’ve made this season, but admits it is difficult to compete with Max Verstappen’s pace
While he was hugely disappointed on Friday evening, and seemed to still be carrying some of that pain into Saturday, the saving grace for Norris is that Interlagos is one of the best tracks for overtaking on the F1 calendar.
“The pace was good,” Norris told Sky Sports F1. “I feel confident we can come through and do some overtaking and have some fun again.
“But with Max starting in pole and me in sixth, it’s definitely a little bit more difficult than it would be today, but we’ll give it a shot.”
Despite his optimism, Norris is also aware the pecking order could change dramatically.
Fernando Alonso comments on the storm that rolled in causing a early finish to qualifying of the Sao Paulo GP
“It’s a different story,” he added. “I don’t think you can just look at today. Of course, you get the initial feelings of pace, on what everyone can achieve.
“It’s just a different situation. If George maybe had a few more laps to get into a good groove and look after the tyres a bit, then maybe he would have been a bit better.
“There’s so many questions marks and it’s still a very different day, depending on weather and wind and all of these things can also affect it quite a bit.”
Provisional grid for the Sao Paulo GP
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
4) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
5) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
6) Lando Norris, McLaren
7) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
8) George Russell, Mercedes
9) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
10) Oscar Piastri, McLaren
11) Nico Hulkenberg, Haas
12) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
13) Alex Albon, Williams
14) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
15) Pierre Gasly, Alpine
16) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
17) Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri
18) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
19) Logan Sargeant, Williams
20) Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo
When to watch the Sao Paulo GP live only on Sky Sports F1
Sunday November 5
- 3.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Sao Paulo GP build-up
- 5pm: THE SAO PAULO GRAND PRIX
- 7pm: Chequered Flag: Sao Paulo GP reaction
- 8pm: Ted’s Notebook
F1 is in Brazil for the final leg of the Americas triple header. Watch the Sao Paulo Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday’s race at 5pm. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW