Max Verstappen survived a flurry of first-lap drama in the Brazilian Grand Prix and never looked in doubt as he strolled to a record-breaking 17th win of the season around Interlagos, controlling the pace throughout to extend Lando Norris’ wait for his first win in Formula One.
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The Dutchman is now 266 points clear at the top of the World Drivers’ Championship but his thirst for victories seems unquenchable, while Sergio Perez boosted his chances of finishing second in the standings with a fine drive to fourth, although he was only five-hundredths of a second off a podium after a dramatic drag race to the chequered flag.
The drama began on the formation lap as Charles Leclerc suffered a hydraulic failure on his way to the grid, crashing into the barriers before the race had even began and continuing a dreadful run of form.
The Monegasque driver has either retired, been disqualified or failed to start five times this season and, with teammate Carlos Sainz finishing sixth on Sunday, Leclerc’s misfortune leaves him 22 points behind the Spaniard heading into the final two races of the season.
There was more to come on the opening lap, however, as Alex Albon was clipped by Nico Hulkenberg on the sprint to the first corner, catapulting the Williams driver into Hulkenberg’s teammate Kevin Magnussen and proving the catalyst for a spectacular crash.
They were not the only mechanical casualties, with Oscar Piastri receiving a shunt from behind that broke his rear wing and Daniel Ricciardo’s rear wing being damaged by an errant tyre. The resulting red flag allowed McLaren and AlphaTauri to repair the maimed cars but Piastri and Ricciardo were a lap down from the restart and effectively used for testing by the teams.
With chaos unfolding behind them, Verstappen got a good getaway to set himself up for a dominant drive to the chequered flag which never looked in doubt.
He finished eight seconds ahead of Norris and looked to have plenty of performance left in the tank should the McLaren start to close the gap, although Norris’ drive was a statement of intent in its own right.
The 23-year-old rocketed from sixth on the grid to second on the first corner and finished some 34 seconds ahead of third-placed Fernando Alonso for his sixth second-place finish of the season, all of which have come since Silverstone in July.
After taking the silver medal in Saturday’s Sprint, Norris has edged ahead of Sainz into fifth-place in the World Drivers’ Championship and will now have his eyes on Alonso just three points ahead of him. Including Sprints, Norris has now stood on the podium seven times in the last nine events and the dominant Red Bull will feel the papaya team are potentially their closest challengers as they begin to think about next season.
Further down the pecking order, Mercedes suffered from a lack of pace throughout and saw Lewis Hamilton and George Russell getting in the way of one another for large portions of the race, with a miserable day rounded up by an eighth-place finish for Hamilton and a late retirement for Russell.
While the middle portion of the Brazilian Grand Prix was largely uneventful, viewers were treated to a multi-lap battle for the final step on the podium as Perez desperately tried to get ahead of Alonso, culminating in a thrilling sprint to the chequered flag on the final lap.
The veteran Aston Martin driver produced a stunning defensive drive to hold the faster Red Bull at bay for 10 laps but the battle looked to have swung in Perez’s favour in the final two laps as the Mexican dived down the inside at Turn 1 to take the position.
Alonso was not about to give up the game, though. Sticking with the Red Bull and benefitting from DRS, he unsuccessfully tried to retake the position twice before finally succeeding at Turn 4 on the final lap.
This left just one real opportunity for Perez to claim his first podium since Italy, but the under-pressure driver narrowly lost out in a thrilling drag race to the finish line.
It has been a sensational, record-breaking season from Red Bull's Max Verstappen, and he will be eyeing up a 17th victory of the 2023 Formula 1 campaign at Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
Along with his 16 wins this term, the Dutchman has also finished runner-up twice - in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan - while his worst finish came in Singapore when he was fifth.
Verstappen was fastest in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix and also won the sprint format of the weekend after passing Lando Norris' McLaren at the start, providing further evidence of his superiority this season.
Preparing to start at the head of the grid for the 11th time this year, the question is can anyone manage to knock the 26-year-old off his perch at the Autodromo Jose Carlo Pace, Sao Paulo, Brazil?
|What||Brazilian Grand Prix|
|Where||Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Sao Paulo|
|When||17:00, Sunday 5th November|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 1/8, Lando Norris 8/1, Lewis Hamilton 16/1, Sergio Perez 28/1, Charles Leclerc|
It is quite the feat when a driver in a single F1 season has chalked up 16 victories and only finished outside of the podium once, and that is exactly what Verstappen can say heading into the 20th race of the campaign on Sunday.
The Dutchman has been on another level to the rest of the field and he has racked up 499 points, leaving him 253 ahead of teammate and nearest rival Sergio Perez.
Of the 10 previous times Verstappen has started on pole this year, he has gone on to win each race, and it is hard to look past anything other than another triumph for the world champion.
Seven of his 16 victories have also seen him record the fastest lap and the on the 26-year-old to claim the spoils in Brazil and set the quickest time in the Fastest Lap and Win Race market looks to be the best value when picking out a bet for the Red Bull star.
It has not been the season Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was hoping for and, heading into Sunday’s race in Brazil, he sits seventh in the Drivers’ Championship.
The Monegasque has been a regular points finisher in this campaign, only failing to record a top-10 result five times, while he has grabbed a podium spot on three occasions.
He was third in Azerbaijan and Belgium before claiming bronze last time out in Mexico, which suggests Leclerc is starting to click at this late stage of the year.
Coming towards the end of his first season with Alpine, the Frenchman has enjoyed some positive moments across the year, with a third-place finish in the Netherlands the highlight.
He has also recorded a further nine top-10 finishes and the 27-year-old currently sits 10th in the Drivers' Championship, three points ahead of Canadian Lance Stroll in 11th.
Gasly was 13th in both qualifying and the sprint for the Brazilian GP and he wasn't far behind the next four of five drivers above him in the standings.
The Alpine driver only just missed out on a points finish last time out in Mexico, ending up 11th, and there is every chance he can make amends in Sao Paulo.
While Max Verstappen has already sealed his third-successive World Drivers’ Championship, there is plenty to keep an eye on below him in the standings.
Most notably, Lewis Hamilton is chasing Sergio Perez for second place, while only 32 points separate fourth-place Carlos Sainz from eighth-place George Russell.
Every point matters at this stage of the season and, with points on offer for the top eight of Saturday’s Sprint, there is the potential for action on a track known to provide plenty of overtaking opportunities.
There is no denying that the gap between Red Bull and the chasing pack is closing as we near the end of the season but one thing that has remained unchanged over the course of the year is Max Verstappen’s brilliance.
The Dutchman, who sealed the World Drivers’ Championship in Qatar, has won a record-breaking 16 Grands Prix this season and took his 11th pole position of the campaign on Friday, despite trailing behind first Russell and then Lando Norris in Q1 and Q2 respectively.
In a storm-hit Q3 session, Verstappen put in what he described as a terrible lap but still ended up three-tenths clear of Charles Leclerc, who will accompany him on the front row for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Friday’s rain-hit Q3 session resulted in a mixed-up grid order for Sunday’s race but with dry conditions expected throughout Saturday the true pace of the cars should shine through and one of the surprise packages of the weekend could be McLaren.
The papaya team have made huge strides during the course of the season but some expected them to struggle with the plethora of low and medium-speed corners around Interlagos.
Fortunately for Norris and Oscar Piastri, that does not seem to be the case. They both suffered horrid Q3 runs, with Piastri going off on the damp track, but prior to that they were showing remarkable pace.
Norris was top of the timing charts in Q2 and looked capable of challenging for pole position before the stormy weather rolled in. With six podiums between them in the last five Grands Prix and a further two Sprint podiums, including Piastri’s maiden Formula One win in Qatar, they are to claim a double-podium finish on Saturday.
After a phenomenal start to the season, there’s no denying that Aston Martin have had a tough time of things of late.
Their car development seemed to take them backwards in comparison to the rest of the field and neither Fernando Alonso or Lance Stroll have managed any better than sixth-place in the last six races.
However, Friday saw them mixing in with the big boys again and they could be in for a solid haul of points as they battle with McLaren for fourth in the World Constructors’ Championship.
Alonso and Stroll both lapped within a tenth of Leclerc in Q1 and will start alongside each other on the second row in Sunday’s Grand Prix. Both drivers look comfortable in their car around Interlagos and are priced at to take a double-points finish in the Sprint.
For the third time in four races, it's a sprint weekend for the Brazilian Grand Prix. That means a frantic start for the teams, who get just a single one-hour practice session before qualifying.
Computer simulations are so accurate now that teams get a good idea of how to set their cars up, but a race circuit is a constantly evolving beast and important factors such as tyre longevity are tough to gauge from just a single hour's running.
There was clear illustration of the challenges at the last sprint weekend in Texas, where Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified from the race as their cars had been set up to run lower than the regulations allow during the race.
The 2023 season has been all about Max Verstappen, and the Red Bull pilot collected his 16th Grand Prix win of the season in Mexico last week.
On top of that, the three-time world champion has won three of the five sprints.
However, the Dutch ace has been at his most vulnerable in qualifying, starting only three of the last nine Grands Prix from pole position.
The rushed nature of sprint qualifying seems to suit Verstappen though. He set the fastest time in Austria, Belgium and Qatar, and while he started only sixth in Austin, his best laptime was deleted as he had strayed outside the track boundary.
Had the lap stood, Verstappen would have been on pole there too, so it is no great surprise her is just 1/2 to go fastest again in Brazil.
Charles Leclerc has started the last two races from pole position, but the Monegasque ace is 9/1 to make it a hat-trick.
A strong opening day in Austin saw Leclerc take a deserved pole, but he had not looked particularly competitive through most of the session in Mexico City last time.
However, a sudden drop in temperature seemed to cause the Ferrari to come alive, as Leclerc was joined on the front row by his team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Sainz himself scored back-to-back pole positions in Italy and Singapore and the Ferrari has generally been at its strongest over a single lap.
It was in Brazil last year that Mercedes scored their most recent victory, but while they haven't been able to build on that this season, they are finishing the year with some decent form.
Lewis Hamilton is 20 points behind Sergio Perez in the race for second, while the team are all out to keep their 22-point lead over Ferrari intact in the constructors' championship.
The car is stronger in race trim than over one lap, but Hamilton did score a pole position in Hungary at a circuit not totally dissimilar to Interlagos.
Norris has been one of the more consistent racers ever since the team introduced a significant upgrade halfway through the season and while he has yet to claim a pole position this term, Norris has had top-three starts at Silverstone, Hungary, the Netherlands, Japan and Texas.
He failed to set a representative time in Qatar or Mexico, having laps deleted for exceeding track limits, and there is potential for drivers to fall foul of that rule in Brazil.
However, having seemingly re-established himself as the team's number one after some strong performances from Oscar Piastri during the Asian swing, Norris could outrun his odds in qualifying.
Sergio Perez is under pressure for his future with Red Bull and the prospect of another sprint format weekend won't fill the Mexican with joy.
Although he started on the front row in Belgium, Perez's qualifying form figures from the other four Friday sessions reads 3-15-13-9.
On a weekend where more points than usual are up for grabs, Perez needs a consistent performance, but his 25/1 quote for pole position reflects his recent struggles.