Valtteri Bottas will start the Sao Paulo Grand Prix from pole position after beating Max Verstappen to sprint victory in Interlagos. Lewis Hamilton, who started at the back of the grid after being thrown out of qualifying with an illegal rear wing, gained 15 places to finish fifth.
Bottas got a great launch with soft tires from second on the grid while polesitter Verstappen struggled on the mediums. By Turn 1 the Finn was easily into the lead, leaving the Dutchman to fend off advances from Carlos Sainz, who slipped into second exiting Turn 4, where the Red Bull ran wide on cold tires.
It took a couple of laps for the medium rubber to warm up in the cool temperature, the track sinking to just 95 degrees F after a warmer morning practice. By the end of lap three Verstappen was sizing up Sainz for second, taking back the place from the Spaniard on the pit straight and into Turn 1, before chipping away to Bottas’s lead, the leaders sprinting around a second a lap quicker than the field.
It was a cat-and-mouse finish to the race, with Bottas’s delicate soft tires inviting Verstappen to force the issue, but he never got good enough drive onto the front straight to launch a move into Turn 1, settling for second place and two points behind grand prix polesitter Bottas.
“We gambled a little but with the soft tire,” admitted Bottas. “We knew it would be a benefit at the start, and it worked. Then it was all about trying to survive to the end. I’m glad it worked perfectly.”
Verstappen was satisfied to extend his title lead to 21 points on a track he described as difficult to overtake around.
“To put energy [into the tire] around here wasn’t the easiest,” he said, describing his difficulties at the start. “The pace was quite good, but around here you close, you can’t really pass. But it’s OK.”
Carlos Sainz was dropped to third ahead of Sergio Perez but was determined not to sink into the field. It was bad news for the Mexican, who struggled to make an impression on the Ferrari. The pair rapidly lost touch with the lead, and despite his worn tires, Sainz held on for third on the grid.
“The first three corners I just went into attack, I was always trying to make positions,” he said. “Then it was suffering a bit with the softs until the end.
“It was always on the limit into Turn 1, always very, very tight. But the pace was good, we managed well the tires, and we made it.”
The steadfast Spaniard was good news for Lewis Hamilton, who trying desperately to recover from a back-of-grid start. The Briton made up five places on the opening lap and was up to 12th by lap five, and the bunched field kept him in touching distance of fifth place.
On lap 13 he was into the top 10, and four laps later he’d scythed into seventh and the three-second gap behind Charles Leclerc.
He got past the Monegasque on lap 20 and began pursuit of Lando Norris for fifth, who he pushed past on the penultimate lap with a gutsy late move on the brakes on the last lap to secure the place.
His 15 passes in 30 minutes was supreme damage limitation for Hamilton, who will start the grand prix 10th after serving a five-place penalty for an engine change.
Norris held sixth ahead of Leclerc and Gasly, the midfield leaders thoroughly outclassed by the Mercedes car, with Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel completing the top 10, though all five will start one place further up after Hamilton’s penalty.
Daniel Ricciardo will start 11th ahead of Fernando Alonso, who dropped three places on the opening laps on his way to 12th.
Antonio Giovinazzi headed Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda, with Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi and George Russell 16th and 17th.
Kimi Raikkonen was spun around after making contact with teammate Giovinazzi on the second lap, dropping from 13th to the back before recovering to 18th ahead of Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 13, 2021