Russell fights past Verstappen for first F1 victory in Brazil GP sprint

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Russell fights past Verstappen for first F1 victory in Brazil GP sprint

Formula 1

Russell fights past Verstappen for first F1 victory in Brazil GP sprint


George Russell has won his first Formula 1 race after a thrilling duel with Max Verstappen for victory in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix sprint.

Russell started third behind pole-getter Kevin Magnussen and Verstappen in second, but the Dutchman was the only driver among the frontrunners to start on the medium tire, giving him a grip disadvantage off the line.

The Briton attempted to take second from him immediately at the start, and again through the first lap, but was constantly rebuffed. By the start of the second lap, Verstappen’s yellow tires were up to temperature and he set his sights forward to the lead.

Having broken free of the Mercedes advances, the Dutchman charged Magnussen up the hill to the start-finish line and relieved him of the lead into the first corner. Russell snatched second place later that lap to keep Verstappen honest.

It took Russell until lap 12 to get himself into a rhythm to attack for the lead, twice attempting to take Verstappen around the outside of the first turn, but on lap 15 he adjusted his approach with a clean run through the esses for a better launch out of Turn 3.

He was easily past the Red Bull Racing car by the time they hit the brakes for Turn 4, through into the lead, and with his soft tires still alive he was able to build a comfortable 3.9s advantage by the end of the sprint.

“It was incredible,” Russell said afterward. “I wasn’t expecting to have that much pace. It just goes to show all the hard work that everyone’s putting in and the progress we and the team have made.”

Verstappen’s afternoon was only going to get worse. He reported running over some debris, and on lap 20 Carlos Sainz launched an aggressive move down the inside of the first turn. The Ferrari’s right-rear tire kissed Verstappen’s left front wing endplate, which exploded spectacularly on the run out of Turn 3.

It put Lewis Hamilton in position to launch a move on the stricken car, and by the end of the same lap he was up into a podium position.

Sainz immediately reported that his soft tires were starting to fade, and it was all he could do to hold second place ahead of Hamilton by just 0.8s.

“I think P2 was the maximum today,” said the Spaniard. “I was happy with the race, happy with the pace. It looks like the Mercs have picked up the pace a lot recently, and they are very quick in the race.”

Sainz will start Sunday’s grand prix seventh after serving a five-place penalty for an engine change, promoting Hamilton to second place for a Mercedes front-row lockout.

Hamilton’s race was reminiscent of his overtaking demonstration in last year’s Brazil sprint. He picked up four places in the first six laps to put himself withing striking distance of the podium before taking third late in the race.

“I’m so, so happy to be here,” he said. “To be on the front row tomorrow is incredible. From there we should be able to work as a team and hold off…the guys behind.”

Verstappen slipped to fourth and just 1.4s ahead of teammate Sergio Perez.

Perez asked the pit wall if the Dutchman would switch positions to help the team’s stated aim to secure him second in the standings, but his request was rebuffed, and he came home fifth.

Charles Leclerc recovered from 10th to sixth, including two places from the warring Alpine drivers, who took each other out of the race in an early skirmish.

Fernando Alonso attempted a move around the outside of Esteban Ocon at Turn 4 on the first lap but suffered a snap of oversteer over the kerbs. He tapped Ocon’s right sidepod with his front wing but managed to keep on track to hold what was then seventh. He then slipstreamed the Frenchman up the hill but bizarrely appeared to pull out of the tow too late, breaking his front wing on the sister car’s rear tires.

Pitting for repairs, the former World Champion dropped to the back of the pack. Ocon plummeted down the order in the following laps. They finished 15th and 18th respectively.

It was great news for Lando Norris, who slipped from fourth to seventh as his battle with food poisoning continued. His two points reduced McLaren’s gap to Alpine to five points in the fight for fourth in the constructors standings.

Pole-sitter Magnussen finished eighth to score the final point of the sprint.

Sebastian Vettel finished ninth after being pushed off track in an illegal defensive move from teammate Lance Stroll, which earnt the Canadian a 10s penalty that dropped him to 17th.

Pierre Gasly completed the top 10 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Mick Schumacher and Alfa Romeo teammates Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas.

Alonso headed Yuki Tsunoda, Stroll and Ocon. Nicholas Latifi finished 19th and last of the finishers, with Williams teammate Alex Albon the only retirement.

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