Sao Paulo Grand Prix – George Russell took a lights to flag victory for his first F1 victory as he led Mercedes to their first win and first 1-2 of the year.
After beating Max Verstappen and polesitter Kevin Magnussen in the Sprint yesterday, George Russell will be starting P1 for today’s race as he hopes to follow up his first F1 win yesterday with his first Grand Prix victory.
The soft tyres were once again the favourite for the start but unlike the Sprint where only two drivers went for something different, there was more variety today – Charles Leclerc P5, Carlos Sainz P7, Magnussen P8, Mick Schumacher P12, Lance Stroll P15, Fernando Alonso P17, Nicholas Latifi P18 and Yuki Tsunoda, who will be starting from the pits after changing his floor, front and rear wings overnight – will all be on the mediums while Alex Albon, the last on the grid, in P19 will be the sole driver starting on the hards.
With an all-Mercedes front row with an all Red Bull second row thanks to Sainz’ five place penalty, there was no change to the top four but behind them Lando Norris, birthday boy, got the better of Leclerc at the start to move his McLaren to P5.
Things didn’t go as well for the other McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo as he tagged the back of Magnussen which sent the Haas spinning which saw it collect the Australian as he tried to get around him. The Safety Car was called out to recover the two stranded cars.
On lap 5, while the Safety Car was still out, Albon took to the pits to swap his hard tyres for mediums. Meanwhile Leclerc had been in contact with his team after having felt something strange with his engine but Ferrari responded that there was nothing they could do at the moment but it was not a problem.
The race resumed at the start of lap 7 but it was all change as Verstappen and Hamilton collided as the Dutchman was trying to go down the inside of the Mercedes at T2 while a few corners later Leclerc and Norris came together, their wheels touched and the Ferrari went into the wall. All cars were able to continue though with Hamilton dropping towards the lower end of the points positions while Verstappen and Leclerc had to pit and rejoined at the back.
Norris didn’t get to enjoy P3 for long as Sainz overtook him and set his sights on Sergio Perez and Russell ahead. The Stewards looked at both incidents and decided that Verstappen and Norris were at fault and were each handed five second penalties.
Hamilton had made it back up to P4 at the start of lap 15, passing Norris and starting to close in on Sainz in P3. A couple of laps later Norris dropped back further as Sebastian Vettel flew past the papaya car for P5.
Lap 18 saw the first of the front runners head to the pits, Sainz swapping from the mediums to the softs while his right rear brake was billowing smoke. Ferrari clarified that there was a tear-off in the brake duct which was causing a problem and had to be removed during the stop. The Spaniard rejoined in P12.
Second placed driver Perez headed to the pits on lap 24 to swap to the mediums, he rejoined in P6 and the race leader followed his lead on the next lap which saw Hamilton take over at the front while Russell got back out in P2 though he did have to hold off Vettel to keep that spot.
That kicked off the first round of stops for the majority of the grid with Norris and Verstappen having to serve their time penalties when they pitted. Hamilton and the Aston Martins, in P3 and P6, were the last to take fresh rubber. Vettel came back out in P9 after changing to mediums on lap 27.
Three laps later, Hamilton made his stop switching to mediums and rejoining in P4, over seven seconds behind Sainz. Stroll followed the Mercedes in as the last driver to get rid of their starting tyres and the Canadian fell back to P15.
Russell was back at the head of the pack, five seconds clear of Perez, while Hamilton started setting fastest laps to begin reeling in P3. As Hamilton had closed the gap to just over a second and a half, Sainz pitted for a second time to change back to the mediums. The Ferrari racer slotted back into P4 behind Hamilton.
On lap 44, car 44 was right on the rear wing of car 11 and the battle for P2 was on. Perez managed to hold off Hamitlon over that lap but DRS over the start-finish straight saw the seven-time champion take the position, ten seconds behind the race leader.
Sainz moved back onto the podium on lap 48 when Perez changed to new mediums while a lap later the Spaniard was P2 as Mercedes called Hamilton in for fresh tyres despite their driver saying he was happy on the tyre he had. Hamilton was back out seven seconds behind Sainz on the softs while Russell was also swapped onto the red ring tyres and almost lost track position to Ferrari when he rejoined only a second ahead of the scarlet car.
The yellow flags were back out on lap 52 when Norris ground to a halt on track, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed and Ferrari brought Sainz in to stick on softs for the end of the race and that dropped him back to P4 again with 3.5 seconds between him and Perez. While the marshals struggled to push the car out of danger, the full Safety Car was deployed on lap 54 which closed the pack right up again.
Behind the Safety Car Russell queried as to whether he and Hamilton would be racing or just bringing the cars home for a safe 1-2. Despite the tough year Mercedes had had they told Russell that there he and Hamilton would be racing each other and that they just had to be respectful.
Things were slightly different at Alpine though as Ocon in P8, ahead of Alonso, was told not to fight with his teammate as the Spaniard had the tyre advantage. The French driver said that he wouldn’t obstruct Alonso but that’d have to wait until things calmed down as he had his eye on Vettel ahead. Ocon did indeed get the better of the Aston Martin driver at the start and then let his teammate through when he got up behind him.
The track went green again on lap 60, confusingly Tsunoda hadn’t been told he could unlap himself as the two Williams drivers had been, and was out of position in the middle of the pack so he pulled to the side on the start-finish to keep himself out of the way.
Once the DRS came into play Sainz used that to help himself past Perez to take P3 on lap 63. The Red Bull racer was on old medium tyres and couldn’t hold off the soft clad cars around him and Leclerc also made his way past on the following lap.
At the front Russell had just managed to eek out enough to keep himself out of DRS range when it was reactivated after the Safety Car and there was no challenge from Hamilton as he couldn’t get close enough so Russell took the chequered flag first for the first time in a Grand Prix.
Hamilton was second while Sainz was third though Leclerc won’t be happy with P4 as he wanted Ferrari to swap their positions at the end to assist him in his battle for P2 in the championship but was told it was too risky.
Alonso, having been unimpeded by his teammate used his fresher softs than those around him to move up to P5 and was just able to hold on from Verstappen at the end. Red Bull had asked the Dutch driver to give the position back to Perez if he wasn’t able to get past Alonso but Verstappen did end in P6 0.495 seconds behind the Alpine racer and four seconds ahead of his teammate.
Radio messages between Red Bull and Verstappen after the chequered flag saw the team asking why he hadn’t given the place back to Perez to which he responded “I told you already last time. You guys don’t ask that again to me, okay? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons. And I stand by it.”
Ocon came home in P8 with Valtteri Bottas behind while the final point went to Stroll. The fastest lap of the day went to Russell, a 1:13.785.