► Another sprint weekend
► But both races deliver
► Controversy on and off the track, again
Well, that was good, wasn’t it? The 2022 Brazilian GP was destined to be a damp squib compared to the blockbuster that was last year’s thriller – just like this season has been – but yesterday’s race was anything but. Sure, it didn’t have the against-all-odds narrative, the driving masterclass or the high stakes of the 2021 race, but it was certainly eventful. And whisper it; even the Sprint race format delivered this time, didn’t it?
Like last year, the Interlagos circuit hosted not one but two races; first practice and qualifying got bumped to Friday, while Saturday was FP2 and a shorter sprint race. The main event was the full-length race, which stayed on Sunday. George Russell ended up taking the sprint race win, followed by Sainz and then Hamilton, and both Red Bulls lacked pace. That was ultimately proven on Sunday, when Mercedes took a one-two (and their first win of the season) with Russell finishing ahead of Hamilton and Sainz.
So, what did we learn over 1.5 races in Brazil? Keep reading to find out.
1. Russell gets his first win
It was always coming, and very nearly did in Bahrain 2020, but it finally happened in Brazil; George Russell is now a race winner – and a sprint winner too. Following a fortuitous crash that gave him third on the grid, Russell was able to use Mercedes’ newfound pace to overtake Verstappen in the sprint race – and that was arguably the hardest part of his weekend.
After a strong start from pole, his competition tripped over itself (more on that later) and the Englishman was able to manage his tyres and pace to perfection. Two safety car restarts made things a little tricker, but ultimately Russell drove an experienced and measured drive. It’s good news for Mercedes, but even better news for Russell.
2. Is Mercedes back?
It’s hard to say, and in many ways it doesn’t really matter right now. With just one race left, this victory was more about salvaging positivity from the 2022 season more than anything else, while also testing some concepts for the 2023 car. In that respect, it appears the team from Brackley now has some positive answers.
Although the last key update for the W13 came back in Austin, it appears fine-tuning this weekend unlocked even more pace than the team initially expected. Either way, a strong end to the year could mean two things; either Mercedes is on an upward trajectory, or it’s burning resources in the present instead of looking to next year. Personally, I think it’s a little from both column A and B: perhaps Mercedes still believes the W13 has some lessons for 2023.
3. War at Alpine
Alonso seems to bring speed, experience, and drama to every team he joins; and this weekend’s race was not short of Alpine-based drama. Both drivers managed to hit each other not once, but twice, on Saturday’s sprint race, with Ocon’s car ultimately catching fire in the pitlane afterwards. That meant the French team was only able to convert its 6th and 7th positions to 15th and 18th.
It’s the latest in an ongoing war of words between Alonso and his current team; only a few weeks ago he drew attention to just how many mechanical failures his Alpine has had, and how many points he’s lost as a result. Things could be better for the Spaniard next year at Aston Martin, but it’s very unlikely – especially when you look at the dynamic between Stroll and the outgoing Vettel.
4. Ferrari’s second place at stake
After a one-two from Mercedes, Ferrari now finds itself just 19 points ahead of the Silver Arrows. Another weekend like this, and Ferrari could find itself finishing the season in third place once again. If so, it’d be a fittingly disappointing conclusion to another year that promised much, but ultimately failed to deliver.
The problem seems to lie in several areas: strategically the team is usually vague or confused, and the F1-75 also appears to eat its tyres much faster than any other front-running car – a huge faux pas in F1’s ‘management era.’ Add in poor reliability and the odd poorly-timed mistake from both drivers, and you’ve a recipe for another collapse.
Team principal Mattia Binotto is already talking about 2023, though he was talking about 2022 this time last year, too. Is Ferrari destined to fade out from title-challenger to third fastest next year too? We’ll find out this time in 2023.
5. A scrappy race for McLaren
McLaren and Alpine are locked in a mammoth battle for 4th place, but both teams seemed content to throwing away points this weekend. While the Alpine drivers were swapping paintwork, Woking’s drivers preferred to take out the opposition. First a late move from Ricciardo’s McLaren tipped Magnussen into a spin, only for the Dane’s car to roll back into the McLaren. Double DNF.
Next, an unusually clumsy move from Lando Norris saw Leclerc’s Ferrari speeding into the wall, but both drivers’ continued. The carnage means both Norris and Ricciardo face penalties heading into the season finale.
6. Verstappen still Verstappen
Verstappen may have had an easier journey to his second championship, but it seems he’s lost none of the aggression and unsportsmanlike behaviour that defined his first. Clearly one of the most gifted and fastest drivers the sport has seen, it appears even in 2022 the Dutchman has issues when wheel-to-wheel racing with cars of a similar pace – or maybe just Lewis Hamilton.
There was contact with Sainz in the sprint, but on Sunday things got worse. After a safety car restart, the Dutchman had a huge lunge into the first two corners, ultimately causing damage to Hamilton’s car – and any real possibility of win. Verstappen received a 5 second penalty for the contact, but later he shed light on the collision in an interview.
‘To be honest I went around the outside and I immediately felt he was not going to leave space, so I just went for it,’ Verstappen told Sky. ‘He didn’t leave me space, so I knew we were going to get together. It cost him the race win, for me it gave me five seconds.’
F1 has always lived with the idea of professional fouls, or collisions that seem to be calculated in some way; just think about Senna and Prost at Suzuka, or Schumacher in 1994, or 1997 for that matter. Those weren’t great, but this might be the first time a driver has actually admitted to not avoiding a collision, and weighing up the benefits of doing so.
Reports of Verstappen cleaning up his race craft may have been premature, as this latest manoeuvre appears to be from his 2021 move list.
7. Verstappen still Verstappen (cont)
Hamilton summed up his collision with Verstappen by saying ‘you know how it is with Max,’ but that quote could’ve also applied to the way he also treated his teammate, Sergio Perez. When asked to give his position to Perez – to help the Mexican secure second place – Verstappen gave an interesting answer:
‘I told you already last [time?], guys, don’t ask that again to me. Okay? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons, and I stand by it.’
What that means exactly, we aren’t sure – though paddock rumours suggest it has something to do with Perez’s possibly ‘deliberate’ crash in the Monaco GP qualifying session earlier this year. Unsubstantiated rumours suggest that Perez crashed on purpose, halting Verstappen’s shot at pole position – and that the Dutchman has been annoyed ever since.
Even with both titles wrapped up, it seems the Milton Keynes team has yet another controversy on the horizon.