Max Verstappen claimed a controlled victory at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix after mastering two race starts within four laps, leading home an on-form Lando Norris, while Fernando Alonso staged a masterclass of his own to complete the podium, holding off Sergio Perez.
The high-attrition race started with Charles Leclerc, Verstappen’s fellow front-row starter, crashing out of the formation lap with a hydraulics failure. The Ferrari driver was able to roll his car off the road to avoid delaying the start, but the grand prix lasted less than one lap before being put behind the safety car for a start-line crash.
Nico Hulkenberg tagged Alex Albon’s left-rear tire as they jockeyed for position on the outside edge of the circuit, sending the Williams thumping into Kevin Magnussen in the sister Haas car ahead.
Albon and Magnussen careened out of control into the barriers at the first turn, tagging Oscar Piastri’s McLaren along the way. The shower of debris, including a stray tire carcass, struck Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri, sending both Australians back to their garages for repairs and putting them a lap down.
The big gainers from the chaos were Norris, who got a sizzling start to slot into second behind the untroubled Verstappen, and Lewis Hamilton, who swept around the outside of the pack to take third.
Big starts from Norris and Hamilton were quickly overshadowed by chaos behind. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images
The race was red flagged to sweep the front straight clear of carbon fiber and to repair the barriers, and Verstappen got a second good launch when the race restarted around half an hour later on lap 4. But Norris matched the Dutchman off the line and menaced in the opening laps, clinging to the Red Bull Racing gearbox ahead and building himself up to a lunge for the lead on lap 8.
The Briton got a strong run up the hill to consider a move into Turn 1, and good traction through the esses launched him through the DRS zone and onto Verstappen’s outside into Turn 4. The champion was wise to the move, however, and position his car perfectly to claim the apex, shutting the door and retaining the lead.
Having used the best of his tires in an instant, Norris was unable to redouble his efforts on the next lap, allowing Verstappen to ease to a slender but decisive advantage.
They pitted on the same lap for their first tire changes, and Verstappen pre-empted the second round of stops with 15 laps remaining to stretch his margin to a comfortable 8.2s by the end of the race.
“The whole race was about the management of the tires,” he said. “We were good on every tire, but in the middle stint we could create a bit of a gap. It was a very strong day.”
Norris scored a consolation point for fastest lap of the race, setting a purple time fresh from his finals top more than 0.9s quicker than Verstappen’s best effort.
“It couldn’t have gone much better, to be honest,” he said. “We had good pace, similar to yesterday, which was the main thing. P2 is as good as we can get nowadays and for the time being.”
The battle for third between Alonso and Perez brought the race to life in the closing stages. Zak Mauger/Motorsport Images
Alonso saw off Perez for third place in a memorable last-stint battle for the podium.
Perez was up to sixth after the second standing restart before picking off the ailing Mercedes cars to place himself behind Alonso with 20 laps to go.
Despite fielding a faster car, it took until the penultimate lap for Perez to get the required launch out of Juncao to DRS his way past the Aston Martin into the first turn, but on the final lap he made a critical error on the brakes into the esses, carrying himself a little deep and compromising his exit.
Alonso pounced on his final chance, getting down Perez’s inside at the Turn 4 and squeezing him wide.
Perez’s last chance was up the hill, and he again got a strong launch out of Juncao to rapidly close on the Aston, but he was beaten by the checkered flag, with a photo finish handing Alonso third place by just 0.053s, albeit 34s down on leader Verstappen.
Alonso 🆚 Perez
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 5, 2023
“When he passed me two laps to the end I thought it was gone,” he said. “This is a phenomenal result for the team. We’ve been struggling the last couple of months. We keep fighting until the last lap.”
Perez finished ahead of Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz, the last-remining Ferrari driver hobbled by downshift problems in the final stint.
Pierre Gasly beat Hamilton in a straight fight despite the Briton running third on the opening lap of the race. The Mercedes car was crippled by chronic tire usage that left Hamilton and teammate George Russell defenselessly sliding backwards all afternoon before the latter retired with an overheating power unit.
Yuki Tsunoda moved AlphaTauri into outright eighth in the constructors standings in ninth ahead of Esteban Ocon in 10th, both benefitting from dual Alfa Romeo retirements due to related engine problems.
Logan Sargeant beat Nico Hulkenberg to 11th and 12th, while Ricciardo beat Piastri in their private battle at the back, both compromised by first-lap damage.