Much of the 2022 season has felt like a foregone conclusion, but the penultimate race certainly was not. It started with qualifying, which set the starting grid for Saturday’s sprint race. Rain rolling in and out of São Paulo led to tire chaos, and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen beat the weather and the odds to get his first pole.
Mercedes dominated the sprint race to sweep the front row for the grand prix. Despite their struggles with the car this year, they were still improving and pushing hard to take home a win. Finally, their perseverance was rewarded.
If Mexico was a snooze, this grand prix was the opposite. After the sprint race saw incidents between teammates at Alpine and Aston Martin, the main event was also full of contact. Daniel Ricciardo and pole-winner Kevin Magnussen tangled on lap 1, Lando Norris spun Charles Leclerc, and there was yet another run-in between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
With Verstappen and Leclerc working their way back through the field, the Mercedes drivers controlled the race. Everyone made multiple pit stops so the grid was in constant movement. An exciting day from start to finish!
Driver of the race
George Russell was aggressive all weekend and it paid off for him, sweeping the sprint race and the grand prix. He’s threatened at various points this season and been very consistent despite the work in progress that is the 2022 Mercedes car. It all came together for him in Brazil for his first grand prix win. He also managed weather in qualifying and stayed out of trouble, which a lot of other drivers did not do.
Moment of the race
The Hamilton-Verstappen and Norris-Leclerc collisions happened seconds apart on lap 7 and truly left me stunned. This moment made me sit up and think, “Oh shit, the complexion of this race has completely changed.” I thought for sure Leclerc was toast when he went nose-first into the barrier, but miraculously nothing else was damaged.
Verstappen and Leclerc had to pit, Hamilton had damage from running over pieces of debris, and there were penalties to sort out. (Verstappen and Norris received them.) Ferrari desperately needed Leclerc to rebound with both Mercedes running up front. And it was rare this year to even get a race that wasn’t just Verstappen leading everyone around.
A late safety car period caused by Norris’ mechanical failure opened the door for a bigger moment, but Mercedes were just too strong. Not a sentiment I thought I would write earlier this year!
Thoughts moving forward
Ferrari hold just a 19-point lead over Mercedes for second place in the constructor’s championship going into the final race. Checo Pérez and Leclerc are tied for second in the driver’s championship… thanks to Verstappen.
In the waning laps of the race, Pérez was struggling on medium tires and Red Bull asked him to give up P6 to see if Verstappen could catch Fernando Alonso or Leclerc ahead of them. If not, he was supposed to give the place back to Pérez to maintain a lead on Leclerc in the championship. Pérez obliged, Verstappen did not pass anyone, but then he just said “nah.” F1 Twitter went up in flames.
Red Bull had been riding a wave of celebration over the last month, looking like a perfect juggernaut. But the rumor mill claims Verstappen refused to give the inconsequential, non-podium place back to Pérez because he held a grudge since MONACO — in MAY — because Pérez supposedly crashed on purpose in qualifying. Pérez and Verstappen ended up qualifying third and fourth behind the Ferraris at the track where it is notoriously difficult to pass. Pérez won the race.
If that wasn’t spicy enough, Pérez clearly wasn’t happy, saying over the radio that this showed who Verstappen really is. After the race, he commented, “If he has two championships, it is thanks to me.” With Mercedes (and hopefully Ferrari) coming for Red Bull’s neck next year, this is not good tension to have within the team! Red Bull struggled to find a suitable teammate for Verstappen until they signed Pérez, who they also extended this year. Pérez has been the ultimate team player, so it will be fascinating to see if this disrespect has any impact on future success at Red Bull.