Ayrton Senna’s spirit shines through the Brazilian Grand Prix Sprint weekend

The Brazilian Grand Prix is ​​the penultimate race of the 2022 Formula 1 season, where both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships have already been decided. It is also the final race weekend of the somewhat controversial sprint format. This is where qualifying takes place on the Friday after FP1 and a sprint race of around a third of the race distance takes place on Saturday (after a second practice), which ultimately sets the grid for Sunday. It essentially adds a second race — a second lights-out moment, that is The moment in F1 races — in the position of a third (yawning emoji) practice.

I say controversial because there are many critics of this experimental format, including two-time World Champion Max Verstappen.

“You don’t pitstop, so you just put the tire that will last the distance. You don’t really see a lot of overtaking unless there is a car out of position. So it’s not really that much fun for me,” Verstappen told ESPN.

Others believe that drivers do not take chances in the sprint because the small amount of points is not worth risking a poor starting position for Sunday. And then you have the traditional F1 fans who balk at any change to the way things have always been. They were stronger for the halo when it was introduced, and it has saved many lives since then. As a fan of the sport, I think the sprint format adds more excitement to a weekend in general. In both the last two seasons, Brazil have proved all the critics wrong.

In 2021, we saw championship contender Lewis Hamilton pick up an engine penalty which forced him to start the sprint race from P20. He stormed through the field to finish P10 in a prelude to what was to come on Sunday. I texted a friend that night and said Hamilton was about to set up a clinic. He did just that, passing everyone from P10 to P1 and keeping his championship hopes alive. Of course, a lot of that performance came from having an all-new Mercedes powerplant. The press often fail to recognize how much performance boosting is e.g. Verstappen in Belgium this year. Regardless, the sprint format gave us one of the best performances in Formula 1 I’ve ever seen. And it will happen again this weekend.

Friday Qualifiers

Friday’s qualifiers gave us a lot to talk about. It started wet with all the drivers on inter tires as Q1 started. It quickly turned to patches as the track mostly dried out, although the threat of rain loomed. We arrived at Q3 in dry conditions, but the rain would likely come during this final session as the spray could already be felt in the pit lane. The best strategy, it seemed, was to do a quick lap on the slicks before the track got too wet. This initial lap time on slicks would be a lot faster than one in inter. It was possible you wouldn’t get that dry lap, meaning you’d do a lap or two in the wet. This scenario gave an advantage to the teams closer to the end of the pit lane—teams like Haas—because you could be first in line and wait for the session to start.

First in that queue was Kevin Magnussen followed by the Red Bulls and Ferrari. But one of these cars was not like the others. The Ferrari team decided to “split strategies” by sending Sainz to the slicks and Leclerc to the inters. He asked his mechanic if it was the only car in the inters. Yes, Charles. Only you. It was a shocking call from a team that cannot afford to make these kinds of blunders. Indeed, it wasn’t even a risk. Because if the track turned out to be too wet for slicks, there was enough time to go in for inters and set a competitive time. There was no advantage if it started to rain. Leclerc would be the first to call time on the inters…but certainly not the last. And it got worse from there as he still decided to do a flying lap on a dry track, holding Perez up in the process and ruining his lap. Leclerc ultimately lost no time and ended up in P10.

As the rain picked up slightly the drivers were desperate to set the fastest possible time before having to switch to the inters, which would have been pointless really. Russell locked up in the first turn and took to the gravel only to beach. This red signaled the session. Since the rain had almost arrived, there was zero chance of a faster lap on the inters than what was already set on the slicks. The entire F1 universe watched the clock tick down in Q3 with Kevin “KMag” Magnussen at the top of the timesheets. Indeed, this was one of the best moments of the 2022 F1 season, seeing KMag and Haas take their first pole and seeing the team celebrate as if they had just won the championship. The collective sentiment on F1 Twitter: This is the sport of F1.

Saturday’s Sprint Race

With Magnussen starting the sprint race from pole position (he should have taken the lead with that), the Danish driver had Verstappen with him with Russell and Norris on the second row. Everyone started on the soft tyre, except for Verstappen and Latifi who started on the medium. KMag started very well and led the race for the first lap or so. But he wasn’t actually racing Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari. So Verstappen, Russell and Sainz got through the first laps and it was a race between the top three teams. This is really what we’ve been waiting for all season. There was overtaking. There was wheel-t0-wheel action. A lot of risks were taken and there was a lot of contact. The sprint in Brazil was some of the best racing we’ve seen all year. Perfect. It was a stark contrast to the worst (most boring) race of the season in Mexico a few weeks ago.

Verstappen was clearly struggling on the medium tyres. had struggled with understeer during practice so the tires weren’t necessary. Russell stayed inside DRS for the opening laps and eventually took the lead on the back straight. He quickly pulled away and led the rest of the race to secure his first F1 win. Sainz and Hamilton also passed Verstappen, relegating him to P4, although Sainz will receive an engine penalty. That puts both Mercedes on the front row for tomorrow. Magnussen finished P8 and won the last available sprint point.

The race saw the Aston Martin and Alpine teammates do battle, and it wasn’t pretty. Alonso and Ocon came together, which damaged both cars. Alonso eventually lost part of his front wing, scattering debris on the pit straight in the process, and Ocon’s car caught fire in pit lane after the race. Vettel had a better pace and tried to pass Stroll on the back straight but was forced off the track onto the grass. Stroll received a 10 second penalty for this reckless and amateurish move. The fact that both Stroll and Alonso found themselves in such situations in Austin and in Brazil does not bode well for the future team-mates. Maybe they deserve each other. But stewards may have to hand down tougher penalties if this continues.

Sunday Strategy Match

The Mercedes team has the potential to take their first win of the season. This could also be Russell’s first official F1 race win. As long as they don’t screw it up. Because Verstappen will be ready to strike if the silver arrows are fighting each other as opposed to working as a team. Without a doubt, the team is putting together a strategy not only to claim victory, but to finish one-two and overtake Ferrari in the constructors’ standings. There is a lot to play for tomorrow, both on the track and back at the Mercedes factory. Hamilton has said a lot.

The ideal strategy, in my view, is for Hamilton to back Russell to take the win (assuming he has the pace) and hold off the Red Bulls and Ferraris. Russell starts from pole and will have the advantage on the front row. The moment when Hamilton and Russell fight each other becomes an opportunity for their rivals. If they can agree up front that this is Russell’s race to lose, it not only gives them the best chance for a one-two win. But it sets up Hamilton for 2023, where he’s trying to win an eighth world title and Russell (realistically) just wants to win races. Russell will owe him.

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