George Russell claimed the first Grand Prix win of his Formula 1 career with a superbly controlled drive to victory at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
The Briton aced his getaway from pole and mastered two safety car restarts to grind out the win ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, securing Mercedes’ first win of the year and first one-two finish since 2020.
“This is just the beginning,” he radioed his team. “I’m so proud of all of you. I knew we could do this.”
Russell held the lead at the start, but the race was neutralized almost immediately for a crash between Daniel Ricciardo and Friday’s pole-getter Kevin Magnussen.
Ricciardo was trying to sneak down Magnussen’s inside at Turn 8 but instead tagged the back of the Haas car, tipping it into a spin. It collected the McLaren as Ricciardo attempted to take evasive action to avoid the career car, putting both in the wall and out of the race.
More drama ensued after the restart, with Max Verstappen all over the back of Hamilton into Turn 1 and making side-by-side contact on the apex of Turn 2, breaking the Red Bull Racing car’s front wing and causing some floor damage to the Mercedes .
“What can I say — you know how it is with Max,” Hamilton quipped after the race.
Verstappen was handed a five-second penalty for causing the crash and had to pit for repairs, dropping to 17th, while Hamilton fell to eighth but was able to continue.
Then, at Turn 6, Lando Norris punted Charles Leclerc into the wall in a botched overtaking attempt, The McLaren driver was also slapped with a five-second penalty, while Leclerc had to stop for a new wing, falling to 18th.
All this left Russell leading Perez and Sainz in the top three, and the Ferrari driver was the first to pit, stopping on lap 17 to clear a visor tear-off from his smoking rear-right brake duct and switching to the soft tire. It promoted Hamilton back up to third after a speedy recovery, although the Briton was 10s off the lead.
Perez attempted to undercut Russell for the lead on lap 23, but the Mexican rejoined directly behind Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and then Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, killing his chances. The leading Mercedes responded easily the following lap to retain the net lead and continue building an advantage.
Hamilton had inherited the top spot but dropped to fourth behind Sainz with his first stop, and the pair of them then undercut their way past Perez after the final scheduled stops to set up an exclusive battle for second in the final stint.
But the race was reset on lap 52 when Norris stopped on the track with a failed McLaren. It forced a safety car restart on lap 60 and put Russell’s lead under renewed threat, this time from his teammate behind.
The team told him they’d be racing for victory rather than trying to preserve a one-two finish, and Hamilton shadowed him closely at the restart into the first corner. But Russell’s pace in the middle sector was stronger than that of his teammate, enough to keep him from picking up DRS on the main straight. The gap never grew larger than 1.5s, but it was enough to lock out the top spot ahead of Hamilton and claim his first grand prix victory.
“What an amazing feeling,” he said. “I felt in control. Lewis was super-fast, and then when I saw the safety car I thought, ‘Jeez, this is going to be a really difficult ending.’
“He put me under so much pressure, but I’m so happy to get away with the victory.”
Hamilton paid tribute to his team and teammate after a long and difficult year for the 2021 constructors’ champion.
“Huge congratulations to George,” he said. “What an amazing drive he did today. He truly deserves it.
“To my team, I’m so proud of everyone back at the factory and here. This is an incredible result. We worked so hard this year to get a win, so this is hugely deserved”
Sainz came home third after passing Perez after the safety car, having dropped back behind the Mexican with a stop during the caution for fresher soft tires. It was a strong recovery from a penalized seventh on the grid and a forced early stop, but the Ferrari driver said it was concerning to see Mercedes so far ahead.
“I think overall it was a good race,” he said. “Good podium after starting P7. It’s a shame Merc are so quick, but congratulations to George.
“Merc were untouchable today. They were simply the fastest car — quicker than Red Bull and quicker than us.”
Leclerc enjoyed an even stronger recovery from his crash with Norris with a series of undercuts through the field — and he wanted it to be even stronger, asking the team to let him pass Sainz to bolster his hold on second in the drivers’ championship. The team declined to switch him onto the podium, noting that Fernando Alonso was directly behind him and on newer soft tires, making a team order too risky.
Alonso’s superb recovery from 17th on the grid was helped in part by the early chaos and then by an aggressive strategy of early stops.
Verstappen turned his early stop for repairs into sixth thanks to the safety car, but controversially refused a team order to let Perez back through on the final lap to keep the Mexican second in the drivers’ standings. The Dutchman slammed the team on the cool-down lap for asking him to swap, saying that he’d previously made it clear that he wouldn’t let Perez through.
Esteban Ocon finished eighth, which combined with Alonso’s points haul to put Alpine 19 points ahead of McLaren in the constructors’ standings after the British team failed to score.
Valtteri Bottas collected two points for Alfa Romeo with ninth ahead of Lance Stroll, who scored the final point in 10th.