Valtteri Bottas has held off Max Verstappen to take pole position for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in F1’s third ever sprint race.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
The Finn started second behind Verstappen but bested him off the line with softer tyres to spend the rest of the race defending as his rubber wore away, but it proved a perfectly judged decision to win him three points.
“We gambled a little bit with the soft tyre,” Bottas said. “We knew it would be a benefit at the start, and it worked. And then it was all about trying to survive to the end.”
Verstappen, who dropped to third on the opening lap before recovering for a long siege for first, said it was too difficult to pass an equally matched car at Interlagos.
“The pace was quite good, but around here you close up, you can’t really pass, but it’s okay.”
But the focus of the race was Lewis Hamilton. The Briton was supposed to start at the head of the grid after dominating Friday qualifying but had his car disqualified for running an illegal rear wing after a marathon 20-hour stewards investigation, sending him to the back of the grid.
With his championship hopes on the line, Hamilton was ferocious from the off. He made up five places on the first lap alone and methodically picked his way through the field right up to the final lap of the 24-lap sprint — Lando Norris for fifth — completing 15 passes in just 30 minutes.
But the damage could be limited only so much. Hamilton was already carrying a five-place penalty for an engine change, which is to be served on Sunday’s grid, dropping him back to 10th.
It’s good news for Verstappen, who is well placed to inflict serious damage on Hamilton’s campaign, having extended his advantage to 21 points with second in the sprint.
Hamilton’s rapid recovery was aided somewhat by Carlos Sainz, who started fifth but with the benefit of soft tyres got past and held behind the faster Sergio Perez through the race with a tough defensive drive, the resulting bunched-up midfield being ripe for Hamilton’s picking.
“The first three corners I just went into attack,” he said. “I was always trying to make positions.
“Then it was suffering a bit with the softs until the end.
“But the pace was good, we managed well the tyres, and we made it.”
Perez finished fourth, the battling pair more than 17 seconds adrift of the lead battle and with Hamilton only an additional second further back.
Lando Norris finished sixth ahead of Charles Leclerc, the two making up places from the slow-starting Pierre Gasly, who has been unhappy with his AlphaTauri car from Saturday morning practice.
Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel were similar gainers at the start to take ninth and 10th from Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso, who each dropped a couple of places on the first lap before being usurped by the rising Hamilton.
Antonio Giovinazzi finished 13th after surviving a wheel-to-wheel battle with teammate Kimi Raikkonen on the second lap. The Finn came off worse, being spun around at the first turn and dropping to last.
Lance Stroll followed in 14th ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Williams teammates Nicholas Latifi and George Russell.
Raikkonen recovered to 18th by the flag, with Mick Schumacher leading home Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin to complete the grid for the race.