The first handful of laps of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix Sprint were
interesting at least. With the majority of the field starting on
the Soft tyres, save Haas on Mediums for obvious reasons, the
general expectation would be that the red-marked rubber would be
able to last the 24-lap distance, but that it would be marginal. A
fine indicator then of what we can expect during the first stint of
the race itself, which is one of the biggest sticks with which to
beat the Sprint format, among others. Max Verstappen would win his
fourth Sprint from six of the year – not that he cared greatly – to
move to 499 points. You’d get pretty slim odds on him not smashing
through the 500 point barrier this season… But before we start
our round-up, of Winners and Losers from the Sao Paulo Sprint,
something needs to be addressed. During a previous Winners and
Losers piece, one reader comment asked why Verstappen was not
included as a winner despite winning the race. The reason for that
is simple, the idea of this analysis is to shine a spotlight on
race stories you might have missed or to heap praise, or indeed
criticism, on a driver for their performance. Such has been
Verstappen’s dominance this year, sometimes, there is not an awful
lot to say about the guy who sticks it on pole, disappears up the
road and only features for a pit-stop or sarcastic message to his
race engineer. There are only so many ways to heap praise on
Verstappen, and so when it is a rather routine win for the Red Bull
driver, he might not be included, as we start with the driver of
the other RB19. Winner – Sergio Perez It is a start, nothing more
for Sergio Perez but his climb to third is base from which he can
build across the final three races. He chipped away and eventually
got past Lewis Hamilton following the Mercedes’ brave move at Turn
4 on the opening lap around the outside before dispatching of
George Russell to run third. Both Verstappen and Lando Norris were
already well up the road as Perez wisely settled for third place,
six points and a job well done. It was exactly the type of
confidence-building race you’d want, if for example, you’d tried to
be the superhero in your home race last time out and win the race
at Turn 1 but looked rather desperate and crashed out. Coupled with
Hamilton’s P7 and two points, Perez extended his lead to 24 points
in the battle for second, a healthy cushion to have. What did Perez
say? “I had a terrible start and ended up losing a place to George
and then another place to Lewis into Turn 4. From then on I was
fighting and had to use all of my tyres, then I think I paid the
price towards the end.” Loser – Daniel Ricciardo This might be
considered sacrilege in some quarters, but the one thing Daniel
Ricciardo didn’t really do in that outstanding Mexico City weekend
was race. In the Grand Prix, others came past with ease as the
AlphaTauri wisely realised he wasn’t racing Hamilton for example,
but aside from the last couple of laps with George Russell,
Ricciardo did not spend any sustained time trying to pass a car
ahead. In other words, he was race rusty. And it showed. During his
battle over P8 – and one point – with Carlos Sainz, the Australian
repeatedly tried to send it around the outside of Turn 1, claim the
inside for Turn 2 and go on his way. But as has been evidenced by
years of action at Interlagos, all this will achieve is to give the
other driver, in this case Sainz, the opportunity for better
traction out of Turn 2 thanks to the tighter line for Ricciardo and
came roaring past on the run to Turn 4 – and so it played out. On
one occasion, Ricciardo placed the AlphaTauri beautifully for the
cut-back on Sainz, but then seemingly imperceptibly floored it and
went dancing around the outside. In itself, it was a great move,
but he wasn’t thinking two or three corners ahead, only in the here
and now. A shame but lesson learnt. What did Ricciardo say? “F**k,
F**k, F**k, F**k. Sorry guys. Just that f***ing DRS in Turn 2. You
pass in [Turn] 1 and then you just get f***ed. It is impossible.”
Winner – Yuki Tsunoda On the flipside of the AlphaTauri drivers is
Yuki Tsunoda, whose sixth place and three points has set the team’s
eyes on catching Williams for seventh in the Constructors’, with 27
playing 19 – but that AlphaTauri is fast. The Singapore upgrade
worked well with Tsunoda enjoying a strong, if under the radar
campaign when the car was at its worst. Couple that with an
energised and hungry Ricciardo, it is making for a potent recipe.
Tsunoda was within seven-tenths of catching Charles Leclerc for
fifth, as the duo reeled in the ailing George Russell as Mercedes
lunched its tyres. The team is finally on an upward curve and is
finishing strong. It bodes well. What did Tsunoda say? “With a
couple more laps, I might’ve been able to fight for P5 with Leclerc
ahead of us. I’m happy with my race craft today, and the pace the
car had, especially in the race, was strong.” Loser – Mercedes
Leading into the weekend, talk had been of Mercedes’ recent
improvements and how strong the car had been in Mexico and Brazil
last season, fuelling hopes of possibly a repeat at Interlagos. The
Sprint disavowed it of that notion. A fast start from both drivers
was matched by an equally fast drop in tyre performance as the W14
went on a strict ‘Pirelli Soft tyre only’ diet. Hamilton was
squirming around on corner exits and was lucky to even finish in
the points as Carlos Sainz and Ricciardo carved huge chunks of time
out of him on the final lap. A tough one to swallow, and while
second in the Constructors’ is still a good result, the fact is the
team is arguably as far away as ever from Red Bull with Verstappen
barely breaking sweat. That, and the fact that other teams such as
McLaren and even AlphaTauri of late have been able to take such
giant leaps forward in-season and Mercedes have not should be a
worry. What did Hamilton say? “The last couple of races we’ve been
getting excited about progressing and it’s been really positive to
see. We come to another track and this you have the worst
degradation that you have had for ages. “You just don’t know what
to expect. But there’s only a couple more races with this car, so
I’m happy.”

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