Start, sprint race, Interlagos, 2023

Verstappen’s rapid pace looks too much for all bar compromised Norris

2023 Brazilian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Moments after crossing the line to secure fourth place in the sprint race for the Brazilian Grand Prix, George Russell had to satisfy his curiosity about the pace of his rivals ahead.

“What was the pace of Max and Lando at the end?,” he asked.

“Max at the end was doing 14.8, 14.7,” Russell’s race engineer Marcus Dudley replied. “And Norris…”

“FOURTEEN eight?,” Russell interrupted, aghast. “Wowser. Okay…”

In many ways, that single exchange summed up the 2023 season. Once again, Max Verstappen and Red Bull were simply able to do what no one else on the grid could hope to emulate. Once again, his rivals were left staring at the seemingly impossible task of finding some way of catching him.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2023
Verstappen won as he pleased on Saturday
The world champion will start from pole position for a grand prix for the 11th time in 2023. But it will be only the second time he will sit on the number one grid slot at Interlagos in his increasingly successful F1 career – having done so for the first time back in 2019.

Russell’s shock at Verstappen’s pace at the end of the sprint race could also reflect how strong Verstappen seemed at a circuit that has been far from Red Bull’s strongest. The champions have won in Sao Paulo only once in the last eight attempts and infamously struggled here last year after they found themselves locked into a set-up that did not allow them to get the best out of their car. But from the evidence presented on Saturday, it’s clear Red Bull have avoided falling into that same trap a second time.

But even if Verstappen looked to be in control of things out front over the 24-lap sprint race, Lando Norris was keeping him honest – especially through the high speed, uphill right-hand sweep of Ferradura. Throughout the race, Norris kept Verstappen in sight and was even quicker than the winner through many of the middle laps, but Verstappen’s ability to hold onto his tyres and increase the pace even while those behind him were seeing their lap times start to fall away leaves the prospect of Norris keeping up through an entire grand prix a remote one.

But what harms Norris’s chances of victory more than anything will be his sixth place starting position. Thanks to another memorable finish to a grand prix qualifying session in Brazil, Verstappen has pole but will instead have Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari for company at the start.

Ferrari’s race pace in the sprint would hardly have struck fear into Red Bull’s hearts, but Leclerc had spent the entire race on managing his car’s temperatures as well as his tyres. Fortunately for Ferrari, the grand prix is forecast to be cooler than Saturday’s sprint and should allow Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr to push more.

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Ferrari also have the benefit of something many of their rivals do not have – a fresh set of soft tyres to use. Having deliberately avoided using their last new set of soft tyres in Saturday’s sprint sessions, Leclerc and Sainz will have a shiny, untouched set of the fastest compound of the weekend available to use to their strategic advantage in the grand prix – something they saw Yuki Tsunoda make good work of on Saturday.

Ferrari has a strategy advantage but cooling is a concern
“I think the pace of Yuki encourages me, seeing that he was on new softs,” Leclerc explained after the sprint race. “We expected them to not have the same pace as us, but with the new softs he was very similar to our pace. So I think it’s a good choice what we’ve done.”

Unlike last weekend, when Leclerc had team mate Sainz starting alongside him, the Ferrari driver will instead have the two Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso directly behind him on the grid. After a particularly challenging first two legs of the triple-header, Aston Martin have both cars starting inside the first two rows of the grid for the first time all season. But while neither of the green cars finished in the top half of the field on Saturday, Alonso still feels positive about his team’s chances of a podium in the real thing.

“We had a lot of pace today, so a good sign for tomorrow,” Alonso said. “[A podium] could be possible if we execute a perfect race.

“I think Mercedes are still very fast – and Lando as well – so they will catch eventually. But we will try to execute a good race. No mistakes. If it’s a podium: fantastic. If it’s a top five: we’ll take it.”

But while Alonso expects the two Mercedes of fifth-placed Hamilton and eighth-placed Russell to make progress in the grand prix, neither were able to in the sprint race. Russell may have passed Norris for second on the opening lap but he ultimately finished where he started in fourth, while Hamilton faded late with his tyres to fall to seventh. Team principal Toto Wolff admitted his team may have set themselves up for a tough time in the grand prix.

“The car was not balanced optimally with the rear end not strong enough to live with the front,” he explained. “You’re having to drive the car on a knife’s edge but it’s almost impossible to do so. We need to go away this evening and work through what we can do to improve it for tomorrow. There are no easy fixes, but we will do everything that we can.”

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That leaves Norris in sixth as the better bet to move up the order through the grand prix, given his ability to largely match Verstappen through the bulk of the sprint race. And the McLaren driver was buoyed by vastly exceeding his own pre-weekend expectations on Saturday.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Interlagos, 2023
McLaren are quicker than they expected to be in Brazil
“It’s sixth – but after today, it’s promising,” Norris said. “We’ve not done any long running until today, so it was our first good bit of knowledge of what we can expect for tomorrow, which is a good sign. It’s positive. I felt comfortable, but having to overtake quite a few cars makes it different for tomorrow. So hopefully we can do the same.”

Naturally, the focus on tyre management in the sprint race means that strategy and keeping tyres alive will once again be crucial in the grand prix. Unlike last weekend in Mexico, where the one-stop strategy was favoured, Pirelli see a two-stop as the minimum, even with the grade of tyres being a step harder. With overtaking around the Interlagos circuit far more viable than most circuits on the calendar and the pit stop ‘undercut’ more effective, teams are incentivised to swap track position for better rubber as they have the opportunity to make it back on track.

But whatever strategy Red Bull choose to put their pole-winning driver on, Verstappen will head into Sunday in Sao Paulo with far more confidence and comfort with the car underneath him – and that should have all of his rivals concerned.

“With the higher fuel loads from the start, cooler track temp, I still think it’s going to be a lot of tyre management involved,” he said.

“But I think everyone will learn a lot from today and that will apply it to tomorrow. But very happy compared to last year. This is, of course, miles better for us and already looking forward to tomorrow.”

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Qualifying times in full

P.DriverTeamQ1Q2 (v Q1)Q3 (v Q2)
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’10.4361’10.162 (-0.274s)1’10.727 (+0.565s)
2Charles LeclercFerrari1’10.4721’10.303 (-0.169s)1’11.021 (+0.718s)
3Lance StrollAston Martin1’10.5511’10.375 (-0.176s)1’11.344 (+0.969s)
4Fernando AlonsoAston Martin1’10.5571’10.237 (-0.320s)1’11.387 (+1.150s)
5Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’10.6041’10.266 (-0.338s)1’11.469 (+1.203s)
6George RussellMercedes1’10.3401’10.316 (-0.024s)1’11.590 (+1.274s)
7Lando NorrisMcLaren1’10.6231’10.021 (-0.602s)1’11.987 (+1.966s)
8Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’10.6241’10.254 (-0.370s)1’11.989 (+1.735s)
9Sergio PerezRed Bull1’10.6681’10.219 (-0.449s)1’12.321 (+2.102s)
10Oscar PiastriMcLaren1’10.5191’10.330 (-0.189s)
11Nico HulkenbergHaas1’10.4751’10.547 (+0.072s)Missed by 0.172s
12Esteban OconAlpine1’10.7631’10.562 (-0.201s)Missed by 0.187s
13Pierre GaslyAlpine1’10.7931’10.567 (-0.226s)Missed by 0.192s
14Kevin MagnussenHaas1’10.6021’10.723 (+0.121s)Missed by 0.348s
15Alexander AlbonWilliams1’10.6211’10.840 (+0.219s)Missed by 0.465s
16Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’10.837Missed by 0.044s
17Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri1’10.843Missed by 0.050s
18Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo1’10.955Missed by 0.162s
19Logan SargeantWilliams1’11.035Missed by 0.242s
20Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo1’11.275Missed by 0.482s

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Sector times

P.#DriverS1S2S3Ultimate lap (deficit)
14Lando Norris18.31 (3)35.361 (3)16.226 (1)1’09.897 (+0.124)
21Max Verstappen18.359 (6)35.296 (1)16.37 (10)1’10.025 (+0.137)
363George Russell18.418 (12)35.309 (2)16.375 (11)1’10.102 (+0.214)
411Sergio Perez18.272 (2)35.423 (5)16.422 (16)1’10.117 (+0.102)
514Fernando Alonso18.415 (11)35.426 (6)16.31 (4)1’10.151 (+0.086)
616Charles Leclerc18.369 (8)35.519 (9)16.307 (3)1’10.195 (+0.108)
718Lance Stroll18.433 (14)35.488 (7)16.306 (2)1’10.227 (+0.148)
881Oscar Piastri18.268 (1)35.612 (10)16.348 (7)1’10.228 (+0.102)
944Lewis Hamilton18.386 (10)35.397 (4)16.451 (19)1’10.234 (+0.032)
1055Carlos Sainz Jnr18.337 (4)35.517 (8)16.4 (14)1’10.254
1127Nico Hulkenberg18.364 (7)35.701 (11)16.313 (5)1’10.378 (+0.097)
1210Pierre Gasly18.348 (5)35.736 (13)16.356 (8)1’10.440 (+0.127)
1320Kevin Magnussen18.38 (9)35.787 (15)16.315 (6)1’10.482 (+0.120)
1431Esteban Ocon18.425 (13)35.771 (14)16.357 (9)1’10.553 (+0.009)
1523Alexander Albon18.473 (16)35.729 (12)16.392 (13)1’10.594 (+0.027)
1622Yuki Tsunoda18.483 (17)35.849 (16)16.382 (12)1’10.714 (+0.123)
173Daniel Ricciardo18.537 (18)35.892 (17)16.414 (15)1’10.843
1877Valtteri Bottas18.573 (19)35.938 (18)16.444 (17)1’10.955
192Logan Sargeant18.465 (15)36.126 (20)16.444 (17)1’11.035
2024Zhou Guanyu18.719 (20)36.011 (19)16.545 (20)1’11.275

Speed trap

P.#DriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
110Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523339.1 (210.7)
231Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523338.5 (210.3)
31Max VerstappenRed BullHonda RBPTRB19334.4 (207.8)
411Sergio PerezRed BullHonda RBPTRB19334.2 (207.7)
522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04333.9 (207.5)
620Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23333.5 (207.2)
73Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04333.5 (207.2)
855Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23332.7 (206.7)
916Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23332.3 (206.5)
104Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60331.2 (205.8)
1118Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23330.9 (205.6)
1281Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60330.8 (205.5)
1327Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23330.7 (205.5)
1414Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23329.8 (204.9)
152Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45329.0 (204.4)
1623Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45328.3 (204.0)
1777Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43327.5 (203.5)
1844Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14326.9 (203.1)
1924Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43326.7 (203.0)
2063George RussellMercedesMercedesW14326.2 (202.7)

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Over to you

Will anyone be able to take the fight to Verstappen in the race? Share your views on the Brazilian Grand Prix in the comments.

2023 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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8 comments on “Verstappen’s rapid pace looks too much for all bar compromised Norris”

  1. f1statsfan (@)
    5th November 2023, 9:56

    Suggestion for future articles of pre race analysis is to add an overview of tires available to each driver prior to the race with # of push laps done.

    Ferrari have 1 set of new softs but does that mean they do not have new mediums/hards – does Max have new tires available like in Mexico with 2 sets of hards?

    1. Pirelli always tweets remaining available sets for each race earlier on race days.

    2. Oops, just said the same exact thing below. Should have read the other comments first. Anyway, for those of us who don’t use Twitter, it’d be great to have a list here.

  2. Realistically the only car that has the race pace to more or less stay with Verstappen is starting in sixth, so expect Max to nail the start and disappear into the distance. Lower in the field there will be good battles though.

    1. With Norris showing some good overtaking during the race where he started (a bit this time) too far back but with great pace, like in Mexico @pmccarthy_is_a_legend? Quite likely indeed.

  3. Another comfortable win incoming.

  4. More valuable than a lot of these stats would be a list of how many sets of new tires each driver has as well as used and how many laps on them. Alonso lost two sets of nearly brand new tires (one medium, one hard). That cannot be good.

    1. I’ll answer my own concern:

      Alonso is the only driver with no new hards, but Pirelli is predicting a two stop using a mix of mediums and softs would be the best. The mediums didn’t look great which is the only tire Alonso has more than one set of. So, if the medium is poor again, he’ll be at a major disadvantage.

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