Russell dominance highlights Mercedes masterclass at a spectacular Brazilian Grand Prix

| Staff Writer

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton celebrate. (Photo by Dan Istitene | Getty Images)

For the Mercedes Formula 1 team, George Russell’s debut race start should have resulted in a victory. This start, which came long before Russell had signed to the team, occurred during the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. As the reserve driver, he filled in for Lewis Hamilton’s seat as Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19. Even though the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix was a one-time appearance, only spectacular bad luck prevented him from winning in a stunning debut for his soon-to-be team.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Russell had competed in 20 races with Mercedes still searching for his first victory. But, unfortunately, his team was struggling to find success; they were facingtheir first losing season in more than ten years, and both titles had already been conceded to fierce rivals, Red Bull. Then, at the culmination of the Brazilian Grand Prix’s Saturday sprint race, Russell got a small sample of the sensation by winning the race and claiming pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix, just ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Once the five red lights disappeared on Sunday, Mercedes quickly led last year’s title rival Max Verstappen in his Red Bull off the line. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez gave him more cause for worry when they rounded the Senna S when he gently touched Verstappen’s left rear tire with his front wing. Both were fortunate that no harm was done. 

As the field raced across the circuit and towards the S-shaped curve of the course, Kevin Magnussen, who took the lead on Friday, surged into turn 8 only to be clumsily thrown into a spin by Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren. Magnussen let the vehicle slide backward as he circled the Haas, hoping to keep it out of harm’s way, but Ricciardo was hit by Magnussen after swerving to the right to escape the obstruction he had caused. 

This crash caused a safety car and was the first incident of an exhilarating afternoon. After the sixth lap, the racing was prepared to continue after a lengthy cleanup time. However, Russell waited to launch his vehicle until it was approaching the last positions of the starting grid in the hopes that it would be sufficient to preserve his lead going into the first corner with the threat of two different reigning champions in his slipstream.

As both Verstappen and Hamilton rounded the S after the restart, a collision seemed unavoidable. Verstappen was racing the inside line and refused to give way to a charging Hamilton, who was racing the outside line and resisted ceding his position. Both automobiles sped off after the inevitable collision, and after stumbling back onto the track, they both pitted for fresher tires and a new front wing, which pushed them to the back of the pack.

Later on that lap, Lando Norris struck Charles Leclerc while they competed for the third position, and a Ferrari ended up in the Ferradura barrier later around the circuit. Leclerc had a significant blow, but he recovered and made it back onto the circuit and through the pits, falling to the very bottom of the group behind Verstappen.

Russell could hardly have wished for more fantastic luck in the lead than seeing his two strongest rivals for the day eliminating one after the other. Now in second position, Perez kept Russell’s lead to almost two seconds until Perez’s lap timings started to slow down after lap 20.

Perez may have begun to feel the wear on his tires, but the leader seemed to be in a relaxed position.  After lap 23, Perez made a pit stop and returned on fresh mediums. In response, Mercedes disregarded their driver’s requests to prolong his first stint and brought out their leading car after the next lap while also switching to mediums. On said mediums, Russell was performing incredibly well, so well that the only individual faster was teammate Hamilton who was chasing Ferrari’s third-place, Carlos Sainz until Sainz was called in at the end of lap 36 for new mediums.

After pitting to the newest tires on the track, Sainz was moving the fastest right away. He quickly gained sufficient time on Perez to perform a virtual undercut on the Red Bull, who was in second place, meaning had Perez come in then, he would’ve come out right behind Sainz. Perez, though, had more pressing worries than Sainz because, by lap 44, Hamilton was in his rear-view mirrors.

Mercedes knew it would be crucial to overtake the Red Bull fast since Sainz was gaining ground behind them. Luckily for Hamilton, he only took one try to slipstream Perez up the hill before he could open his DRS and glide by the Red Bull as the 45th lap got underway.

Soon after, both Perez and Hamilton pitted, though their timing was unfortunate as a Virtual Safety Car was called after McLaren’s Lando Norris lost all power in his car and had to crawl out on lap 53. Though Russell worried about his valuable lead, the VSC was not entirely terrible for him and presented many more challenges for other drivers. 

As a result, Ferrari could pit Sainz one last time and rejoin the race in fourth place behind Perez, who was on far worse tires than the newly pitted Sainz. Russell followed the same course of action when the race began after lap 59 since his strategy for the original Safety Car restart had effectively maintained his lead. Russell began to accelerate a little earlier than he had the first time, allowing him to keep a safe space behind Hamilton during the S portion of the race. He then turned in the race’s quickest middle-sector pace, increasing his advantage to a little over a second and shielding himself from Hamilton’s DRS.

Russell wasn’t in danger immediately, but Perez’s third position was. With his soft tires flying, Sainz quickly passed the Red Bull to go into a podium place. Leclerc dropped Perez from third to fourth less than a lap later, a spectacular turn of events for the Ferrari racer, who had been thrown into the barriers over 60 laps prior.

Russell retained his advantage over Hamilton with only six laps left, as the two drivers ran at the same speed. However, the opponents behind the Mercedes were tensely competing for more points, whereas the Mercedes was clearly racing for victory and the 1-2 finish. After six laps, George Russell, less than 24 hours removed from his first sprint victory, claimed the chequered flag with teammate Lewis Hamilton right behind him. This result marked Mercede’s first win of the year as well.

Fourth-placed Leclerc pleaded with his team to consider urging Sainz to allow him to pass Perez for third place because he was concerned about his championship status:  “Think about the championship if the positions are like this.” Leclerc ultimately didn’t pass Sainz for the final podium position as Ferrari strategists believed the move would be far too risky with another driver nearby.

After both Mercedes and Ferrari drivers had completed the race, the most significant controversy was about to unfold. Verstappen, who had ultimately rallied from his earlier collision with Hamilton, was requested to take Perez’s slot in sixth place further back to try to take points off Leclerc. Perez was being asked to relinquish his position on his mediums. Verstappen had been given permission by Red Bull to pursue Fernando Alonso, but he could not get past the Alpine. Verstappen was then ordered to hand his spot back to Perez four times throughout the last lap, but he refused to let up even for a second and held onto the sixth place until the very end.

This was so devastating to Perez as it led to him being equal on point with Leclerc, 290, for the final race of the season, with the winner clinching 2nd place in the Driver’s Championship. Had Verstappen allowed Perez to regain his original position, he would’ve gone to Abu Dhabi with a 2-point lead over the Monegasque.

Going into Abu Dhabi, both the Constructors and Drivers Championships have been won by Max Verstappen and Red Bull, respectively. However, 2nd place is up for grabs as Ferrari only leads Mercedes by 19 points, and 4th place is likewise available between McLaren and Alpine, with the latter leading by 19 points. Leclerc and Perez are tied on 290 points in the individual championship, with Russell 25 points behind at 265. The final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend will determine who wins each.


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