There was perhaps no little irony that, on the weekend when Formula One is putting its sprint race concept under scrutiny, the format returned one of its better spectacles. The result may have been very much the same old story with a win for Max Verstappen, but behind the world champion the race was a frenetic little affair that had the element of cut and thrust that F1 surely had in mind when the short-form dash was introduced.
Verstappen won with a solid drive for Red Bull at Interlagos, having made all the difference in the opening seconds of the race by taking the lead from Lando Norris into turn one. Once out front he was in control, beating the McLaren of Norris into second and his teammate, Sergio Pérez, into third at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace.
F1 sprint races need a reboot: reverse grids or $1m prize could be the spark | Giles RichardsRead more
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were in fourth and seventh for Mercedes, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fifth. While Verstappen edged away behind him the chasing pack ducked and dived with abandon. Hamilton and Russell enjoyed dramatic starts, sweeping past Pérez before Russell went one better to take second from Norris.
Relatively evenly matched in the opening stages on a track that lends itself to overtaking with short laps, there were battles across the grid. Pérez and Hamilton jousted for fourth, Norris and Russell too went back at one another and then it was the turn of Pérez and Russell, swapping places over two laps with DRS until the Mexican finally made it stick to take third. Behind them and eager not to be left out, Leclerc came through in fifth as did a combative Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri to take an impressive sixth.
Hamilton’s efforts came to nought however as he struggled with a lack of grip and balance in the final third, dropping down the order to seventh and he warned he expected similar issues in the race .
For Verstappen it was his seventh sprint race victory. It is a format in which he has demonstrated great command since it was introduced but one he has been repeatedly critical of nonetheless.
He is not the only one. The teams also dislike the way it restricts their ability to set up the cars and many of the races have proved underwhelming, to the extent that the sport is in discussions to potentially revamp it again for next season.
How it looks in future then is very much up in the air after this the sixth and final sprint race weekend of the year. F1 has already adopted a new format for the sprint this season as a standalone event that has no bearing on the GP but which does award championship points – indeed, Verstappen took the title this season at the sprint in Qatar. Its tinkering looks set to continue.
In Brazil, despite the win, Verstappen remained dismissively withering on what F1 might do with the format.“I would just like a normal race weekend please, thank you,” he said. “I am not interested in any change. I don’t like it.”
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Proposed changes include returning qualifying to Saturday afternoon preceded by the sprint race, and also making the sprint a completely standalone competition that would not play a part in the world championship but with points awarded toward the sprint champion, who would receive a large financial prize, and within this new structure even employing reverse grids.
Carlos Sainz rounded out the points in eighth for Ferrari.