British driver George Russell claimed his first full F1 victory in Sao Paulo, holding off teammate Lewis Hamilton after a late safety car.
Russell, 24, won the Sprint race on Saturday and delivered a commanding drive from pole position, perfectly judging two safety car restarts to avoid trouble in a race full of drama and collisions.
“What an amazing feeling. it’s been an emotional rollercoaster this season, even this race,” said Russell.
An emotional Russell added: “On the in-lap, the memories come flooding back, starting with my Mum and Dad in go-karting…”
“I felt in control, Lewis was super-fast and then when I saw the safety car, I thought this is going to be a difficult end. He put me under so much pressure. But I’m so happy to come away with the victory. On the in-lap, all of these memories came flooding back, starting off with my Mum and Dad in go Karting, going through and all the support I’ve had from the rest of my family, my girlfriend, my trainer, my manager. The likes of Gwen, who first gave me the opportunity to get on the programme with Mercedes, and James Vowles and Toto. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Kings Lynn-born Russell becomes the second first-time winner of 2022, after Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took his first win at the British Grand Prix in July.
The second Mercedes of Hamilton had to recover to second after a collision on Lap 7 with arch-rival Max Verstappen.
World Champion Verstappen suffered damage and fought his way back up to sixth after pitting for repairs and serving a five-second time penalty.
Mercedes first one-two finish since November 2020 at Imola allows the Brackley-based team to close the gap to Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship.
However, Ferrari limited the damage Mercedes could do as Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finished third and fourth.
Russell rights Sakhir 2020 wrong as Mercedes return to winning ways
Two years ago, when newly crowned seven-time World Champion Hamilton was struck down by COVID-19, Mercedes handed Russell a shot in the all-conquering W11.
Russell beat Valtteri Bottas off the line and led much of the race until a safety car period and puncture undermined hopes of a maiden win.
At the beginning of the season, Russell admitted to having expected his first win early in the year, but the W13 car concept proved to have major issues.
But finally the 24-year-old has banished those memories of Sakhir, with a textbook drive.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin described Russell as “one of those drivers comfortable at the front.”
And comfortable he was, acing the restart that saw Verstappen and Hamilton collide and also keeping his nerve as Hamilton chased in the closing stages.
Not only is the victory a milestone moment for Russell, but also for the Briton’s team, Mercedes, who had won the last eight Constructors’ Championships.
Mercedes have turned their car, and season, around through relentless development.
“It means a lot to us,” said James Vowles, Mercedes chief strategist.
The Silver Arrows had started the season with a radical design but were plagued by bouncing and setup issues and while Shovlin admitted that there was many areas to improve for 2023, the team were delighted with the win that takes them within 20-points of Ferrari in second in the Constructors’ Championship.
Interlagos serves up another cracker
Sao Paulo delivered a classic race in 2021, as Hamilton stormed through the field to win from 10th on the grid, despite Verstappen’s best efforts at holding him back, and 2022 was full of drama and excitement again.
On Lap 1, Friday’s pole winner Kevin Magnussen was tipped into a spin by Australian Daniel Ricciardo, and as the Haas driver rolled backwards, the McLaren swiped the back of the Dane’s car and both drivers were out on the spot, resulting in a Safety Car.
Upon the restart, Verstappen made a lunge on Hamilton at Turn 1, the Mercedes driver taking the racing line for Turn 2, as the Dutchman held position on the inside.
The pair made contact, with the Red Bull losing a significant portion of the front wing, Hamilton dropping back to eighth, while the World Champion headed for the pit lane.
Three corners after the 2021 rivals tangled, Leclerc went for a brave move on the outside of McLaren’s Lando Norris, but they also touched, sending the Ferrari driver spinning into the barrier, but the Monegasque rejoined with just front wing damage.
Once racing settled down, there was a wide range of strategies with Sainz eventually three-stopping but several drivers who two-stopped, running varied stint lengths.
Saturday’s enthralling sprint race action was replicated, with overtaking in plentiful supply, not just at the usual spots of Turns 1 and 4, but also in the mid-sector, as drivers made progress on fresh tyres.
The drama wasn’t limited to on the track, as Ferrari, Red Bull and Alpine had to issue team orders, with varying amounts of compliance.
Leclerc wanted to be let past Sainz for third, to aid the Monegasque’s fight with Sergio Perez for second in the Drivers’ Standings, but Ferrari kept the drivers in position.
Red Bull allowed Verstappen to pass Perez on his recovery, in the hope that the Dutchman could catch and pass both Alonso in fifth and Leclerc in fourth.
Perez was informed that if this did not happen, sixth position would be returned to the Mexican at the end of the race, but much to the 33-year-old’s frustration, Verstappen did not comply.
Meanwhile Alpine, who had seen their drivers collide twice in the Sprint on Saturday, had engage in a heated debate with Esteban Ocon behind the safety car, with Alonso behind on fresher tyres.
Sao Paulo’s cracking weekend has provided incredible on track action as well two feel-good moments, with Kevin Magnussen and Haas scoring their first pole position, but the weekend belongs to F1’s latest Grand Prix winner, George Russell.