1. George Russell takes his maiden Formula One victory in a one-two finish for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton.
2. Max Verstappen refuses Red Bull team orders to allow Sergio Perez to retake his position.
The 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix delivered the best racing, the best action, the best drama and the best overall weekend of the 2022 Formula One season. It matters not that the championships have already been decided. Brazil is actually overshadowing all races that came before it, for equally positive and less-than-fortunate reasons. And it was the rare weekend where the FIA was not at the center of the controversy.
Starting from pole position, Russell got another great start to lead the pack through the Senna Esses. He was already starting to build a gap to his teammate before Magnussen and Riccardo crashed and caused an early safety car (SC). Russell led the restart, which may have caught Hamilton a bit off-guard. Verstappen was able to gain enough on the pit straight to lunge up the outside of turn one. Hamilton edged ahead into turn two and left very little space for Verstappen on the inside. My initial call was that Hamilton hadn’t left enough space. However, the stewards ruled against Verstappen with a five-second penalty, and the Dutchman later admitted he was willing to take both cars out of the race to prevent Hamilton from winning. It appears the stewards got that one right, as they likely saw from Verstappen’s telemetry that he did nothing to avoid contact and potentially encouraged it.
Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris came together on lap seven, which caused Leclerc to spin off the track. A safety car looked inevitable, but he was able to recover and rejoin the race without noticeable damage. Hamilton, meanwhile, was fighting back from P7 following the restart incident, and by lap 15 had made it back to P4 in pursuit of Carlos Sainz who had a three-second gap. Sainz pitted on lap 18 to switch from medium to soft tires, which implied high tire degradation and a likely two-stop race for most drivers.
By lap 50, Russell was leading Carlos Sainz comfortably and extending his gap on newer soft tires. Hamilton was closing a six-second gap to Sainz. On lap 53, though, Norris had a mechanical failure that triggered a VSC and then full SC. Sainz pitted again for fresh tires, as the Ferrari’s have struggled all season with high deg, and he gave up track position to Hamilton. It then came down to an SC restart with about a dozen laps remaining. Mercedes team radio confirmed that the two drivers could race…but to keep it respectful, as the team was poised for its first victory and first one-two finish of the 2022 campaign.
Russell got away clean on the restart and immediately built a one-second-plus gap to Hamilton to keep him out of DRS range. Alas, Russell, Hamilton and Sainz finished one, two, three. It was a tremendous victory for Russell and Mercedes, which has been clawing its way back all season. And it demonstrated that Russell not only belongs in that seat but that he possesses the pace, awareness and race craft to challenge for titles. This was a long-overdue redemption for his stand-in opportunity (and pit stop debacle) at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020.
Meanwhile, Red Bull came on the radio in the final laps to request (to give team orders, in fast) that Verstappen give the place back to Perez. A few laps earlier, Perez released Verstappen on fresher tires to chase down Alonso. When he was unable to get those extra points, the team wanted to reverse the order, such that Perez could score additional points in his fight with Leclerc in the drivers’ championship. Yes, this was for Perez, but it was also for the entire Red Bull team in pursuit of a one-two finish in the drivers’ championship. Verstappen initially ignored the order and when pressed, he responded that he was not going to give the place and that he’d previously made himself clear as to why that was the case.
The collective F1 universe watched this unfold with a mix of confusion, bewilderment, disbelief, horror, indignation, sympathy (for Perez), disdain (for Verstappen) and a general malaise. We’ve all witnessed the sacrifices Checo has made to assure that Verstappen won both his titles. Checo may not be among the absolute elite drivers on the grid, but he is universally respected. Everyone roots for Checo because he’s a great personality and comes across as an A+ human being. Contrast that with Verstappen, for whom the general feeling is that he’s one of the best F1 drivers ever take the checkered flag…but far from a likable sports personality. Team principle Christian Horner defends this, saying that Max doesn’t seek adoration. And that’s fine. But that’s not what this incident is even about. It’s a simple matter of right and wrong.
Is F1 a team sport? Yes. Are both drivers competing for themselves as well as the team? Yes. Do team orders matter? Yes. Is any single driver above the team? No. If you’ve already won the Drivers’ championship, shouldn’t you do what you can to help a teammate that played a critical role in that championship? Obviously. Is there any excuse for what Verstappen did to Perez and his team in Brazil? No. It’s disappointing on so many levels. Verstappen claims to have his reasons but refuses to state them publicly. If they are valid, shouldn’t he be open to sharing them? Or does he feel they’d invite even more criticism of his actions?
We head to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates next week for the final race of the season, and we’ll be there in the Paddock. Subscribe here for coverage and follow my socials for the play-by-play. Will Mercedes overtake Ferrari for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship? Will Perez secure P2 in the Drivers’ Championship (despite having no help from his teammate)? Will Mercedes prove that Brazil wasn’t a fluke?