George Russell caught and passed Max Verstappen to take Mercedes’ first win of 2022 in a thrilling sprint race at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Verstappen and Russell found themselves in a fight for the lead after quickly dispensing with pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen’s Haas after two laps.
After several laps from wheel to wheel, Russell took the lead from Verstappen just after half the distance.
Verstappen ultimately finished the race fourth.
The world champion also fell behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton after losing to Russell.
It was a remarkable result at the end of an exciting race, which marks the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Not only was it Mercedes’ first win at the end of a long and difficult season, it was the first time Verstappen had gone through and lost a race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July.
Since then, a Red Bull driver has won all nine grands prix, eight of them for Verstappen as he claimed his second consecutive world title.
Verstappen complained of running over some debris, which could have damaged his car, but Russell’s pace was impressive throughout the race from the start.
Verstappen was the only favorite to go for the medium tyre, while everyone else in the top 10 went for the softs, and there will be questions as to whether that was a mistake.
Verstappen passed Magnussen on lap three, with Russell following three corners later.
Given Red Bull’s pace this season, the expectation was that the Dutchman would walk away with the race, but that was not what happened.
Russell stayed with Verstappen, only more than a second behind for two laps, and by lap 11 of 24 the Mercedes was right with the Red Bull.
Russell attacked hard, Verstappen defended just as hard, for three laps, as the Mercedes driver attacked through turns one and four looking for a way past.
He finally did it on lap 15, when he passed Verstappen through the first three corners, slid him down the backstretch and passed before turn four, much like the way Hamilton passed Verstappen for the win in his sensational race at last year’s grand prix.
Once Russell took the lead, he pulled away and took control of the race, and Verstappen was soon threatened by Sainz’s Ferrari.
Again, Verstappen defended strongly, but Sainz was just as aggressive as he went into turn one with five laps to go.
Sainz ran over Verstappen on the exit of the corner, and the Red Bull’s front wing hit the Ferrari’s rear tyre, ripping off its end plate.
Hamilton then passed Verstappen magnificently by taking him out of turn four and up the hill towards turn five.
Verstappen said: “It was a bit harder than expected in some ways. But even on the soft we wouldn’t have been quick enough, so clearly we were struggling to keep the tires alive, so this is something we need to deal with. to solve”. morning [Sunday] although there is not much you can do.
“It can’t get much worse than this. I would have finished fourth with a damaged front wing or not.”
Behind Verstappen, his teammate Perez asked Red Bull to swap places for the extra point that would help him in his bid to beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place in the drivers’ championship, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. broken.
Leclerc, who started tenth, finished sixth behind Perez, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, with Magnussen taking the final point in eighth.
The Alpine race fell apart after Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso started sixth and seventh.
Ocon pushed Alonso wide at turn four as the Spaniard tried to pass on the first lap, damaging his front wing, and then moved ever so slightly again as Alonso went down the straight at the end of the lap.
It left Alonso clearly unimpressed and prompted some pointed radio messages, in which he made it clear that he disapproved of Ocon’s driving.
The incident damaged Ocon’s sidepod, and he dropped from sixth on the opening lap to finish 18th, his car catching fire in pit lane at the end.