10 things we learned from the 2023 F1 Brazilian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen returned to sprint winning ways at the final such shorter event of 2023, following up his Austin sprint vicory, after his surprise defeat to Oscar Piastri in the Qatar weekend’s first race. In Brazil, Verstappen quickly overcame the other McLaren of Lando Norris to earn his fourth sprint win of the year.

That pair again fought it out for victory early at Interlagos, with Norris mounting a rare attack on a Verstappen lead during the early stages. But the Dutchman soon returned to his usual dominant position and roared to a 17th 2023 win and a fourth sprint weekend double.

Elsewhere, Charles Leclerc endured yet more Ferrari reliability misery and Fernando Alonso produced another defensive masterclass, this time allied to a great attacking display too, to defy Sergio Perez late on. Mercedes, meanwhile, had little good to reflect on post-both races at the track where it stunned Red Bull to win in 2022.

The weekend also included plenty of major news lines during the off-track moments – including surprise revelations about F1’s future tyres and the results of the recent US GP, plus a calendar contract extension for the Brazilian race. All that and more is included here in the pick of what we learned from F1’s latest visit to Sao Paulo.

1. Verstappen’s latest win means he’ll soon break a 71-year-old F1 record

The latest victory in Verstappen's campaign of domination pushes him close to Ascari's 1952 hit rate

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The latest victory in Verstappen’s campaign of domination pushes him close to Ascari’s 1952 hit rate

Max Verstappen was that rarest of things early in the 2023 Brazilian GP – under real threat for the lead he’d preserved this time through two starts from pole. Norris had a real go at passing him into Turn 4 on lap eight, before the Red Bull driver turned on the jets through his initial attempts to ease his first set of softs into this careful tyre management affair.

PLUS: The crucial lap that swung F1’s Brazilian GP from Norris to Verstappen

From there, Verstappen pulled clear of Norris, who reckoned he might still “potentially could have” fought his way into a temporary lead before deciding “it wasn’t worth a second attempt” and risk damaging his tyres with Alonso lurking in clean air in third. By the end, with Norris reflecting on how “I just drop-off a bit too much” against Verstappen armed with an RB19 that looks after its rubber so well, the gap had elongated to an 8.2s final margin.

In taking his 17th win of the 2023 campaign, Verstappen’s GP victory percentage now stands at 85.00%. This means the lowest he can go on to achieve if something goes awry in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi is 77.3%, which is above the 75% Alberto Ascari achieved for Ferrari in 1952 under F1’s Formula 2 rules era.

2. Alonso’s “unconventional” line driving key to his defensive masterclass versus Perez

Alonso was elated with his podium after holding back Perez at the line

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Alonso was elated with his podium after holding back Perez at the line

For the second time in his F1 comeback, Alonso produced an epic defensive display to earn a glittering result. For his holding up of Lewis Hamilton to aid then team-mate Esteban Ocon’s run to victory for Alpine in the 2021 Hungarian GP, this time the Aston Martin driver’s fine defensive work against Sergio Perez’s faster Red Bull earned Alonso an eighth 2023 podium.

Having seen off Perez’s surge towards the end of their medium-shod middle stint once the Mexican driver was clear of Hamilton, Alonso then had to contend with a 20-lap chase to the end with Perez all over his rear and usually armed with DRS. Alonso was so cool, silently deploying his electrical energy boost as required – usually on the runs to Turns 1 and 4 – and taking lines in Turns 10 and 12 that were “maybe a bit unconventional”, per Aston team boss Mike Krack.

PLUS: Brazilian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2023

By going wider through these corners, never getting close to the Turn 12 apex in this electrifying contest, Alonso was able to get better exits and Perez only started to react to this relatively late.

He got close on the outside line at Turn 1 on lap 60, before finally Perez squeezed through on the inside line there with one lap to go. But Alonso wasn’t to be denied – running close with DRS at the same spot starting the final lap, to which Perez reacted by needlessly going off the best line. Alonso closed through the rest of the Senna S, then nailed his sole chance to repass at Turn 4 with DRS.

Utterly brilliant, with a 0.053s final margin as Perez used DRS to get oh-so-close at the line.

3. Engine electrics again behind Leclerc’s latest Ferrari reliability anguish

Leclerc's race never got going as an electronic command issue caused him to crash on the formation lap

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Leclerc’s race never got going as an electronic command issue caused him to crash on the formation lap

It was a sight F1 so rarely sees – a driver, a top-line one at that – crashing on the formation lap. At Interlagos, Leclerc did exactly that, which left his impressively secured second place starting spot behind Verstappen unoccupied when proceedings did (briefly) get going for the first time.

He initially thought a hydraulics problem cut his power steering and engine, which left him no defence to counter sudden rear locking at Turn 6. In fact, Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur later revealed “the system switched off the hydraulic and engine – the result of the command from the system… more an electronic command than something else” was to blame for triggering the whole sorry mess.

In the immediate aftermath, Leclerc lamented “why the fuck am I so unlucky?” over his team radio. It called to mind his painful Bahrain season opener DNF, where a different engine electrics problem caused his retirement from a certain podium finish and led on to his race two grid penalty requiring new engine components.

Things had been looking up for Leclerc since Ferrari’s Suzuka floor update had returned him to oversteering-taming happiness, but now further reliability woe will be on his mind as he enters his critical off-season contract talks.

4. Mercedes ends 2023’s late triple-header with “totally baffling” Brazil race pace struggles

Mercedes faded badly during a race Wolff described as the worst of his tenure

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Mercedes faded badly during a race Wolff described as the worst of his tenure

Mercedes was left to rue a “totally baffling” Brazilian weekend performance – according to team boss Toto Wolff – as its grand prix performance mirrored its sprint struggles. This was so soon after the Black Arrows team had been podium and even possible victory contenders earlier in F1’s late-2023 triple-header starting in Austin.

In the main race last weekend, Mercedes’ fortunes started strongly as Hamilton carved by the Aston Martin pair – with little all three drivers could do to prevent Lando Norris stealing through against the pitwall and on Turn 1’s inside line. George Russell, meanwhile, leapt by the slow-starting Carlos Sainz, while at the restart he jumped Lance Stroll and even briefly raced with Fernando Alonso.

But Hamilton locking up fighting Norris at this point boosted Alonso’s run ahead of Russell and the Aston Martin driver then fought ahead of Hamilton at Turn 4. Things then went rapidly downhill for Mercedes.

Hamilton couldn’t keep pace with Alonso as he slid around, uncomfortable in the wind. This had an inevitable knock-on to his pace and tyre degradation, with a queue of five cars forming behind him in fourth. Russell was frustrated to not be let by, or for Hamilton to aid him with DRS ahead of Sergio Perez, so when Russell lost the aid of DRS the Red Bull powered by before getting Hamilton too. Post pitstop one, Sainz and Pierre Gasly got the Mercedes drivers too.

“We ran the car way too high,” Wolff said on a day where Russell ended up having to drop back from Hamilton’s rear, lift-and-coasting in an unsuccessful bid to stop climbing oil temperatures that caused his retirement from ninth.

“[But] there’s something fundamentally wrong mechanically. It’s not a rear wing and it’s not the car being slightly too high. That is performance that isn’t the explanation for a total off [weekend].”

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5. New, more durable F1 tyres might be coming for 2025

Could more durable tyres be on their way for 2025?

Photo by: Motorsport.com / Japan

Could more durable tyres be on their way for 2025?

After the Brazilian race had concluded, it emerged that Pirelli is about to embark on an intriguing new research project with F1, the FIA and the teams, which could lead to new low-degradation tyres coming in for 2025.

Aerodynamic development from the teams since the start of the new ground-effect era has led to drivers facing tyres very sensitive to overheating – especially while following other cars. This was exacerbated by last weekend’s Friday evening rain deluge resetting the track and leading to lots of rear sliding that had to be carefully managed.

Now, Pirelli is set to “understand is how we modify the action on track and reducing the degradation – this is something we can do”, per its motorsport boss Mario Isola.

“We have just to design a tyre with a different level of degradation and we can for the future consider that option,” he added. “But it’s important to understand if there is any unintended consequence to this.”

The drivers would love tyres that can be pushed on harder for longer, but Pirelli has always stressed this would lead to fewer stops and likely less in-race overtaking. It therefore has a fine line to walk if this research does say it should introduce a new compound for 2025 – the start point of its new three-year contract to supply F1 with rubber.

6. New pitlane impeding rules but Verstappen, Horner still not happy

Pitlane conduct resulted in penalties for both Alpine drivers and Russell, with Verstappen left unimpressed

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Pitlane conduct resulted in penalties for both Alpine drivers and Russell, with Verstappen left unimpressed

After the FIA’s Monza move to impose a maximum lap time in qualifying to try and avoid traffic chaos, the teams and drivers subsequent adjustment to building gaps in the pits led to unedifying scenes of pitlane stoppages and blockages in Mexico. So, the FIA then moved to ban this in Brazil – with the drivers allowed to go slowly, but not stop, to build gaps. That was if they left enough room through the long-walled pit exit here.

But this still caught out several drivers – with Russell and the Alpine pair earning grid penalties for impeding in GP qualifying on Friday – and others had close calls overtaking in the pit exit. It is understood the FIA was, however, happy overall with the change and is set to tweak the rules specifically for different circuits via race director Niels Wittich’s event notes.

But Verstappen still felt “it was absolutely terrible” as “on this track, you have quite a long pit exit and there are some walls, but on some other tracks, if we implement this, you’re driving very slowly onto a straight where people are passing with 300+ [km/h]”.

“And you’re maybe driving at 15, 20 to make a gap, which is extremely dangerous,” he added.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was likewise unimpressed, saying after Saturday’s sprint sessions that “we’re just making it too complicated”, before adding: “You’ve got to go basic: why are the drivers needing to do these out-laps and whatever? Go to the root cause.”

7. Austin track limits and plank sagas wear on

Haas has asked the FIA to review track limits abuses at Austin which it hopes will lift Hulkenberg into the points

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Haas has asked the FIA to review track limits abuses at Austin which it hopes will lift Hulkenberg into the points

Two races on from a rules-saga-splattered US GP weekend, that race was back in the headlines over the Brazil event after Haas submitted a petition to the FIA, following Mexico discussions, for a right of review over alleged track limit infringements. Haas feels these could possibly lead to Nico Hulkenberg being boosted into the Austin points should new penalties be applied to the final results of that GP.

Haas has submitted onboard camera footage of multiple cars – understood to be Perez, Alex Albon, Logan Sargeant and Lance Stroll – possibly transgressing track limits at the Austin track’s not-heavily-policed Turn 6.

The FIA will convene the stewards from the US race this week to see if Haas’s case has merit, which it may not do as the stewards already had onboards available from all cars. Plus, the same stewards had already admitted the lack of CCTV at the spot in question meant they couldn’t accurately judge track limits (in this specific case regarding Albon not getting a further track limits penalty beyond the one he was already handed in the main Austin race).

News in Brazil that also threw back to the US GP was Ferrari admitting it was opting to run on the “safe side” regarding rear ride heights at the undulating Interlagos track after Leclerc’s Austin disqualification for his plank wearing too much, along with Hamilton there. This approach would’ve had an impact on Ferrari’s Brazil pace potential, but with it sharing the sprint race schedule with Austin – a factor in the Ferrari and Mercedes teams not having enough practice to add in a ride height margin –the Scuderia did not want to take any more risks.

“I can guarantee you that we are on the, let’s say, safe side here,” said Ferrari sporting director Diego Ioverno. “It’s always a trade off because to be a bit safer, you have to give away a bit of performance, but it is worth the effort.”

8. Massa isn’t barred from the F1 paddock amid ongoing 2008 legal wrangling

Massa was back in the paddock as his legal case against F1 continues

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Massa was back in the paddock as his legal case against F1 continues

At his home F1 race, ex-racer and 2008 title contender Felipe Massa returned to the paddock as a guest after he was asked not to attend in his previous capacity as an F1 ambassador due to his ongoing legal attempts to change the result of his best campaign in the championship.

PLUS: The forgotten F1 finale controversy that set a precedent Massa ignored

Massa had been “going as an ambassador of F1 [to the Monza race] and also Japan, and also here [in Brazil], and also Vegas”. But despite the legal situation and his lack of ambassador appearances, Massa insisted “after everything that is happening, I was invited here and I believe it was the correct thing to do – I’m really happy to be here in the paddock”.

“[F1 CEO] Stefano [Domenicali] is a big friend,” Massa also said last weekend of his former Ferrari team boss, who held that role during the controversial 2008 season. “I always talk to him, apart from everything that happened, so there’s nothing really to say about that.

“He never changed the relationship or the behaviour with me, and he will never change. In the end, it’s the same company, with different people, also the FIA. But anyway, I really hope that the people that are now taking care of FIA or FOM are doing the right thing, for the justice of the sport, so what’s happened in the past can never happen again.”

9. Yet more sprint race format changes are likely for 2024

More format tweaks are in the works for 2024 as sprint races continue to split opinion

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

More format tweaks are in the works for 2024 as sprint races continue to split opinion

The Brazil weekend included F1’s sixth and final sprint event of 2023, where it also emerged that it and the FIA are in discussion with the teams over possibly tweaking the format for a third successive year since its 2021 debut.

There is a proposal for GP qualifying to return to its traditional Saturday afternoon slot, with the sprint race held earlier that day instead. The sprint shootout session would then be moved to Friday afternoon following one practice outing. That could mean parc ferme being re-opened after the first race to allow teams to make set-up changes ahead of qualifying for the main event.

Amidst this news breaking, Horner explained his feelings that “what we have at the moment isn’t quite right for the drivers, the fans or the teams”.

He added: “I think there needs to be more to it. We have just won a sprint race [with Verstappen’s crushing victory in the Interlagos sprint last Saturday], and nobody quite knows what to do because all the focus is already on the grand prix. It’s like you’ve won a long run and got a medal for it.”

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10. Interlagos isn’t imperilled by F1’s calendar increases

F1 has extended its contract with Interlagos through to 2030

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

F1 has extended its contract with Interlagos through to 2030

The Sao Paulo track has long been popular with fans and drivers and in recent years has undergone significant development of its paddock facilities. It is the only track to have held a sprint race in each of the seasons since the shorter races were introduced in 2021, which reflects its overtaking chances and unpredictable nature.

Last Friday, it was announced by F1 and the mayor of Sao Paulo that the race will continue to take place at Interlagos for another five years – taking its secured spot on the championship’s ever-expanding calendar for an additional five years up to the 2030 campaign.

This is significant in that before it signed its previous deal with F1 in 2020, the race didn’t pay a hosting fee and there had been legal difficulties in using public funds to pay for £2.7million a year as part of the old deal, which includes the official title being the Sao Paulo GP. That outlay has not proved to be a hurdle for the race, which moved quickly under F1’s current popularity boom to secure a new contract.

The Brazilian race is popular with fans, drivers and teams alike

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The Brazilian race is popular with fans, drivers and teams alike

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