Brazilian GP: Forget off-track drama and strap in for one of the best weekends of 2023 F1 season

The 2023 Brazilian GP should be one of the best events of the 2023 F1 season

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Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes during 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Formula 1 fans could be forgiven for forgetting there’s a grand prix going on this weekend, with such a slew of off-track stories hogging the headlines as the grid arrives in Interlagos for the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Between Sergio Perez simultaneously losing his 2024 Red Bull seat to Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso, who’s also reportedly retiring, and the cancellation of the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP due to a conflict over 2,000km away, it’s been quite a week.

None of which is even happening, as it turns out.

Those storylines continued to dominate Thursday press conferences in Sao Paulo but thankfully, there were some questions about the actual race weekend starting to creep in too.

And what a weekend it should be. The Americas triple-header has delivered fantastic drama, thrills and spills between the Circuit of the Americas and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez but Interlagos was always set to be the jewel in that continental crown.

Interlagos: Best track on the F1 calendar?

Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri at the start of 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s hard to argue. Interlagos hasn’t hosted a bad race since 2015, the longest run of any track on the F1 calendar, and only Silverstone can rival it for consistent quality.

The track arcs and twists, plummets and falls upon a Sao Paulo hillside to create 15(ish, see Arquibancadas) gloriously simple yet scorchingly quick corners of perfection.

There’s plenty of opportunity for wheel-to-wheel action – Hamilton made 24 overtakes over the 2021 sprint weekend – but the back-to-back DRS straights in the first sector mean defending drivers still have cards to play too.

Two more ingredients for hair-raising action – rain and safety cars – aren’t exactly unknown in these parts either.

F1‘s last four trips to South America have all produced blockbuster clashes between Mercedes and Red Bull, but this time there’s the genuine possibility of a four-team battle at the front with McLaren and Ferrari also coming on leaps and bounds recently.

The more both teams play down expectations, the better they seem to perform, and they were excitingly understated facing the media ahead of the weekend.

And fans get to see twice as much action thanks to the sprint format – more on that later.

“It’s pure excitement, obviously this place will always hold a special place in my heart,” last year’s winner George Russell told the media.

That was his maiden grand prix win, ten years after Nico Hulkenberg marked a different career first at Interlagos by taking a surprise pole position for Williams – and it’s easy to forget that this is the German’s first full F1 season since 2019.

“It’s always nice to come here, I love the track, love the place, the culture, the people,” Hulkenberg added. “And I’ve always done well here so looking forward to it.

“I haven’t been here in a few years but the track hasn’t really changed, a little bit of resurfacing here and there so it’s broadly the same and looking forward to a busy sprint weekend.”

Can Mercedes’ lightning strike twice?

Las Vegas Strip | REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

The HMS Mercedes Victory was meant to have sailed for the season before the 2022 Brazilian GP, but George Russell nailed his car setup, produced one of his performances of the season and got the required Verstappen misfortune to score a memorable win.

12 months on and they’re winless heading to Sao Paulo yet again, so can lightning strike twice? Interlagos really is Mercedes‘ last shot at glory for 2023 – Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi are both power tracks that will play well away from the W14‘s strengths, but they do have reasons to be cheerful in Brazil.

The Austin upgrades have worked as intended – for Hamilton at least – and Brackley now has two weekends’ worth of data to analyse in order to nail Mercedes‘ set-up in Sao Paulo. But will that be enough?

“I anticipate Red Bull will blitz it because their car is great,” Hamilton said. “But if that is not the case, I will be ready to take the fight to them.

“If it can be anything like Austin and we can get our strategy better, than that would be incredible. I came away empty-handed last season – I don’t plan on that this year.”

“After the last couple of races I’ve been getting messages from people saying, ‘It is looking good.’

“But I said to them, ‘Well, it was looking good at the end of last year, too, but we started this season 1.5 seconds behind’. I am not dazzled by where we are currently. But I am thinking long-term at the moment, and in the short term, trying to solidify second in the constructors.”

Twice as nice

Oscar Piastri celebrates after the 2023 Qatar GP Sprint Race | McLaren F1 Team

Whatever your opinion of the sprint format, surely no one can deny that if it’s to be implemented anywhere then Interlagos is the perfect host.

The track’s produced two scintillating sprints to date, and if the leading teams are as close as predicted then fans can bank on more of the same this weekend.

Verstappen admitted Red Bull got their setup slightly wrong at the United States GP, where he finished just two seconds ahead of Hamilton, but can they avoid the same mistake two weeks later?

There’s no margin for error, and simulator preparation – which hasn’t exactly been Mercedes‘ strength over the past few years – is more important than ever with just one FP1 session.

And though most drivers still prefer traditional weekends over sprints, the reduced free practice is one feature that’s been almost universally praised.

“I like the fact of having only one free practice session,” said Charles Leclerc. “I don’t think we should have more than six sprint weekends of a year. I think six is good.

“But to have one free practice and go straight to qualifying is something I enjoy. I think the Saturday could be changed and improved but I really like the Friday.

“Three free practice sessions is really long and sometimes it can get a bit boring, we always go through the same program. So I like the fact of having only one free practice and going straight to action with qualifying.”

Can Perez respond?

Sergio Perez talks to Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko in the garage | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Forget the talk surrounding Perez‘s future, the Mexican has problems right here in the present. Perez saw his lead over Lewis Hamilton cut from 39 points to 20 in his home race last weekend, and his hold on second place in the drivers’ championship could be dispensed with by just a pair of nail clippers.

Despite all their F1 success, Red Bull have never scored a one-two in the drivers’ standings and Christian Horner is well aware of that fact.

If Red Bull do finish 2023 only one race shy of a clean sweep but Perez lets that milestone slip through his grasp, it will go down as a major failure.

The RB19 is one of the most dominant cars in F1 history but he’s not even scored a podium over the last five races, and that needs to change with Hamilton looking stronger than ever in the W14.

To make things even worse for Perez, he didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement from his teammate – 12 months after Verstappen caused huge controversy at Interlagos by refusing to give up sixth to the Mexican who was fighting for the championship runner-up spot.

“I think at the end of the day, I think that it shouldn’t always matter on me to get the points,” Verstappen said. “But I’m confident in Checo that he can stay ahead because I do think that we have the faster car on average .

“And I think also last year, it wasn’t really well spoken about before we got into the race weekend. But yeah, let’s just hope that we don’t get into that. That situation I think it’s better for everyone.”

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.

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