Max Verstappen took a crushing victory at the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix, but Fernando Alonso stole the show with a stunning last-lap overtake on Sergio Perez to claim a very well-earned podium for Aston Martin.
Perez had tracked Alonso for over half the race and looked set to take his first podium in six races when he overtook the Spaniard with two laps to go.
However, Alonso hadn’t read that script and brazenly repassed the Red Bull at turn four, before holding onto third by just 0.053s as both cars drag-raced to the line.
That was behind Verstappen and Lando Norris, who looked locked in as top two from a handful of laps in.
On the weekend where Red Bull added to their extensive array of 2023 achievements by breaking Mercedes‘ record for most laps led in a season, they managed an even more impressive accomplishment in Brazil by making a dull race at Interlagos.
At least there was drama at the start though, as Charles Leclerc‘s race ended before it had even begun when he lost hydraulics and slammed into the barrier at turn seven on the formation lap.
“NOOO! Why the f**k am I so unlucky?”Charles Leclerc team radio after crashing out of the formation lap
With one car already retired before lights out, two more quickly followed suit when Nico Hulkenberg edged Alex Albon into Kevin Magnussen on the run to turn one, the German the only one to survive the racing incident which caused a red flag.
A tyre carcass got loose on the track and bounced into Daniel Ricciardo‘s AT04 while compatriot Oscar Piastri picked up rear-wing damage, but both Australians were able to continue.
Further up the grid, the Aston Martins had a nightmare start as Norris and Lewis Hamilton both swept past in a Union-Jacked pincer movement, though Alonso repaid the favour on his former teammate at the restart.
Norris even got alongside Verstappen on the Reta Aposta on lap eight, but couldn’t sustain that charge and settled into second as he still chases his first win in Formula 1.
Starting ninth, Perez made swift progress up the field but followed the Mercedes in pitting early and had to retake Hamilton which stalled his charge to the podium fight.
It was a torrid Sunday for the Silver Arrows, George Russell initially looked the faster driver but was pinned behind Hamilton despite regular pleas to the pit wall to invert the cars.
However, Mercedes would’ve needed an intervention much more complete than that to look competitive in Sao Paulo, possessing no straight-line speed they found themselves fighting Alpine in the closing stages compared to Red Bull 12 months ago.
The medium tyres were as uncompetitive as expected with new sets often slower than worn softs, and things were stagnant in the top three for almost 60 laps between Verstappen, Norris and Alonso until Perez finally and arrived on the scene in the final stint.
Aston Martin reverted a lot of their recent upgrades in Sao Paulo and it appears to have done the trick, with Alonso eking every drop of performance from the AMR23.
After defending devilishly for over 15 laps from Perez, all looked lost when the Mexican passed him on Lap 70, but Alonso had one more trick up his sleeve.
And it got even better for Aston Martin with Stroll consolidating fifth ahead of Carlos Sainz for the team’s best points haul since Australia at the start of April.
Hamilton would’ve arrived in Sao Paulo level on points with Perez without his Austin disqualification but finished eighth and haemorrhaged 12 points this weekend to his rival for second place in the championship.
Alpine scored a strong double-points finish with Pierre Gasly in seventh and Esteban Ocon in tenth, Yuki Tsunoda was also in the top 10 but Logan Sargeant fell agonisingly short in 11th.
Another blow for luckless Leclerc
Leclerc‘s disqualification from the 2023 United States GP meant he completed the collection of DNF, DNS and DSQ all from pole position.
He followed that up by becoming the meat in a Red Bull sandwich at the start of the Mexico City GP just a week later, which gave him wing damage for half the race despite starting on pole.
But this might just be the nadir. Leclerc pulled out a fantastic lap in Sao Paulo qualifying and looked set for the Grand Prix podium, after showing strong pace as he fought into the top five in Saturday’s sprint.
So to not even take the start will be all the more galling for a driver whose career could be a synonym for misfortune. Leclerc‘s last victoy was well over a year ago at the 2022 Austrian GP, and he’s not won from pole position in almost 600 days.
Leclerc‘s had 28 pole positions to just five career wins, and this latest catastrophe looks set to make 2023 his third winless season of five at Ferrari.
“I lost the steering wheel and I went straight basically because I had no hydraulics anymore,” Charles Leclerc told the media. “I don’t think it’s a hydraulic problem. I know what it is, I can’t go into details, then there was an engine thing that made me lock the rear wheels.”
Sainz had a hydraulics issue in FP1 in Mexico City but Leclerc insisted the incidents weren’t linked, with the Spaniard also complaining of clutch issues at Interlagos.
“I haven’t gone into details with the guys but what they’ve seen is completely different it’s not what happened to Carlos,” Leclerc added.
“I was happy with my car, we are changing settings from weekend to weekend, he wasn’t happy with what they’d done on their side of the garage but on my side it was all good.”
However, Ferrari weren’t nearly the unluckiest team – both Alfa Romeos retired with mechanical issues meaning over a quarter of the grid failed to finish with Mercedes also calling Russell‘s day early due to high engine temperatures.