Mercedes’ George Russell claimed the first victory of his Formula One career on Saturday when he won a closely-contested sprint race at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Briton, in his 81st Grand Prix weekend, started third on the grid behind maiden pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen of Haas and two-time champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull, but powered to a thrilling triumph in a breathless 24-lap contest.
Carlos Sainz of Ferrari finished second ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes, who faced a post-race investigation into a starting procedure infringement.
Sainz is set to take a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s full Grand Prix race after having an engine change.
That’s a move that could see Hamilton join Russell on the front row of the grid with the sprint result shaping the starting line-up for the penultimate race of the season.
Verstappen, who passed Magnussen at the start of lap three, was the only front-runner on medium tyres and was unable to resist Russell’s pace and then fell back to fourth after a brush with Sainz.
He finished ahead of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari.
Lando Norris finished seventh for McLaren ahead of Magnussen, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri.
“That’s how we roll, baby,” said a delighted Russell on team radio. “That’s how we roll! Very nicely done. Big points for tomorrow – let’s go.”
His win was Mercedes’ first success this season.
Russell earned eight points for his win with Sainz taking seven and Hamilton, subject to any penalty, six. “Mega job guys,” said Hamilton. “Congratulations to George – that’s awesome.”
The newly-adopted Brazilian citizen added that he was hoping to claim a win on Sunday to preserve his record of a victory in every season of his career.
In warm and dry conditions, Magnussen made a perfect start from his maiden pole position and led for the opening two laps while Verstappen defended against Russell.
The world champion then powered into the lead at start of lap three while behind him Fernando Alonso and Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon battled and collided, the two-time champion pitting after damaging his front wing.
“He pushed me in Turn Four and then finally in the straight,” reported the Spaniard, referring to Ocon as ‘our friend’ in a sarcastic radio message. “Well done.”
Verstappen stayed in control, without providing convincing pace, until lap 15 when Russell passed him on the run to Turn Four, after four laps in fierce competition had produced thrilling thrust-and-defend battles between them.
Once out in clean air, Russell demonstrated the potential of his Mercedes as Magnussen fell back to seventh and Hamilton rose to fourth in the second of the ‘silver arrows’.
By lap 20, with four to go, Russell led Sainz, who had fought his way past Verstappen at Turn One a lap earlier, leaving the Dutchman with a damaged front wing, and Hamilton, up to third with a clean pass of the Red Bull.
In an all-action race, the two Aston Martins also had a close brush when Lance Stroll defended hard against Vettel, forcing the four-time champion off the track onto the grass.
“Ok,” muttered Vettel of the incident which led to a 10-second penalty for the Canadian. In his penultimate race, he rediscovered his old spark and raced to ninth as an excited crowd roared their approval.
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