SAO PAULO (AP) — Red Bull’s Sergio Perez has faced headwinds in recent weeks, including his crash out of the Mexican Grand Prix and a narrowing the gap between him and Lewis Hamilton in the fight for the runner-up position in the drivers’ championship.
The Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos also added frustration for the Mexican, who will start Sunday’s race in ninth position after a poor qualifying session amid rain on Friday. But a third-place finish in Saturday’s sun lit sprint race gave him a boost of six points against Hamilton’s two, plus hope that it could all be different on Sunday.
Perez is second in the F1 standings and trying to block Hamilton, who cut the deficit from 39 points to 20 with three races remaining. Saturday’s sprint race could push the Mercedes driver to take more risks in a race where most of the fans will be pushing for him.
Perez agreed he is more confident about his car for the race in Brazil.
“In Mexico, we were strong. But here it has been a good, solid day. It is a good place,” Perez said. “Tomorrow, I have to try to improve what everyone has. Anything is possible.”
The Mexican had to fight back to reclaim the third position from which he started. He was overtaken by both Mercedes drivers early in the sprint race, with raucous Brazilian fans cheering for both George Russell and Hamilton. Perez’s high speed in straight lines made the difference so he could leave both behind later.
Formula One champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull, who will start the race in pole position, won at Interlagos his fourth sprint race in the season and will add another eight points to his tally. McLaren’s Lando Norris finished second, more than four seconds behind the Dutchman in the 24-lap contest.
Norris started the sprint race from pole position, with Verstappen in second and Perez in third. Before the first lap was finished the three-time F1 champion was already in first position.
“That is something to look back on,” Norris said. “My initial start was good, but my second phase of the launch, maybe I was just a bit conservative.”
The sprint race awards more points, but under new rules no longer counts as qualifying for the grand prix. The one at Interlagos was the last of the 2023 season.
Earlier, Norris sounded surprised with the result of the sprint race qualifying on team radio. “Good job, I guess? (The lap) looks so bad, but so good,” the 23-year-old said.
Later he added to his disbelief speaking to broadcasters.
“Honestly it felt like one of the worst laps I’ve done, so I’m a bit surprised. My first pole in a long time, so I’m happy,” Norris said.
Sunday’s race will have Verstappen in pole position, as defined by Friday’s qualifying amid heavy rain and strong winds at Interlagos. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will start in second position, and the two Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso will be in the second row.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will start from the fifth spot on Sunday.
Very little is at stake in Sao Paulo. Verstappen won his third consecutive title in early October, and Red Bull has already claimed the manufacturer championship.
Alonso in Friday practice said the track was dirty and “not in Formula One standards.” Stewards worked to clean some of the turns as soon as practice was over, and as of Saturday conditions seemed to be improved.
On Friday, Formula One announced it has extended Interlagos’ contract until 2030.
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