The final race of the Formula 1 triple-header is upon us this weekend in Sao Paulo, the final Sprint weekend of this season.
Verstappen is yet to lose his stranglehold on the top step of the podium since Singapore that is, having won both grands prix in Austin and Mexico despite not enjoying smooth qualifying sessions.
Mercedes, on the other hand, have been strong since they brought a new floor to their W14 in Austin, especially with Lewis Hamilton and will be looking to enjoy some success in Brazil, the venue of their last win, where Russell took a maiden F1 win in 2022.
Perez had a nightmare home race, crashing out on lap one, and will be looking to make amends, especially if he wants to fend off Hamilton who’s chasing him for second in the F1 Drivers Championship.
He also needs to show Red Bull that he’s their best option as Verstappen’s teammate, given Daniel Ricciardo’s strong result in Mexico, qualifying fourth and finishing a points-scoring seventh in the AlphaTauri.
After the disqualifications of Hamilton and Leclerc in Austin due to the under-floor planks on their cars being excessively worn out as both Mercedes and Ferrari messed up their ride-height setup with only one practice session due to the Sprint – Will we see the same issues this weekend?
As for the tyres, went a bit more on the hard side compared to Mexico, with the C2 (Hard), C3 (Medium), and C4 (Soft) compounds available for the teams.
The temperatures were somehow high at the start of the session, 43 degrees Celsius for the track, 30 degrees Celsius for the air. The skies were clouded with rain maybe making an appearance in qualifying, but for practice, risk of rain is only 20%.
The only team to bring upgrades to the 2023 Sao Paulo Grand Prix were Haas who brought a circuit specific front wing to their VF23.
Aston Martin apparently seem to have the old-spec AMR23 in action this weekend. The team doesn’t seem to understand their Austin upgrade yet.
Being the only practice session this weekend made it even more important as drivers did not waste time to get out on track, Verstappen the first car at the exit of the pitlane.
Esteban Ocon soon reported that there was a screw stuck on his tyre, horizontally which explains why there was no puncture yet. Alpine responded that they will monitor and hope it just falls off.
Verstappen soon reports that his seat is “flexing” and not “installed correctly” but was happy to wait until he pitted to sort it out. His engineer confirmed it was not a “reliability issue” and could wait.
All the drivers started FP1 on Hard tyres, Verstappen leading the timing screens early on, almost four tenths faster than Perez in second. Fernando Alonso was third. That was ten minutes into the session.
Sainz had a brief moment at the final corner, the rear of his SF-23 stepping out a bit. Nothing serious though.
15 minutes into the session and this was the top five: Verstappen – Perez – Hamilton – Nico Hulkenberg – Russell.
TV footage showed Verstappen got out of his car once he was back in the pits as his mechanics worked on sorting out his wobbly seat.
Alonso was soon informed by his team that he has a puncture and was asked to returned to the pit for a new set. Not ideal when you are trying to save tyres in a Sprint weekend. Maybe it was the screw that fell off Ocon’s tyre?
On the other hand, replay showed Piastri locking up his front tyres trying to slow down while entering the pits. Did he slow down? Or will he receive a penalty for speeding in the pitlane?
In the meantime, Yuki Tsunoda bolts some Medium tyres on and goes fastest… Soon Russell follows suit and goes fastest. That is halfway through the session.
Kevin Magnussen soon set out on track with Soft tyres for a qualifying run… Remember what he did at Interlagos last year?
As for Ricciardo, things are not looking good, as he was stuck in the garage with floor damage. Not what you need when you have one practice session.
Hulkenberg and Norris ran into each other on track in the final corner, Norris on the inside overtaking the German who was getting ready for a flying lap on Soft tyres.
Hulkenberg returned to the pits for a quick inspection was sent out again, no damage done, but the stewards noted the incident.