George Russell fights past Max Verstappen to win Brazilian GP sprint race
George Russell brilliantly fought his way past Max Verstappen to take the first win of his Formula One career in Saturday’s sprint race to claim pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Russell hounded Verstappen for a number of thrilling laps at Interlagos before making his move stick between Turns 3 and 4 to triumph for Mercedes.
The 24-year-old British driver kept his composure to take the chequered flag 3.9 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, with Lewis Hamilton passing Verstappen on lap 20 to take third. Pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen took the chequered flag in eighth.
Magnussen sprung the shock of the season when he claimed the first pole of his career in Friday night’s rain-affected qualifying.
But the 30-year-old Dane’s dreams of following up his maiden pole with his first win were over on the start of lap three when Verstappen cruised past him on the run down to Turn 1.
Verstappen was one of only two drivers to start the race on the slower, but more durable medium tyres.
However, the peculiar move totally backfired on the double world champion with Russell, on the soft rubber, the speedier man.
By lap 12, Russell was crawling all over the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull and the Mercedes driver looked to have got the job done on the run down to Turn 4, only for Verstappen to hold firm.
The following lap, Russell tried his luck again but Verstappen defended for his life to cling on to the lead.
But his defence ended two laps later when Russell got the better exit out of the sweeping left-hander third bend to accelerate ahead of Verstappen for the lead.
Verstappen was suddenly a man in trouble and soon it was Sainz’s turn to gazump the Red Bull driver on lap 19 with Hamilton following through at the start of the ensuing lap.
Hamilton chased Sainz to the flag but could not complete a Mercedes one-two, finishing half-a-second behind the Spaniard.
However, Sainz’s grid penalty for an engine change means Hamilton will join Russell in an all-Mercedes front-row for the penultimate Grand Prix of the season on Sunday.
Verstappen finished fourth ahead of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez with Charles Leclerc sixth for Ferrari and McLaren driver Lando Norris seventh.
“It is incredible,” said Russell. “I didn’t expect to have that much pace but it goes to show the progress we have made as a team.
“It is difficult to know how Max would have got on with the soft tyre, but nevertheless, standing here it is a great feeling.
“This is the sprint race and you have to manage that risk-reward. I wanted the victory but I didn’t want no points and to start at the back tomorrow, but it was third-time lucky.
“It is great to have both cars on the front row. Lewis did a great job coming from eighth. We are in a luxury position where we can split the strategy tomorrow and go for the win.”
Hamilton, who became an honorary citizen of Brazil following a ceremony in Brasilia on Monday, added: “I am so happy to be here.
“It has been an incredible week. It was a difficult day yesterday but then making my way through from eighth on the grid.
“Congratulations to George. We have worked so hard this year and to be on the front row, it is incredible.
“We can work as a team and hopefully hold off the guys behind. Winning for Brazil tomorrow would be incredible.”
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