Max Verstappen eased to victory in Formula 1’s final sprint race of 2023 at the Brazilian Grand Prix, while Lando Norris split the Red Bulls in second.
Verstappen passed poleman Norris into Turn 1 after getting a better start, then spent the first few laps eking clear of George Russell’s Mercedes.
Russell had jumped Sergio Perez’s Red Bull off the line then mugged Norris later round the opening lap with a nice move into the tight Turn 10 right-hander towards the end of the middle sector.
He stayed within DRS range of Verstappen for a short while before Norris came back at him, the McLaren driver reclaiming second place with a straightforward pass into the first corner on lap five.
But Norris could do nothing about Verstappen ahead, as the 2023 world champion managed the gap to his good friend with relative ease before moving comfortably clear by the chequered flag.
Perez gradually made his way back to the podium as well, first repassing Lewis Hamilton – having been overtaken by a fine round-the-outside pass by Hamilton into Turn 4 on the first lap – then catching and passing Russell.
It took him two goes though as Russell was able to fight back initially and repass Perez on the outside into Turn 4 using the DRS, but a couple of laps later Perez made the move stick.
Mercedes’ strong opening lap thus faded to a low-key and quite disheartening fourth and seventh, with Hamilton keeping Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari at arm’s length throughout before falling back in the final laps.
He was passed with ease by Leclerc and then Yuki Tsunoda as the Mercedes looked extremely vulnerable on the start-finish straight.
Tsunoda scored AlphaTauri’s first ever sprint race points in sixth with a very accomplished drive, but team-mate Daniel Ricciardo’s ambition got the better of him and potentially denied the team a double points finish.
While Tsunoda ran comfortably between the Ferraris in the first half of the race, Ricciardo looked to take advantage of Carlos Sainz having to do some lift-and-coast management for most of the race to grab the final points position.
Ricciardo first got ahead of Sainz at mid-distance, sweeping round the outside into the first corner, but the Ferrari easily reclaimed the position on the run to Turn 4.
Ricciardo had another go in the same place a few laps later, when perhaps it would have been more prudent to wait for the DRS, and when Sainz switched back in the same manner again, Ricciardo then got jumped by Oscar Piastri as well and fell to 10th.
He did work his way back past the McLaren, and caught Sainz back up by the final lap, but fell just short of the Ferrari as Sainz benefitted from catching Hamilton and having a tow and the DRS himself on the run to the line.
Piastri dropped back some way behind that trio by the finish, having complained about picking up possible damage from the opening lap.
The McLaren rookie had set himself up for a comfortable points finish on the first lap with a great start, and went from 10th to seventh by Turn 3 – passing Tsunoda around the outside and possibly running over some debris in the process.
He then overshot his braking into Turn 4 challenging Leclerc, which dropped him back behind all the cars he had passed, but was at least able to hold off Fernando Alonso for 10th on the final lap.