Max Verstappen leads Lando Norris at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix
McLaren’s Lando Norris threatened to overtake Max Verstappen in the early stages of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix before the Dutchman pulled away for another comfortable victory

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took a controlled victory in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix to extend his all-time record for wins in a season to 17.

Verstappen fended off a brief challenge from McLaren’s Lando Norris early on before easing away to control the race.

Fernando Alonso took the final podium position after a stunning drive in the Aston Martin, re-passing Sergio Perez’s Red Bull on the last lap after losing the place a lap before.

Mercedes had their worst race of 2023, Lewis Hamilton finishing eighth and George Russell retiring when running 11th.

It was an unwelcome surprise for the former champions after the team felt they had been making progress in recent races with an upgraded floor.

Verstappen’s win was copybook after a brief challenge from Norris in the opening laps.

But the star of the race was arguably Alonso, with a masterful defensive drive against Perez and then some remarkable race-craft to reclaim the position after losing it on the penultimate lap.

Perez was within a second of Alonso, and therefore with use of the DRS overtaking aid, with 16 laps to go.

But Alonso kept a faster car behind him by clever driving, choosing innovative lines through corners and gauging his pace just right at the key points of the track to ensure Perez was never quite able to get by.

As the race went into its final three laps, it appeared as if Alonso was going to hold on, only for Perez to make a valiant final effort and pass him into Turn One on the penultimate lap.

Alonso challenged back into Turn Four, but was unable to make the move stick, and it appeared as if third place was gone.

But he closed back in on Perez, sold him a dummy into Turn One at the start of the final lap, forcing Perez to defend to the inside, which allowed Alonso to compromise the Red Bull’s run through the Senna S.

That gave Alonso a better exit on to the back straight and he reclaimed third place around the outside into Turn Four, and fended Perez off through the final corner and on the run to the line, taking third by just 0.054secs.

Williams' Alex Albon crashes on the first lap of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix
The race was red-flagged after a first-lap crash that led to the retirements of Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen

Return to form for Aston Martin

At the front, it was another masterful performance from Verstappen in one of the greatest cars Formula 1 has ever seen, despite a multi-car pile-up among the backmarkers at the start, which was followed by a safety car and then a race stoppage.

At the restart, Norris tracked Verstappen for a few laps as Verstappen trod carefully with his tyres in the early stages, and even challenged the Red Bull for the lead into Turn Four on lap eight.

But Verstappen then upped his pace and broke Norris’ challenge, and the destiny of the race was quickly clear.

Norris was equally untroubled in second place, as was Alonso for the first two-thirds of the race in third until the battle with Perez in the closing laps.

Ten seconds back from his team-mate, Stroll also went some way to answering his critics after a poor season in which he has usually lagged well behind Alonso with a strong drive to fifth, ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Hamilton.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who started second alongside Verstappen on the front row, spun off on the formation lap with what he said was a hydraulic failure.

For Aston Martin, it was a return to form after a difficult few races when they appeared to have lost their way.

But after qualifying on the second row by virtue of going out early in a qualifying session on Friday defined by impending rain and rapidly changing conditions, Alonso made the most he possibly could have out of the race.

Miserable day for Mercedes

Mercedes will leave Brazil with further questions about their recalcitrant car and unpredictable performance.

Hamilton was second in Mexico a week ago, and also in Austin a week before that, until being disqualified for excessive wear of his car’s underfloor.

But in Brazil they were nowhere, in both sprint race on Saturday and in the grand prix on Sunday.

Hamilton made a good start and ran third in the early laps, with Russell right behind him in fourth.

But the cars lacked pace and slid backwards through the race, struggling with worse tyre wear than their rivals – unusually – and fighting to make their stint lengths.

At one stage, Russell was behind Hamilton and asking to be let by because he was faster, but as the race progressed he dropped back and was eventually called into the pits to retire because of power-unit overheating, with the team saying it was on the point of imminent failure.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc walks away from his car after crashing on the formation lap of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix
Charles Leclerc did not get the chance to start on the front row after crashing on the formation lap

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