MAURICIO SAVARESE Associated Press
SAO PAULO – Three-time champion Max Verstappen led from the start and won the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finished fourth, himself behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in one of the few races left this season – a second-place finish.
Perez almost took the podium position from third place Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, but the Spaniard saw the checkered flag 0.053 seconds before the Mexican.
The two raced for position in the final three laps of the race, with the Red Bull driver overtaking Alonso once and then losing position.
“For me, it was like 30 laps,” Alonso said after chasing Perez. “I was under pressure from Checo but when he gave me two laps to the end, I thought. ‘OK, this is gone, the podium is not possible.’ Then he broke a little late in after 1.”
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Perez will leave South America 32 points ahead of Hamilton with two races remaining – Las Vegas on November 19 and Abu Dhabi a week later. His teammate and champion Verstappen later said at a press conference that it is not his duty to help his fellow Red Bull driver to second place, however.
“It shouldn’t always be up to me to get the points,” said the Dutchman.
Perez started the race at Interlagos in ninth place with favorite Hamilton fifth after a frustrating qualifying for the Red Bull driver on Friday. He showed some improvement during the sprint race on Saturday, and later said he was more confident for the grand prix.
“I was happy with the weekend,” Perez told broadcasters. “I know I could have more if I didn’t get unlucky on Friday (at the qualifying session).”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was due to start second, crashed during the formation lap before the start due to an engine issue.
“Disappointing to say the least. Lost the power steering and the engine power on the formation lap. It hurts,” said Leclerc in his social media channels after the race.
A red flag after the second lap for a crash involving Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Williams’ Alex Albon gave the Red Bull drivers more time to look for improvements.
Verstappen earned a record 17th victory and did not lose the lead, while Perez drove aggressively to face Hamilton. In the 18th lap, the Red Bull driver overtook the Mercedes for fifth place, much to the disappointment of the Brazilian fans who support the seven-time champion.
Formula One will go to São Paulo at least until 2030, the organizers announced on Friday.
“The whole race was about tire management,” Verstappen said after the race. “Las Vegas will be new to everyone, full of surprises, I’m sure.”
“It will be very different from here. Low temperature, street circuit, we don’t know the grip of the track,” he said.
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