FP1: Sergio Perez makes perfect start to championship P2 mission in Sao Paulo

Sergio Perez's Red Bull in Brazilian GP free practice. Interlagos November 2022. Credit: Alamy
Sergio Perez's Red Bull in Brazilian GP free practice. Interlagos November 2022. Credit: Alamy

Sergio Perez made the ideal start to a weekend when he hopes to boost his chances of finishing P2 in the Drivers’ standings, going fastest in FP1 at Interlagos.

The Mexican’s team-mate Max Verstappen, the double World Champion, went into the Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend admitting Perez pipping Charles Leclerc to second place in the World Championship was now a priority for Red Bull – who have ticked every other box they could this season.

There was little to choose between the usual six front-runners but it was Perez’s first soft-tyre run that set the standard for the opening track running in Sao Paulo.

With this being a sprint weekend, all 20 regular drivers were in action for FP1 to get some match practice in before qualifying which was following just a couple of hours later, rather than any teams fulfilling their rookie driver practice quota.

They included Lando Norris, over whom there had been a doubt due to a bout of food poisoning which meant the McLaren driver missed his Thursday media commitments, but the Briton was fine to drive instead of the lined-up substitute Nyck de Vries.

At the start of a weekend with an unsettled weather forecast, Interlagos was dry as the cars first took to the track – with medium and hard tyres the order of the day for the most part with the softs being needed for qualifying unless rain arrived.

Verstappen reported “the car won’t turn in at all” as the hard tyres offered little grip and he ran wide early, but the World Champion still assumed his familiar position at the top of the timesheet with a 1:13.646. Valtteri Bottas, who had been quick in Mexico until race day, was an eye-catching second with his Alfa Romeo team-mate Zhou Guanyu sitting sixth at the time.

The expected news that Carlos Sainz would incur a five-place grid penalty in the grand prix for taking a new engine was confirmed – just at the time the Ferrari driver was complaining about his former team-mate Norris as the Spaniard needed to dip his wheels onto the grass when passing the McLaren at speed.

“Super-dangerous from the McLaren there,” said Sainz. “I got a reprimand for something worse than that…I mean, a lot less than that.”

Sainz’s team-mate Charles Leclerc was also unhappy with a rival. “What the hell is he doing, [Lance] Stroll?” The Aston Martin was cruising around and using the full width of the track to warm his tyres in front of the Ferrari.

Perez was first to go out on the soft tyres and promptly went fastest by over a second and a half, Verstappen then slotting in eight thousandths behind his team-mate – but still dissatisfied with the handling at everywhere bar Turns 6 and 7. Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher, still on the mediums, leapt up to an encouraging third and fourth at that point.

Lewis Hamilton, down in 17th entering the final quarter of the session, was another reporting “no grip”, while Stroll had even worse problems, entering the pits with a team radio message saying “something wrong with the car…this is not good”.

On a new set of soft tyres, Hamilton, who this week had his honorary Brazilian citizenship ratified, had a great first sector but then took too much kerb, locked up and ran wide. Next time, the seven-time former World Champion moved up to third, swiftly displaced by Sainz.

Leclerc then split the Red Bulls but could not outpace Perez, which meant all of the top six were covered by just over two tenths – setting up what should be a thrilling battle for the sprint pole position.

Times

1 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull 1:11.853
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.004
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull +0.008
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.186
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.187
6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.202
7 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +0.304
8 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas +0.461
9 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.613
10 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +0.614
11 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +0.701
12 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.780
13 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.852
14 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.906
15 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.102
16 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.144
17 Nicholas LATIFI Williams +1.166
18 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1.262
19 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.494
20 Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren +1.506

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