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Sprint Shootout in Interlagos: Norris Grabs Pole For Sprint

Written by Maria Fashchevskaya, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


It is the last sprint weekend on the calendar for the 2023 season. After an eventful qualifying in Interlagos yesterday, the drivers and teams lined up to qualify best in the sprint shootout, ahead of the 24-lap sprint later in the day. It was quite an exciting session to watch, as Interlagos is known to be not only the shortest track on the calendar, but high on overtaking over the last years, the perfect location for a sprint weekend.

Lando Norris finished on pole for the sprint; Image Credits: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

The first sprint qualifying started sunny and dry on a “green” track, after yesterday’s thunderstorm washed all the rubber away, letting the track look completely different today. That left the drivers with less grip around the track. Mandatory tyres were imposed this time again, with medium tyres for SQ1 and SQ2, while soft tyres were prepared for SQ3.


Max Verstappen did not want to wait endlessly, and was the first to go on a flying lap, followed by teammate Sergio Perez, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers. Half the grid was out on track early, in the first two minutes of SQ1, desperately looking to get the job done quickly.


Verstappen accelerated on, and despite the lack of a tow from another car, managed to get an astonishing 1:11.88 seconds on the clock immediately. Red Bull’s Perez followed with 1:12.218s, not finding the same pace of his teammate on that track. He lost his second grid place shortly after to the Ferraris, as Charles Leclerc finished his first flying lap with a 1:12.107s on the clock.


Carlos Sainz meanwhile pushed into first place with a 1:11.796s, usurping Verstappen on the leaderboard. He felt secure to go through SQ1 and pulled into the pits directly, saving tyres, while most of the drivers stayed out on the track. It caused quite the traffic, which people complained about much later into the session.


Lewis Hamilton shot into the top two with a 1:11.870, while George Russell completed his first flying lap to get up to fourth place. Five minutes till the end of SQ1, and five cars had not set a time yet, including both Haas and Alfa Romeo cars, as well as Daniel Ricciardo in his AlphaTauri.

Ocon crashed into the barriers; Image Credits: F1.com

Three minutes to go, and the drivers in the drop zone were Lance Stroll, Zhou Guanyu, Alex Albon, Yuki Tsunoda, and Logan Sargeant, respectively. Tsunoda pushed his AlphaTauri out of the risk soon after, still being the 15th car on the provisional grid.


However, the session was cut short when Esteban Ocon — provisionally in 16th — collided with Fernando Alonso at turn two. Losing control of his car over the kerb, he crashed into the Aston Martin, and went into the barriers at turn three, leaving the Spanish driver with a front left puncture, and damage to the plank, hitting the asphalt. The incident was noted, and would be investigated after the session.


The drivers eliminated in SQ1 were Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, Zhou Guanyu, Alex Albon, and rookie Logan Sargeant, the latter being on a flying lap that he needed to cut short, and being apparently impeded. “People were just playing games, just really on the limit, moving out the way at the last possible minute. It's frustrating,” Sargeant said at the media pen.


Lance Stroll had similar problems: “Just a lot of traffic on my push lap, around here you can't afford to be passing three or four cars on your push lap. I think the car was alright, [...] and I just picked up a lot of traffic.”


Impatient Max Verstappen

The barrier repair after the crash in SQ1 caused a half-hour delay of the second part of sprint qualifying. Max Verstappen, being his impatient self, went out immediately after the green light, followed by both Mercedes drivers and teammate Perez again. Lando Norris joined shortly after that.


However, halfway through SQ2, it was confirmed that the repairs on Alonso’s car could not be completed quickly, and he would not participate in the session, leaving him down in 15th. “It's a shame both cars are out now. A lot of damage for both cars now [...]. Wrong place, wrong moment,” Fernando Alonso commented on his SQ2 exit

Aston Martin working on Alonso’s car; Image Credits: Formula One on X.

The reigning champion grabbed a 1:11.449s on the clock, while Sergio Perez was almost 0.2 seconds behind. The Mercedes drivers – each having on the clock around 1:11.940s – were separated by Norris with a 1:11.904, overtaken by teammate Oscar Piastri moving into provisional third place.


Surprise appearances in SQ2 made both Haas drivers move up the ladder to fourth and sixth place. They surpassed both Mercedes in the meantime. However, with five minutes to go again, five cars still needed to set times, while the early runners moved into the pits for a break. With the chequered flag almost waved, most of the drivers went out to push one last time. Russell and Hamilton set their best times in SQ2, jumping to fourth and fifth, with Lando Norris flew to a provisional pole on used medium tyres, surpassing Verstappen and Perez, and knocking out Magnussen in the process. Both Haas drivers were out of sprint qualifying there, along with Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas, while Fernando Alonso did not set a time.


Lando Norris' snatches sprint pole position

There was silence on the track, until the clock hit 3:40 minutes for the last sprint qualifying session. Every driver came out to lay down one flying lap on the track, setting the grid for the afternoon’s sprint in Interlagos. The McLaren drivers led the traffic — Norris on new and Piastri on used tyres — and started their flying laps first, followed by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. The latter used the gaps at the pit exit to push past the AlphaTauri cars, and Charles Leclerc.


The Ferraris used old soft tyres for the last bit of qualifying, leaving them lower down on the sprint grid. Another surprise came with AlphaTauri: Yuki Tsunoda out-qualified his teammate with sixth place, while Daniel Ricciardo — on used tyres, too — went to be eight at the sprint.


Setting a 1:10.622s on the clock, Lando Norris took his first ‘pole’ since Sochi in 2021. He was followed by Max Verstappen and another Red Bull of Sergio Perez. “A great day, but honestly it felt like one of the worst laps I've done so it's a surprise. [...] It's a tough one, the Bulls are always quick, Max is very quick. I'll give it my all,” said the pole-sitter afterwards.


Norris’ teammate Oscar Piastri had a gap of half of a second to the lead car, leaving him in 10th position by the end of SQ3. Only the Mercedes drivers had the pace to get ahead of the McLaren, but ended up fourth and fifth for the sprint.


Who will grab the sprint win in Interlagos? Let us know what you think in the comments!


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