Formula One and Britain have a new Grand Prix winner in George Russell. A frantic and entertaining São Paulo Grand Prix had the podium positions changing throughout with collisions, split tyre strategies, and an abundance of overtakes, but Russell serenely led the race to take his first GP win.
Russell's weekend went from disaster to delight after he prematurely ended Friday's Qualifying in the gravel following a self-inflicted spin in the Brazilian rain. However, in doing so, he inadvertently secured a P3 start in the F1 Sprint, which allowed him a prime spot to win the short-distance Saturday race to start the Grand Prix in P1.
It was an all-Mercedes lock-out, with Lewis Hamilton joining Russell on the front row for the very first time, and the Silver Arrows vaulted off the line unchallenged to remain in P1 and P2. Behind them, Max Verstappen kept a watching brief at the head of a two-pronged Red Bull attack while the Ferraris had to duel with a quick-starting Lando Norris.
As Russell's weekend went from ruin to riches, the opposite was true for maiden pole position man Kevin Magnussen. The Danish driver set the fastest lap in Qualifying, slid down the order in Sprint, and didn't even complete a lap in the race.
Daniel Ricciardo tried an optimistic overtake into Turn 8 and tapped the right rear wheel of his Haas rival. The resulting spin had Magnussen facing the wrong way, and he rolled backwards into Ricciardo's McLaren, ending both drivers' races and triggering a Safety Car.
When the race got going again, a chaotic restart hurt many big names. Russell had backed Hamilton into the path of Verstappen down the pit straight, and the 2021 title contenders went wheel-to-wheel once again down the first chicane. Verstappen surged around the outside of Turn 1 but had little room at Turn 2, and the Mercedes and Red Bull racers collided. Hamilton somehow escaped heavy damage and dropped to P8, but Verstappen needed to pit for a new front wing.
Half a lap later, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc became the third pair of drivers to hit each other. Leclerc tried an overtake on the outside of Turn 7, but Norris hit a kerb and understeered into the side of the Ferrari. The contact made Leclerc crash nose-first into the tyre barriers, yet he surprisingly avoided retiring and limped back to the pit lane. Norris and Verstappen received five-second penalties for their roles in the incidents.
With the race underway in earnest, Russell was left without Hamilton as a rear gunner but kept a solid gap to Sergio Perez, who had inherited P2. Meanwhile, Hamilton began his climb back through the order, overtaking Sebastian Vettel and then Norris to reach P4. The seven-time champion then took P3 as Carlos Sainz had to pit early after a visor tear-off got stuck in his brake duct.
Sainz's misfortune with his brakes soon became a benefit as the Spaniard replaced his Pirelli Medium tyres with the Soft compound and quickly hunted down, then overtook the midfield drivers to easily regain P3 when his rivals stopped. A second stop for Sainz at around half race distance had Ferrari and Red Bull split their strategies, with Perez staying out and becoming vulnerable to any undercut.
Red Bull had likely kept Perez out to try and keep ahead of Hamilton, who was charging back from his earlier contact with Verstappen. However, with some DRS assistance, the Mercedes was too much for the Mexican to control. Perez kept Hamilton at bay for one lap, but the Brit returned to his P2 starting position at the end of Lap 44, much to the delight of the Brazilian crowd.
A flurry of pit stops for the top three had the two Mercs jump onto a final set of Pirelli Soft tyres while Perez went for the Mediums – it would be a fateful decision for Perez a few laps later. Norris, who had fallen back after his strong start, came to a stop on the track to trigger a Virtual, then full Safety Car. Sainz pitted in the slowdown, also for Softs, and lined up in P4, ready to attack Perez for the final podium spot.
A long Safety Car period ended with 11 laps of racing to go, and for the second time that afternoon, Russell perfectly led the runners at the restart and kept the lead. Hamilton stayed close but couldn't overtake his teammate, while Perez on the Mediums faced an onslaught from those behind him. First, Sainz eased past before Leclerc, who had fought back from last place, snatched P4. Fernando Alonso was next for P5, and then, to add insult to injury, Verstappen overtook his teammate despite running in second-last place 60 laps earlier.
There were jubilant scenes at the chequered flag for Mercedes, who took their first win of 2022 in commanding fashion. An emotional Russell became the first British driver to have God Save the King play as his national anthem. After the procession in Mexico City, this dramatic day in Brazil was a timely reminder of how much entertainment and emotion F1 has before it bows out of 2022 after this Sunday's season finale.