Lewis Hamilton said he is “counting down the days” until the end of the season after he finished a distant seventh in Saturday’s shortened race in Brazil.
Max Verstappen took his fourth sprint victory from six this year after he beat pole-sitter Lando Norris to the opening bend.
Norris finished runner-up, 4.2 seconds adrift, with Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez third.
Max Verstappen WIIIIINS the final Sprint of 2023!
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 4, 2023
Performances at the previous two rounds had afforded Hamilton and Mercedes hope that they are closing the gap to Verstappen’s all-conquering Red Bull team. But on Saturday, they were dealt a reality check.
After just 24 laps, Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell, who finished fourth, was 26 seconds behind Verstappen. Hamilton was even further back – 35 seconds adrift in the other Mercedes.
“The last couple of races we have been excited that we have been progressing, and it has been positive to see,” said Hamilton, who finished second in Austin – before he was disqualified after his Mercedes failed a post-race scrutineering check – and runner-up again in Mexico seven days later, this time with a legal car.
“But then you come to another track and I have the worst tyre degradation I have had for ages, so you just don’t know what to expect.
“It was a very tough race. We got a good start and then I tried to get the right balance. But I had a lot of understeer, snap oversteer, and the rear tyres dropped off.
“There are only a couple of more races with this car and then it is done, so I will be happy. I am just counting down the days.”
Hamilton has three attempts remaining – here in Sunday’s 71-lap Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi – to avoid a second winless season.
On Sunday, it will mark 700 days since he last entered the winner’s circle – at the penultimate round of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi.
During that same period, Verstappen has notched up 32 victories – the same number as Fernando Alonso managed throughout his entire career. And the Dutchman will be the favourite to extend his remarkable winning streak when he lines up from pole on Sunday. Hamilton starts fifth.
“It was a bruising day,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “I don’t think that there is a magic screw you can turn and then everything is fixed.
Not the ending we’d hoped for after that mega start from George and Lewis, but we’ve taken some important championship points.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) November 4, 2023
“Everything went against us. We need to really scratch our heads hard over what we can do for tomorrow, and improve.”
Hamilton was fifth on the grid and moved up one place on the first lap following a fine move round the outside of Perez at Turn 4.
But the Mexican moved back ahead four laps later before Hamilton was gazumped by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda in the closing laps. Perez extended his lead over Hamilton in the race for championship runner-up from 20 points to 24.
For Norris, his bid to win for the first time in Formula One was over in the blink of an eye after he was out-gunned by Verstappen at the start.
Norris enjoyed a decent getaway, but he failed to cover off the inside line, allowing Verstappen to sling his Red Bull through.
“I need to review my start,” said Norris. “My initial phase was good but maybe I was too conservative and on the safe side.
“There are a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas. I am feeling very comfortable in the car but there are things I need to work on, and I am working on them.”