It looked for all the world that Max Verstappen would pick up yet another sprint race victory in Brazil, as the Dutchman started second on the grid with only the Haas of Kevin Magnussen ahead of him on pole.
The Haas was expectedly easy to clear, which Verstappen did on the second lap, and with both Mercedes behind him he looked set to go on and claim a comfortable victory and start the main race from pole.
Other than Nicholas Latifi, Verstappen was the only driver to race on the medium compound tyres, with everyone else using the softs that they saved in the wet qualifying sessions.
After an impressive showing from Mercedes, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell managed to pass Verstappen, along with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, and while the Red Bull driver has questioned his team’s decision to use the medium tyres, he has credited Mercedes for their ‘unbeatable’ form.
“It was way more difficult than we expected it somehow,” said the 25-year-old.
“I didn’t expect to have that [tyre degradation]. Then even on the soft we wouldn’t have been fast enough, so we are clearly struggling on keeping the tyres alive.
“So this is something we need to try and fix for tomorrow. Even though of course there is not a lot we can do but it can’t get worse than this… At the moment [Mercedes] look unbeatable, but we will analyse everything.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner agreed with his driver that the team did not expect the medium tyres to fall off the curve so dramatically, admitting that they made a mistake by not joining the other drivers on the softs.
“We felt that the soft was a bit limited in range, so we took the decision to start on the medium; if we could survive the first 12 laps, the second half of the sprint would become a little bit more comfortable,” he explained.
“Having survived the first half of the race, we ended up actually in a worse degradation than the soft and Mercedes had a quick car today and we just couldn’t hold them off… The soft tyre would have been better for us today.
“But the advantage is we take that extra set into tomorrow’s race. What we give up today strategically hopefully we might get back tomorrow.”
George Russell came home to win his first ever Formula 1 race event, and will be hoping to go on and secure his first ever Grand Prix win as he starts from pole.
Carlos Sainz came home to take P2 however the Spaniard is set to take a five-place grid penalty, which only comes into effect at the main race, for changing one too many engine components, which means that Mercedes will have their first front row lockout of the season.