SAO PAULO (AP) — Three-time champion Max Verstappen led from the start and won the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Sergio Perez of Red Bull finished in fourth place, distancing himself from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in one of the few competitions left this season — a position for runner-up.
Perez nearly took the podium position from third-place Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, but the Spaniard saw the checkered flag 0.053 seconds before the Mexican.
The two raced for the position in the three final laps of the race, with the Red Bull driver overtaking Alonso once and then losing the position.
“For me, it was like 30 laps,” Alonso said after being chased by Perez. “I had the pressure from Checo but when he passed me two laps to the end, I thought. ‘Okay, this is gone, the podium is not possible.’ Then he braked a bit late into turn 1.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris was second at Interlagos.
Perez will leave South America 32 points ahead of Hamilton with two races left — Las Vegas on Nov. 19 and Abu Dhabi a week later. His teammate and champion Verstappen said later at a press conference it is not up to him to help his fellow Red Bull driver secure the runner-up position, though.
“It shouldn't always be on me to get the points,” the Dutchman said.
Perez started the race at Interlagos in the ninth position and fan-favorite Hamilton in fifth after a frustrating qualifying for the Red Bull driver on Friday. He showed some improvement during the sprint race on Saturday, and said later he was more confident for the grand prix.
“I was happy with the weekend," Perez told broadcasters. "I just know I could have had more if I didn’t get unlucky on Friday (at the qualifying session).”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was going to start second, crashed during the formation lap before the start due to an engine issue.
“Disappointed to say the least. Lost the power steering and the engine power on the formation lap. It hurts,” Leclerc said in his social media channels after the race.
A red flag after the second lap because of a crash involving Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Williams' Alex Albon gave Red Bull drivers more time in seeking improvements.
Verstappen earned his record-breaking 17th win and never lost the lead, while Perez had an aggressive drive to face Hamilton. In the 18th lap, the Red Bull driver overtook the Mercedes for fifth place, much to the disappointment of Brazilian fans who support the seven-time champion.
Formula One will race in Sao Paulo at least until 2030, organizers announced Friday.
“The whole race was about the management of the tires,” Verstappen said after the race. “Las Vegas will be new for everyone, full of surprises, I am sure.”
“It is going to be very different from here. Low temperatures, street circuit, we don't know the track's grip,” he added. ___
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