November 18, 2023 - 11:34 pm
Updated November 19, 2023 - 12:37 pm
It was far from a perfect race weekend.
The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix was plagued by loose manhole covers and last-minute oil slicks. It faced backlash from longtime Formula One fans and locals alike, while the drivers complained about the added spectacle and increased schedule.
But for 50 laps — on a circuit illuminated by the neon lights of Las Vegas Boulevard with the iconic Strip serving as the backdrop — the Las Vegas Grand Prix delivered one of the best races of the F1 season.
Even Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver who was vocal in his discontent about the entire event, found himself singing “Viva Las Vegas” after crossing the finish line to become the first winner of the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
“I definitely need some (singing) lessons,” Verstappen said.
Verstappen continued his F1 dominance with his 18th win of the season in front of 315,000 fans at the Las Vegas Street Circuit on the Strip. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished second, and Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez rounded out the podium.
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri recorded the fastest lap at 1:35.490.
It’s Red Bull’s 20th win of 2023, the most by a constructor in a single season of F1. Perez’s third-place finish clinched second place in the world standings behind Verstappen.
The race also delivered on all the glamour it promised, too. Actors, athletes, musicians and other celebrities filled the pit building, and a red carpet was placed along the southern entrance. Justin Bieber waved the checkered flag at the end of the race, and countless Elvis impersonators wandered the paddock.
“I think today was fun,” Verstappen said. “I hope everyone enjoyed it.”
It wasn’t the Dutch driver’s easiest win of the season. Verstappen, starting second, had problems right from the start as one of the classic cars used for the pre-race drivers parade leaked oil on his starting grid slot.
He still got a good launch into turn one, but his cold tires forced himself and Leclerc, who started in pole position, off the track. Verstappen was given a five-second time penalty for the incident.
Behind Verstappen and Leclerc, chaos reigned. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso tried to pass the Williams of Logan Sargeant on the inside entering turn one, but slid into Alpine driver Pierre Gasly, spinning around and hitting Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas. Further back, Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz was also spun.
Perez lost part of his front wing in the incident after running into Bottas. All the stopped drivers were able to resume.
Just three laps later, however, Lando Norris lost control of his McLaren entering turn 12, crashing into the barriers to become the race’s first retirement. He was taken to University Medical Center for precautionary checks, but was released, according to the team’s X account.
Verstappen was involved in another incident on lap 25, as Mercedes driver George Russell turned in on him during a corner. Russell earned a five-second penalty for causing a collision, and Verstappen avoided any major damage. A virtual safety car (caution) was called, allowing Perez to pit, and Leclerc admitted after the race it was unfortunate timing as he was unable to keep his tires warm during the safety car.
Perez and Leclerc continued to spar for the lead at turn 14 at the end of the long drag reduction zone on Las Vegas Boulevard. The Red Bull driver retook the lead on lap 32 before Leclerc returned to the lead on lap 35.
While Leclerc and Perez fought, Verstappen hunted his way up the field, catching Leclerc on lap 37 and refusing to relinquish the lead for the rest of the race.
“It was basically flat out to the end,” Verstappen said. “And that was really cool.”
The race wasn’t completely over after Verstappen took the lead. Leclerc and Perez continued to fight, and the Monegasque driver’s last-gasp pass on turn 14 of the final lap allowed him to take second by 0.171 seconds.
“It was a really exciting race,” Leclerc said. “I’m pretty sure it was a really good one to watch.”
FINAL ORDER OF FINISH
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
4. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
5. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari)
7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
8. George Russell (Mercedes)
9. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
10. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
11. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
12. Alex Albon (Williams)
13. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
14. Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri)
15. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
16. Logan Sargeant (Williams)
17. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
18. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
19. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
DNF Lando Norris (McLaren)