Las Vegas Grand Prix – Lady luck continued to smile on Max Verstappen as he took victory in Vegas while a late move secured P2 for Charles Leclerc.
Under the blinding neon lights of Sin City, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen lined up on the front row. Carlos Sainz had qualified P2 but had a 10 place penalty as he needed to change his battery after it was damaged by the water valve cover that hit him in FP1.
The vast majority of the grid were on the medium tyre, however Lewis Hamilton P10, Oscar Piastri P16 and Zhou Guanyu P17 decided to gamble on the hards while the back row of Lance Stroll P19, who had a five place penalty for overtaking under double yellows in FP3, and Yuki Tsunoda P20 were hoping that the softs would bring them good luck at the start.
As the race got underway it was neck and neck between Leclerc and Verstappen on the run to the first corner, the two went wide but got back on track however the Red Bull driver had taken the lead. Leclerc however felt that Verstappen wasn’t far enough ahead when they went off so would need to give the place back.
Further back Fernando Alonso was making a nice down the inside of the first corner but didn’t have any grip and spun, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio perez got caught up in that while Carlos Sainz also fell victim of the lack of grip and spun into Hamilton.
The Virtual Safety Car was brought out at the end of the lap to allow the marshals to clear debris off the start incidents but just after things had gone back to green when Lando Norris’ McLaren snapped in the high speed, hitting the wall and narrowly avoiding his teammate as he skidded into the runoff at T12. The two McLarens who’d started near the back after a tough qualifying and had made it up to just outside the points.
That brought out the Safety Car on lap 3, while the drivers tried to warm their tyres on the cool, gripless circuit, the Stewards continued to debate over the Verstappen/Leclerc T1 incident before the racing got back underway on lap 7.
Piastri got the better of Tsunoda on the restart to get his McLaren into the points while Sainz and Alonso fought over P17 as they both looked to get back up to the sharp end of the pack, the Ferrari driver getting the position on the restart but the double world champion regained it a lap later.
Lap 8 saw the Stewards make a decision on the T1 incident, they ruled that Verstappen did indeed force Leclerc off the track but instead of telling the Dutch driver to give the place back, he was instead handed a 5 second penalty. At that point the Red Bull driver was just about two seconds ahead of his rival and when he was told the decision, his response was: “Yeah, that’s fine. Send them my regards”.
However, Verstappen didn’t manage to do his usual job of continuing to extend his lead, instead Leclerc reeled him in and by lap 15 the Ferrari was back within DRS. The Red Bull driver had been complaining about his tyres and just after Leclerc retook the lead, on lap 16, Verstappen ducked into the pits to serve his penalty and swap to hards before rejoining in P11.
As that happened, Hamilton in P6 reported a puncture after rear wheel to front wheel contact with Piastri as he overtook the McLaren. The Australian went straight to the pits in a cloud of sparks with his own puncture while Hamilton remained out another lap and lost time as he struggled with the car. The multiple world champion switched to mediums and fell right to the back of the field.
At the end of lap 21 Leclerc made his stop to put on the white-ringed hard tyres, the front right being slightly slow to go on, before emerging in P3 behind Perez and Stroll, both of whom pitted when the Safety Car came out in the first few laps. Verstappen meanwhile had been making tracks, passing Alonso before following Russell past Sainz on lap 25 to get the Dutch driver into P5.
Further on in that lap he also tried to get past Russell but it wasn’t as clean a move, the Mercedes driver not appearing to notice Verstappen coming alongside him as he turned into the corner and there was full side on contact. The track got scattered with Red Bull carbon fibre and on the following lap the Safety Car was brought out to clear the debris.
Perez once again stopped under Safety Car conditions. Sainz, Verstappen and a bunch of others also took advantage while Leclerc remained out and retook the lead. The Monegasque driver almost lost his car as he tried to warm up his tyres and just before the race went back to green on lap 29, Russell was given a 5 second penalty for the collision.
DRS was enabled again on lap 31 and it did take him a little time but Perez did manage to get past and back into the lead towards the end of lap 32. At that point Piastri was in P3, but had a speedy Verstappen closing on him and it was a Red Bull 1-3 by the following lap.
Behind them the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were in P5 and P6, Ocon was the trailing car and just as the team told him to hold position and manage tyres, he passed his teammate.
Lap 35, as Verstappen was closing on Leclerc, the Ferrari driver made a surprise move at T14 on Perez to put Ferrari back in the lead. The Mexican wasn’t in P2 for long though, his teammate also breezing past him a lap later.
The run to T14 was once again the area of interest on lap 37, Verstappen and Leclerc briefly battled before the Dutch driver took over the lead and focused on getting out of DRS range over the next couple of laps.
McLaren gave an update on Norris then to say that after initially being brought to the Medical Centre, he “has now been taken to University Medical Center for further precautionary investigations.”
Lap 43 saw Leclerc lock up slightly and go deep at T14 which opened the door for Perez and the Mexican took the invitation. The Ferrari driver was about half a second outside of DRS range of Perez when he got back onto the track. Behind them Piastri, made his second stop and switched off hards for the first time in the race, dropping from P4 to P12 as he rejoined on mediums.
The second retirement of the race came on lap 57 as Nico Hulkenberg pulled off into an escape road around T16. The Haas driver wasn’t lonely for long though as Tsunoda pulled off at the same point a lap later.
While Verstappen dropped back over the final few laps to try give Perez DRS and help him hold P2, it wasn’t to be as Leclerc rolled the dice and dove down the inside of the Mexican on the final lap to snatch the second step on the podium. P3 though was enough to secure Perez second place in the Drivers’ Championship, which means it’s the first time Red Bull have managed to finish with a 1-2 in that.
Verstappen, despite having been very unimpressed with the Vegas pageantry so far this weekend, seemed to have mellowed on the event and started singing Viva Las Vegas on his in lap.
While Russell took the chequered flag in P4, his 5 second penalty saw him dropped back to P8 so it was Ocon who took P4 ahead of Stroll, Sainz and Hamilton. The final point scorers were Alonso and Piastri, the Australian getting the fastest lap point with a 1:35.490.
The Max Verstappen podcast as the cool down room chats have been dubbed, went on tour this time as the top three were bundled into a Rolls Royce to go to the Bellagio for post-race interviews with David Coulthard before being treated to a fountain display. Then it was back into the Rolls, for a bit of a bonus podcast, as the drivers were brought back to the start-finish straight for the podium celebration.