Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Outduels Charles Leclerc, Cashes In For 18th Win At Glitzy Las Vegas GP

Max Verstappen, starting second, won the Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix on a cool, windy night on a slick (in more ways than one) Las Vegas circuit. It was Verstappen’s 18th win of the year and sixth consecutive, after a ten-win streak earlier in the year.

Verstappen crossed the line two seconds ahead of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, who snatched second from Sergio Perez on the final lap. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon followed Perez in fourth,  with Lance Stroll taking fifth, while Carlos Sainz overcame a ten-place grid penalty to salvage sixth. The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell placed seventh and eight, respectively, and Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri closed out the points-paying positions.

“It was a tough one,” Verstappen said. “I tried to go for it at the start. We (himself and Leclerc) both braked quite late, and I just ran out of grip, so we ended up a bit wide.

“The stewards gave me a penalty for that and it put us on the backfoot. I had to pass quite a few cars, and there was the Safety Car, so at that point, there was a lot going on.

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“Then we went flat out. I had to pass a few cars to get into the battle with them. The DRS around here was very powerful. Even when you would take the lead, if the guy behind stays in the DRS, he would still have the opportunity to come back to you, so it created a lot of good racing today. Definitely a lot of fun.”

In the driver standings, Verstappen has 549 points, with Perez way back but clinching second with 273, and followed by Hamilton 41 back at 232.

In the constructor standings, Red Bull’s whopping 822 total leads Mercedes with 392, while Ferrari closed the gap to second to only four points at 388.

The Race

Verstappen zoomed off the line at lights out and overtook Leclerc into Turn 1, running the Ferrari wide. Alonso spun and suffered damage as Hamilton and Sainz made contact behind him. Perez rear-ended Bottas, forcing the Red Bull to pit for a new wing. A virtual safety car was issued to clean up debris from the incident. Leclerc lobbied for Verstappen to give the position back, and stewards reviewed the overtake and soon released their findings: a five-second penalty for Verstappen.

Green flag racing resumed on lap 3, amazingly with two Williams and two Haas  cars in the top 10. Moments later, Norris locked up the brakes into Turn 1 and crashed hard into the barriers. A safety car was deployed, with several drivers, including Verstappen, Stroll, and Sainz, pitting for hard tires.

Hamilton, who started on hard tires, reported front wing damage from debris as several drivers lamented the lack of track temperature on an already slick Vegas circuit. Luckily, Hamilton’s damage was not severe enough to warrant a pit stop.

The safety car was in at the end of lap 6, and Verstappen took off, quickly opening up a lead over Leclerc that approached two seconds by the end of Lap 7. Verstappen learned that he would have to serve a five-second penalty for forcing Leclerc off the track at the start, but didn’t appear too worried, telling Christian Horner to send the stewards “my regards,” with “regards” probably loosely translating to “finger.” 

On lap 10, Leclerc was two seconds back of Verstappen, with Russell right behind Leclerc, with Gasly in fourth, ahead of the two Williams of Albon and Sargeant in fifth and sixth, respectively.

Hamilton was up to ninth by lap 12, with the hopes his hard tires would pay later dividends. Hamilton eyed the McLaren of Piastri, less than a second ahead, for eight.

Ferrari urgently advised Sainz on lap 13 to “cool the car,” and an already frustrated Sainz replied, “I’m on it.” Sainz was the unfortunate recipient of a ten-place grid penalty for making car repairs after he ran over a drain cover in qualifying on Friday (November 17th).

Leclerc closed the gap to Verstappen to under a second by lap 15th, as Verstappen radioed concern about tire wear. Leclerc positioned his Ferrari right on Verstappen’s tail, and Leclerc made the pass into Turn 14, albeit with little to no resistance from the Red Bull. Verstappen pitted moments later, serving his five-second penalty, and leaving the pits with hard tires and in ninth place.

Hamilton reported a tire puncture on lap 17 after he made contact with Piastri, and the Mercedes limped to the pits, where a six-second stop for medium tires saw him return to the track in 19th, with his chances for points severely compromised.

Up front, Leclerc was 13 seconds ahead of Perez, who started 11th and pitted early for the aforementioned front-wing change. Leclerc was managing his medium tires well, and soon pitted for hard tires on lap 22. Leclerc emerged in third as Perez took the lead, with Stroll in second. 

Verstappen was in seventh and reeling off fastest laps, and overtook Alonso for sixth on lap 23, with Russell in fifth up next on the Dutchman’s agenda. Both Russell and Verstappen overtook Sainz into Turn 14, and Verstappen continued his chase of Russell. 

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Verstappen made the pass on Russell into Turn 13, but contact between the two damaged Vertappen’s front wing, leaving some pieces on the track. The damage was not catastrophic, and Verstappen’s team told him to stay out. Stewards investigated the incident, and deemed Russell at fault, handing down a five-second penalty.

A safety car was deployed for Verstappen’s wing debris, and the pits were suddenly very busy. Verstappen pitted for hard tires but opted to keep his damaged wing, gambling that the time saved would be more valuable than the performance a new wing would deliver. 

Green flag racing resumed on lap 29, with Leclerc leading, followed by Perez, Piastri, Gasly, Verstappen, Ocon, Albon, Stroll, Russell, and Sainz.

Perez commenced attacking Leclerc, less than a second behind the Ferrari. Perez was in great position to not only secure second in the drivers standings but win the race outright. With the advantage of DRS, Perez made the pass into Turn 14 on lap 32. 

Verstappen zipped by Piastri for third on lap 34, and now Leclerc’s Ferrari was the only car between Verstappen and his Red Bull teammate. A Red Bull 1-2 was imminent, although that 1-2 order was still undetermined.

But Leclerc showed some grit and took back the position from Perez on lap 36, with the Ferrari driver intent on breaking up the potential Red Bull party. Verstappen was soon past his teammate, and Verstappen radioed “Let’s work together” to get both Red Bulls past Leclerc.

Verstappen made his move for the lead on lap 38, passing the Ferrari under braking into Turn 13, leaving Leclerc sandwiched between the two Red Bulls. Perez was left asking, “When does the ‘work together’ part commence?”

Leclerc braked too late into Turn 14 on lap 44 opening the door for an easy pass for Perez. The Red Bull 1-2 was now looking like a certainty. Leclerc’s only consolation was that a podium finish was also a certainty, with the Ferrari holding a ten-second lead over Esteban Ocon in fourth.  

Hamilton made the pass on Alonso for eight on lap 47, while Leclerc wasn’t quite ready to give up second, and was in DRS range to the Red Bull with three laps to go. Red Bull asked Verstappen to slow down and possibly give Perez a tow to help defend against Leclerc. But Leclerc crashed the Red Bull party with a dramatic last-lap pass of Perez at Turn 14, the second race in a row in which Perez lost second to a last-lap pass. 

Verstappen took the win in this uniquely American race as the checkered flag was waved by Justin Bieber, a Canadian.

The Good

While many, Verstappen included, opined that the Las Vegas Grand Prix was more spectacle than sport, the race itself, in true Vegas fashion, proved thoroughly entertaining. There was controversy and contact at the start, safety cars, virtual safety cars, exciting racing up and down the order, and to my knowledge, no class-action lawsuits from any fans. In fact, the fans were pretty appreciative of the action. I think they proved that you can be knowledgeable about F1 and still get s***-faced while doing it. If there’s one thing you can say about the race, it’s that it was “lit.”

Jared Leto’s recitation of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.” Subtle, succinct, impactful, memorable, and delivered with heart. Jared Leto strikes me as someone who took such a simple task and poured his heart into it. Jared Leto also strikes me as someone who might possibly die on a toilet.

This also resides in the “Good” category, but I consider it the “Best:” Machine Gun Kelly did not appear on Martin Brundle’s “Grid Walk” at Las Vegas. 

The Bad

It was a rough weekend for Lando Norris. The McLaren driver, along with teammate Piastri, failed to advance to Q2 on Friday night (November 17th) qualifying after the team did not fit their cars with new tires for the final Q1 run. Norris was relegated to a start of 15th on the grid.

On lap 3 of the race, Norris lost control coming out of turn 11 when he hit a bump in the road, sending him spinning and crashing hard into the barrier. Norris climbed out of his car and was taken to the circuit medical center, and later visited a local hospital. Norris finished last, ending a long run of points-scoring results at 12, with his last non-scoring race coming in Canada back in June. 

Back to the “Grid Walk” for another “Bad:” Was it just me, but was seeing Brundle try unsuccessfully to get an interview with Shaquille O’Neal kind of sad? I totally get Brundle’s desire to get some words from Shaq. I mean, it’s hard to ignore a seven-foot behemoth who towers over everyone else on the grid. By that same token, it’s easy to ignore a 5’4” man with a microphone whom you probably don’t know from Adam.   

The Disappointing

When Verstappen suggests “teamwork,” or his team advises him to provide teamwork, does he actually do it? When both Red Bulls trailed Leclerc on lap 36, Verstappen radioed that he and Perez should work together so they both could get by Leclerc. Just seconds later, Verstappen passed Leclerc, leaving Perez to focus on the “work” part.

Then, on the final lap, with Verstappen leading handily and Perez defending Leclerc for second, Red Bull asked Verstappen to slow enough with the goal of giving Perez a tow and thus a better chance to fend off the Ferrari. Verstappen replied, “I’ll try,” and at least made it look like he tried. Verstappen did, in fact, slow, but was it even enough to help Perez? It didn’t look like it. Not that I can blame Verstappen. He had a sizable lead, and slowed enough so that a tiny miscue from Verstappen could have cost him the race.

But let’s not knock Verstappen too hard. You don’t win 18 races in a season, most in dominant fashion, without being totally in it for yourself and everyone else be damned.  

The Driver

Even though he didn’t get the win, it was quite a day for Leclerc, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to be able to translate a pole position into a win. But that’s less Leclerc, and more Verstappen.

Anyway, Leclerc won the pole, and treated Vegas fans, or at least those sober enough to notice, to some spectacular action, especially his final laps duel with Sergio Perez, which culminated in Leclerc’s last-lap pass for second place.

And Leclerc even passed Verstappen for the lead early in the race, and that’s something you can tell your grandchildren about one day, that you were arguably the second-best driver of your era, and it wasn’t even close.

The Results (Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas Street Circuit)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT501:29:08.28925
216Charles LeclercFERRARI50+2.070s18
311Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT50+2.241s15
431Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT50+18.665s12
518Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES50+20.067s10
655Carlos SainzFERRARI50+20.834s8
744Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES50+21.755s6
863George RussellMERCEDES50+23.091s4
914Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES50+25.964s2
1081Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES50+29.496s2
1110Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT50+34.270s0
1223Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES50+43.398s0
1320Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI50+44.825s0
143Daniel RicciardoALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT50+48.525s0
1524Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI50+50.162s0
162Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES50+50.882s0
1777Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI50+85.350s0
1927Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI45DNF0

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