Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23 and Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 at the start of the race. 18.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com, EMail: [email protected] © Copyright: XPB Images
After a four-decade absence from the Formula 1 calendar, the premier open-wheel series returned to Las Vegas for an enthralling Grand Prix under the lights.
F1 had promised a flagship event in Sin City, yet on a weekend shrouded in controversy, the maiden race on the brand-new Las Vegas street circuit provided plenty of excitement in one of the most thrilling races of the 2023 campaign.
Max Verstappen collected career victory number 53 to tie Sebastian Vettel as the third winningest driver in the sport’s history, but, as for his 19 competitors, the 50-lap affair was far from straightforward.
Max Verstappen – 9
Qualified: P3 (started P2), Race: P1
The Red Bull RB19 and Verstappen lacked the usual edge in terms of one lap pace as Ferrari locked out the front row in qualifying. A grid drop for Carlos Sainz saw Verstappen promoted to second on the grid, from which the Dutchman launched an over-ambitious attack on polesitter Charles Leclerc into the opening corner.
Verstappen was frankly fortunate to only be handed a five-second time penalty for forcing the Ferrari off the racing surface and failing to reverse the advantage gained, but the penalty did require the three-time champion to fight his way back through the field.
He effortlessly carved his way back to the front, barring a safety car triggering collision with George Russell. The incident played into the Dutchman’s hands and despite picking up minor front wing damage, he dismissed Leclerc and team-mate Sergio Perez effectively en route to the top spot.
Sergio Perez – 8
Qualified: P12 (started P11), Race: P3
Perez’s weekend got off to a shaky start as he found himself missing out on Q3 for the ninth time this season. The Mexican’s race was further compromised when he picked up front wing damage in the opening corner chaos.
Thankfully for Perez and Red Bull, he was able to stop for a nose change under Virtual Safety Car conditions, and a subsequent Safety Car on Lap 3 saw him reunited with the pack.
Having worked his way through the field to second, Perez benefited again from another safety car intervention allowing him to partake in the three-way battle for victory alongside Leclerc and Verstappen.
Using a different rear wing configuration to his team-mate, Perez struggled for top end speed, contributing to his forfeit of P2 on the final lap when Leclerc caught him napping.
Charles Leclerc – 10
Qualified: P1, Race: P2
Leclerc was the star of the show in Vegas having set the bar throughout the majority of the weekend. But while a runner-up finish doesn’t exactly help Leclerc’s unfortunate pole-to-win conversion rate, the Monegasque’s incisive drive cannot be ignored.
Leclerc’s chances of victory weren’t helped by Verstappen’s actions in the Turn 1 encounter with the Dutchman not required to yield his advantage on track.
Still, Leclerc fought back hard and overtook the Red Bull on merit after nursing his tyres through the streets and found himself in good position to claim victory until an untimely second safety car spell handed his rivals a free pit stop five laps after Leclerc had completed his.
Ferrari’s indecisiveness sealed Leclerc’s fate, but the polesitter wasn’t ready to give up as he once again fought back hard to regain second place from Perez on the final lap with a clinical overtake. Simply put, there was really nothing more that Leclerc could have done across a fantastic weekend for the Ferrari driver.
Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23. 18.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com, EMail: [email protected] © Copyright: XPB Images
Carlos Sainz – 7
Qualified: P2 (Started P12), Race: P6
It was far from a warm welcome to Las Vegas for Carlos Sainz as just minutes into FP1, his SF-23 was shredded by a loose water valve cover. The incident led to cancellations and delays on the opening day, as well as a massive damage bill and an unjust grid penalty for the Spaniard who was forced to take his third energy store of the season as a result.
The grid drop saw Sainz demoted from the front row to the midfield, where he made contact with Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap, sending the Ferrari into a spin.
On Sainz’s side of the garage, the Scuderia nailed a two-stop strategy to claim P6 ahead of both Mercedes drivers in what Sainz had anticipated as being a race of damage limitation. His performance over the course of the 50-lap race provided a massive boost to Ferrari’s hopes to secure P2 in the standings, with the marque now just four points adrift of the Silver Arrows.
Esteban Ocon – 8.5
Qualified: P17 (Started P16), Race: P4
Esteban Ocon was the beneficiary of a mixed day at the office for Alpine. The Frenchman’s qualifying performance was outshone by that of his team-mate after an encounter with Verstappen in Q1, but that was instantly negated when he gained eight places on Lap 1 after steering clear of the Turn 1 melee at the start.
Patience and tyre management was the order of the day from there as he maintained strong pace after the final safety car period to claim an important fourth place for the French squad.
Ocon appeared to have ignored team orders in overtaking Pierre Gasly, however that will swiftly be forgotten after justifying the move with an impressive result.
Pierre Gasly– 7
Qualified: P5 (Started P4), Race: P11
Pierre Gasly’s excellent qualifying result was improved when he found himself on the second row after the application of Carlos Sainz’s grid penalty.
The Alpine team-mates battled hard after the second safety car spell, but it was Gasly who lost out despite Alpine’s calls for Ocon to hold ground behind his compatriot.
Gasly had run in the top six until serious tyre graining issues undid his performance and sent him sinking down the order to P11 across the line.
Lance Stroll – 8
Qualified: P14 (Started P19), Race: P5
Stroll showed relatively decent pace in qualifying but his one-lap pace was hampered by Aston Martin’s lack of straight line speed on the 1.9km sprint down the Las Vegas Strip.
Another set back came in the form of a five-place grid penalty for overtaking under yellow flags in FP3, but the Canadian kept his nose clean at Turn 1 to find himself P9 once the VSC was withdrawn.
Stroll was on the soft tyres, though, so track position was forfeited under the first safety car for a switch to the hard compound. He would pit again under the second safety car to deliver an exciting and confident performance, slicing his way back to fifth in certainly one of his best races of late.
Fernando Alonso – 6.5
Qualified: P10(Started P9), Race: P9
Fernando Alonso’s race got off to a poor start when his own optimism and a lack of grip sent himself spinning into Turn 1 after a great launch off the line.
A kiss from Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo broke the Spaniard’s front wing in the incident, but the team again made the best of the safety car interventions to battle his way back through the field.
While a recovery to P9 was the result of a strong race for Alonso, the 42-year-old would certainly have found himself better rewarded had it not been for the first corner misjudgement.
Lewis Hamilton – 7
Qualified: P11(Started P10), Race: P7
Lewis Hamilton didn’t get to grips with the the Las Vegas circuit as quickly as team-mate George Russell as a lack of confidence contributed to a rare Q2 exit.
Despite contact from Sainz at the first corner, Hamilton did well to skirt around a spinning Alonso. Starting on the Hard compound, Hamilton led an impressive charge from the lower order which was interrupted by a puncture after making wheel-to-wheel contact with Oscar Piastri on Lap 17.
Hamilton estimated the puncture cost him in the region of 40 seconds as he limped to the pits, but a recovery to P7 from 19th and last of the runners provided an entertaining drive from the seven-time champion who was perhaps a victim of poor luck on Saturday night.
Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 18.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com, EMail: [email protected] © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images
George Russell – 5.5
Qualified: P4 (Started P3), Race: P8
With Hamilton on the back foot after qualifying and his recovery jeopardised by the Turn 1 drama, Mercedes’ hopes for a podium fell on the shoulders of Russell.
After maintaining his top three position in the early stages, a first podium since June’s Spanish Grand Prix fell away from the Briton when he turned in on Verstappen, triggering a race-changing second safety car.
Carrying light damage, Russell drove well to finish fourth on the road but a five-second time penalty saw him fall to eighth once accounted for. It was an honest mistake, but one the Mercedes driver rues knowing its consequences.
Oscar Piastri – 7.5
Qualified: P19 (Started P18), Race: P10
McLaren suffered a shock double elimination in Q1, meaning the rookie had a mountain to climb during the race.
Starting the race on the Hard compound, the Aussie pit for a second set of the white-walled tyre after the racing incident with Hamilton on Lap 17 meaning he would need to perform another stop to switch to the mandatory medium rubber.
The timing of the second safety car just several laps later led McLaren to keep Piastri on track in the hopes of more drama, but that would not come. Instead, a late stop for fresh rubber saw him drop from fourth to 11th before clocking the fastest lap and passing Gasly for the final points position.
It was certainly a challenging race for the youngster, but he delivered another mature drive in a stellar maiden campaign in a grand prix that deserved more.
Lando Norris – 4.5
Qualified: P16 (Started P15), Race: DNF
Lando Norris became the first victim of the Las Vegas Street Circuit during the Grand Prix when he crashed out of the event on Lap 3.
The Briton had found a bump at Turn 11, and, on cold tyres, was sent into a spin before collecting the outside barriers and ending his race nestled in the TecPro at the end of the Turn 12 run-off. It was only a small mistake, but one that he paid the ultimate price for nonetheless.
Alex Albon – 6.5
Qualified: P6 (Started P5), Race: P12
Williams had anticipated the Las Vegas circuit suiting the FW45, which it did in qualifying to the point that had the event taken place earlier on in the season, the Anglo-Thai driver would have expected a minimum of a second row start.
However, the Williams saw it’s pace curtailed during the race as Albon began to slip down the field once he began to suffer from the effects of tyre graining.
Opting for a one-stop strategy placed Albon inside the top ten at the final restart but the tyre disadvantage saw his night unravel and worsened by battling on the comparatively outdated Hard tyre.
Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW45. 18.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22, Las Vegas Grand Prix, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com, EMail: [email protected] © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images
Logan Sargeant – 5
Qualified: P7 (Started P6), Race: P16
A career best qualifying performance was reinforced by a strong getaway in which Sargeant navigated the slippery first corner well to maintain his grid position as others pirouetted.
Sargeant felt that there wasn’t much that he did wrong during the race having managed his opening stint well, but, again, the timing of the safety cars came at the American’s disadvantage and killed any chance of a points finish as he sank down the order to P16.
Kevin Magnussen – 6
Qualified: P9 (Started P8), Race: P13
Kevin Magnussen’s Q3 appearance provided Haas some optimism for its third home race of the season. As has become somewhat of a tradition this season, impressive one-lap pace was reduced to another points-less weekend for the outfit as the VF-23 chewed through it’s rubber.
The Dane ran in the top 10 early on but fell backwards once the tyres entered the graining phase, limiting his progress.
Nico Hulkenberg – 5.5
Qualified: P13, Race: DNF
Hulkenberg was unable to match the pace of Magnussen in the sister Haas and he too suffered from the characteristic tyre struggles during the race.
The German had to take avoiding action in the messy race start and lost ground as a result. He found himself struggling in the traffic but still felt it was one of the team’s better races until a sudden loss of power saw his race come to an end on Lap 45.
Daniel Ricciardo – 6
Qualified: P15 (Started P14), Race: P14
In Vegas, AlphaTauri weren’t able to muster the same points-threatening pace as the outfit has done in recent rounds.
Tyre preparation issues meant that Ricciardo was unable to get the compound into the right window during the restarts, and was unable to claw back time lost once he got them up to temperature.
While others also faded towards the end of the race, the AlphaTauri never looked to be a top 10 car as the battle for P7 in the Constructors’ continues into the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Yuki Tsunoda – 5
Qualified: P20, Race: DNF
AlphaTauri had split their drivers’ set-ups for the inaugural F1 street race in Sin City, but the gamble proved fruitless for Yuki Tsunoda who assumed the final spot on the grid.
He was able to keep out of trouble at the start to make up ground on the Soft tyre, but the struggles continued throughout the race with worsening front tyre graining before a suspected power unit issue resulted in retirement.
Guanyu Zhou – 5.5
Qualified: P18 (Started P17), Race: P15
It took some time for Zhou to find his confidence in Vegas but found himself in some good battles including scraps with Hamilton and Alonso.
Overall, Zhou’s performance was solid nut the team’s decision to split strategies during the race sentenced him to a 30-lap stint on the Medium tyre in an attempt to salvage points through a one-stop. The strategy left Zhou exposed once his tyres degraded further in the latter stages, resulting in a P15 finish.
Valtteri Bottas – 6
Qualified: P8 (Started P7), Race: P17
Bottas dragged the Alfa Romeo into Q3 once again, but his efforts were compromised when his front wing was damaged when he has faced with the backwards Aston Martin of Alonso, before also picking up damage to the rear diffuser when nudged by Perez at Turn 1.
At that point, it was always going to be a long night for the Finn whose loss of downforce didn’t make life any easier on an already slippery track. Alfa Romeo will seek to end a season to forget on a high in Abu Dhabi.
Keyword: Motorsport Week’s 2023 Las Vegas GP Driver Ratings