Max Vertappen, despite a car that was damaged and a penalty of five seconds, won the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
On Wednesday, he complained that the race was “99% show”, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting races this season.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez, Ferrari Charles Leclerc and their rivals for podium places swapped positions throughout the race.
With 16 laps remaining, Verstappen took the lead but Leclerc overtook Perez on the last lap.
Verstappen received a five-second penalty for pushing Leclerc from the track in the first turn. He also suffered damage to his front wing after a collision between George Russell of Mercedes and Verstappen. Verstappen made a pit stop extra than Leclerc during a safety car at mid-race.
The pace of Leclerc, who had utterly dominated the season so far, prevailed. He climbed up and passed him for the lead in the last 13 laps for his 18th victory of his record breaking season.
The F1 race was a spectacle, with battles taking place all over the track. This is what the bosses hoped to see after investing upwards of PS500m. They even built a pit-building on land they bought for the sport in the Nevada City.
The drivers’ performance in what was arguably the most exciting race of the year has already proven that the investment is worth it.
The race that lives up to the hype
Drama began when Verstappen, who had a faster start from the second row than Leclerc, got inside the Ferrari at the first turn.
The Dutchman’s braking was misjudged, forcing Leclerc off the track and wide as the two cars speared each other into the runoff area.
The move was similar to some controversial ones made by Verstappen against Lewis Hamilton during their epic battle for the championship in 2021.
Leclerc protested, claiming he had been ahead of the pack at the top, but this was not true. The stewards agreed that it was a move that warranted a fine.
Looking back at it, I think the penalty was the correct call. “
Leclerc asked Verstappen for the spot back, but Red Bull chose to let their driver stay where he is and accept the penalty. The world champion took the punishment at the first pitstop on the 16th lap.
This pit stop, however, was made from a second-place position. Verstappen was not able to get rid of Leclerc after taking the race lead. As Verstappen battled his tyres on the 10th lap, the Ferrari closed and passed the Red Bull by the Strip at lap 16. This triggered the Red Bull pit stop.
Leclerc was now in front and Perez had to follow him for five more laps.
After he got into a carnage at the corner, the Mexican was forced to pit for a front wing.
He moved to the front of the pack, helped because he didn’t stop under the safety car that was triggered after Lando Norris crashed his McLaren.
Leclerc made a pit stop after the Russell Verstappen crash on the 21st lap, putting Perez in the lead. A safety car was called shortly thereafter to remove debris.
Verstappen did not seem to be affected by the loss of his front endplate.
Perez and Verstappen both pitted at the safety car for new hard tyres. Leclerc did not, despite having only completed five laps on his tyres.
Perez dropped to fifth and Verstappen fell behind Gasly’s Alpine and Oscar Piastri’s McLaren.
After the restart Leclerc held Perez at bay for three laps, even with the five-lap offset in tyre sizes. The Red Bull then got Perez on the straight.
Instead of dropping off, Leclerc held on to Perez. He then re-passed Perez with an amazing late-braking maneuver at the end the Strip.
Verstappen was now able to pass Perez on the Strip after passing Gasly, Piastri and the other leaders.
Leclerc tried his best to hold off Verstappen, but it was inevitable that on Lap 37 the DRS-aided overtaking assistance helped Verstappen pass into Turn 14.
Perez chased Leclerc to retake second and Red Bull appeared on the verge of a two-for.
Leclerc, however, had a different plan. As the race approached its conclusion, he was still clinging to Perez. He then made a great late-braking maneuver to secure second place into Turn 14 on the Strip.
After the race, he admitted that Ferrari did not pit under the second security car as they didn’t know what other teams would do. He said “We were a bit unlucky,” and added: “We really enjoyed the race, even though I was hoping to win.”
Verstappen said, “It was fun” after he criticised Las Vegas each day of the weekend. It was a great race and I think the DRS made it even better. The race was great fun.
I hope that the fans have enjoyed themselves and are already eager to return and do something similar. “
I was confident that we would win. “I was really confident the win would be ours without the safety vehicle. Max had just five new laps, and I only had to do four or five of them for me to get the tyres up-to-temperature. Max and Checo were stopped by the safety vehicle, but I continued to use my five-lap tyres. It is very difficult to restart an old tyre.
If they hadn’t stopped, I would have had to stop. “Now, if they had not stopped, it would be difficult to pass two Red Bulls. “
Battles take place everywhere
There were similar intense races throughout the entire field.
Esteban’s Alpine finished fourth with just one stop. This was the same strategy used by Leclerc.
Lance Stroll, driving for Aston Martin finished fifth. Carlos Sainz was sixth while Lewis Hamilton took seventh.
Hamilton’s teammate Russell finished eighth after serving a 5-second penalty due to the mid-race collision at Turn 12 with Verstappen. Fernando Alonso, for Aston Martin, was ninth following a spinning at the first turn, resulting in damage, and required a pit stop on the first lap.
Hamilton’s luck was bad. Hamilton was unlucky.
This forced him to abandon the inverted, hard-medium one-stop strategy Mercedes chose and required a pit stop.
Russell caused his own downfall by turning into Verstappen during their collision. This not only earned him the penalty, but also caused a safety vehicle that enabled Perez to leap up from the bottom of the fight and jump in the top three.
Piastri made the last point. Norris, who was initially assessed by the medical center for his injuries, was then taken to hospital and given further tests. He was still walking after the accident.
Norris later was discharged after all the checks were clear.