Arguably the only saving grace for the newest addition to the Formula One calendar is that it is finally over. The Las Vegas Grand Prix marks the coldest race of the season on a track largely considered unsuitable for low-temperature racing due to the track’s high frequency of straights, typically designed to cool down tires. Additionally, in order to capture the sport’s massive European fan base and account for a minimum eight-hour time difference, drivers hit the grid in the middle of the night, losing valuable tyre grip capacity as temperatures plummeted. Fears of unsafe track conditions characterised the weekend and were not disproven as time went on.
Free Practice One ended after eight minutes when Carlos Sainz’s SF-23 drove over an improperly wielded manhole cover on the track, which launched itself into the bottom of the car. The FIA described this accident as an “unusual external circumstance” rather than what most fans and drivers, from Sainz himself to race winner Max Verstappen, view as an egregious safety violation that valued the commercial profit capacity of such a marketable race over the protection of the drivers. Verstappen revealed in an interview with ViaPlay that Sainz was unable to move his legs for a few seconds after the collision, which poses a massive safety hazard for a sport where reaction time is paramount. Sainz’s car required significant repairs post-incident, and the Ferarri driver was ultimately granted a 10-grid place penalty after qualifying P2 due to the replacement of his car’s floor, seat, engine, and power unit.
A chaotic tone for the Grand Prix was further cemented just after lights out at the entrance to Turn One. Max Verstappen pushed Charles Leclerc off the track and racked up a five-second penalty after damage was caused to both cars. Fernando Alonso shot down the inside line but lacked the grip to adhere to his position, spinning a full 180 degrees as the second half of the grid hit their brakes and swerved to avoid a collision. These issues were not intentional but rather occurred due to the lack of heat generated in the tyres for the first seconds of the race, causing a mechanical slip-and-slide.
Lando Norris’ race ended after three laps when he spun off the track at Turn 11 and hit the back wall. Physically shaken but ultimately uninjured, Norris was released from the on-site medical centre as well as Las Vegas University Medical Center after the race. McLaren team principal Andrea Stella claimed the crash was caused by a bump in the track just before Turn 11. However, in an interview with Sky Sports, Norris stated that he “just bottomed out on the restart, lost the rear, and hit the wall” and looks forward to the final race in Abu Dhabi.
True to tradition, Leclerc secured another pole position in qualifying, only to come second to longtime rival Verstappen. A Leclerc win was thwarted by the deployment of two safety cars, the second of which saw both Red Bull cars pitting for new tyres, resulting in a Verstappen, Leclerc, and Sergio Perez podium lineup. Nonetheless, Las Vegas was still an excellent race for Leclerc, battling for dominance throughout the race, overtaking Perez in a thrilling final lap, and securing Driver of the Day for the first time this season. It is interesting to note that this marks the second race in a row that Perez has been overtaken in the last lap, following an overtake by Alonso in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Following Verstappen, Leclerc, and Perez, Esteban Ocon secured P4, his highest result since the Monocan Grand Prix. Lance Stoll secured P5, just ahead of Sainz at P6. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell secured P7 and P8, respectively; Alonso ended at P9; and Oscar Piastri rounded out the points at P10.
The final race of the 2023 season takes place this weekend, with lights out at 13:00 BST.
“Wraparound Terrace Suite View – The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas” by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.