Formula 1's first visit to Las Vegas in 40 years was a bombastic affair off the circuit but delivered an action-packed race after a difficult start to the weekend.
Although Max Verstappen assumed his regular role on the top step of the podium, he had to fight to get there - and briefly looked fallible as Charles Leclerc challenged him all the way. But those who had put their chips on red were disappointed as Leclerc couldn't quite overcome the odds to beat Verstappen; the house had won once again.
A battle for the lead - and later, Leclerc's battle with Sergio Perez over second - underpinned a race where safety cars and tyre graining made the timing screens resemble a slot machine with frequent changes for position, as surprise qualifiers were dealt poor hands in the race and those who started towards the back could play their ace cards at the right time.
Here are the 10 things we learned once the roulette wheel came to a stop in Las Vegas.
1. Verstappen can barely give away a victory
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Even with an up and down performance, nobody could stop Verstappen's victory parade
A Leclerc pass, a five-second penalty, and a clash with George Russell all had the potential to derail Verstappen's road to victory in Las Vegas, but nothing short of a global apocalypse could stop the irrepressible Dutchman's march to victory. Or, alternatively, a slightly dodgy set-up in a Southeast Asian city-state...
Later accepting the five-second penalty for having run Leclerc out of road into Turn 1, Verstappen looked on course to easily break away and absorb the time added on during his first pitstop. But it didn't quite work out like that, as the mediums had begun to grain on the Red Bull and allowed Leclerc to close back up - and then launch a DRS-assisted pass before Verstappen made his stop.
With the added penalty, Verstappen re-emerged in 10th and had ground to make up, a rarity in 2023's races. This recovery yielded the contact with Russell, which broke the RB19's front wing endplate, but this did little to harm Verstappen's continued trajectory. It was arguably one of the scruffiest wins of his impressive oeuvre this season, but at least he enjoyed himself in the process. "It was very fun. I mean, I had a McLaren and an Alpine in between, you know, Checo and Charles but once I cleared them I could join the fight and it was basically flat out to the end. And that was really cool."
2. Perez has regained his form - but must work on last-lap defence
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
For the second race running, Perez was mugged a position on the final lap
Two weeks prior, Sergio Perez looked to have secured a last-ditch podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix, but perhaps underestimated Fernando Alonso's tenacity; the veteran Spaniard made a daring move at Descida do Lago to reclaim third place to shove Perez out of the top three.
In Las Vegas, Perez was sitting pretty with second place. He'd led portions of the grand prix, having been pushed to the front thanks to a brace of safety cars that had smoothed over first-lap contact with Valtteri Bottas' Alfa Romeo, but Verstappen nonetheless moved past for the lead. The Dutchman attempted to help his team-mate secure second and backed off to give Perez a tow along the 1.4km back stretch so that the Mexican could ward off Leclerc's late-race resurgence.
It didn't quite pay off, however. Perez perhaps did not sense a last-ditch dive from Leclerc down the inside of Turn 14, as the Ferrari gobbled up the tow from a Red Bull running a slightly higher-downforce wing. This time, Perez had done enough for a podium - but did not deliver Red Bull's aim of a 1-2 finish. Regardless, the Guadalajara-born driver appears to be in a much richer vein of form over the past couple of races compared to the middle portion of the year, which has largely dispelled discussions over his future at the team.
3. Leclerc "gave it all", but it wasn't quite enough
Photo by: Erik Junius
Another Leclerc pole turned into another Verstappen win...
"On one hand, I'm extremely happy with today's performance. I think we didn't leave anything on the table and until the very last lap, the last corner of the last lap, I gave it all and managed to get that second place," Leclerc mused after the race, having just dispatched Perez for a last-gasp step-up on the podium. "On the other hand, obviously disappointed because I really believe that without the safety car, the win was ours."
Leclerc had been the more impressive of the two drivers who occupied the front row, and Verstappen's five-second penalty for bowling a wide at Turn 1 had given the Monegasque the advantage amid the first round of stops. Thanks to some deft tyre management, Leclerc had been able to see his Ferrari through a difficult phase of the race where others had started to experience graining. The Ferrari could keep a more consistent amount of heat in the tyres throughout to largely circumvent that, allowing him to extend his stint on the mediums to the end of lap 21.
Verstappen, meanwhile, had pitted five laps earlier; in a straight shoot-out to the end, Leclerc had the less-worn tyres and an advantage with temperature retention. But the mid-race safety car flipped that, as Verstappen could nip into the pits and switch to a new set of hards to reverse the advantage.
4. "Four straights, low-speed corners" Las Vegas offers great racing...
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
There was plenty of overtaking on the Las Vegas Strip circuit debut
Much in the way of criticism over the Las Vegas weekend emerged from Max Verstappen, which we'll get onto in a bit, but he ultimately had to concede that the overall racing spectacle had been relatively good. Of course, it helps that a massive straight into a long braking zone will offer plenty of overtaking opportunities, but there were other less-fancied locations for wheel-to-wheel around the Vegas circuit.
Turns 6-7-8-9 offered enough space for drivers to pass as different levels of grip were being experienced throughout the field, while Lewis Hamilton managed to just about stuff his Mercedes down the inside of Logan Sargeant at the flat, 45-degree Turn 17.
The low-grip track surface exploited mistakes from the drivers, as did the cool temperatures permeating around the Nevada nightscape, and the resulting safety cars helped keep the field relatively compact throughout the 50-lap run-time. It was a welcome spectacle after the difficulties faced over the practice sessions had cast the grand prix under a dim light, and even the most ardent detractors had to admit that the race on Saturday night had been an enjoyable one.
5. ...but FP1 stoppage will have continued legal fallout as Ferrari seeks compensation
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
The car of Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, is returned to the pits on a truck after damage from a loose manhole cover
Regardless, the consequences of FP1's water valve incident may continue on. The session was red-flagged after eight minutes (and cancelled after 20) after Carlos Sainz's Ferrari skipped over a dislodged valve cover caused more than just heavy damage to the underside of his SF-23. Sainz and Esteban Ocon both required new chassis as the Alpine driver had also run over the cover, and a delay to a lengthened FP2 was required to enact fixes to a number of water valves at risk of producing a similar effect.
Due to an apparent problem with the contracted hours of security staff, fans were escorted off-site and FP2 was effectively held behind closed doors. Rather than issue refunds, F1 instead offered merchandise vouchers to those affected. A class action lawsuit has been launched by a Nevada law firm in search of greater compensation; while the offer of merchandise is a derisory effort to make amends, it's more than the people who attended the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix received...
Ferrari is also in the hunt for compensation as a result of the damage to Sainz's car, with a precedent having been set by Haas in 2017 when Romain Grosjean hit a storm drain at that year's Malaysian Grand Prix; the American team received a financial settlement from the race organisers as a result of damage. "We have a lot of consequences on the financial side, on the sporting side, and even on the stock of spare parts, and on the budget side. For sure, it's not an easy one," stated Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur.
6. Mixed reviews over pre-weekend build-up as Vegas lights prove too dazzling for some
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
The Las Vegas show aspects didn't sit well with all the drivers
A ceremony featuring drone shows, neon lights, and celebrity appearances added initial lustre to Las Vegas' first grand prix since 1982, with the drivers introduced on moving platforms. And, as ever, reviews were mixed among the drivers - some of whom bought into the bombast and others who did their best to avoid it.
"For me, you can all skip these things," Max Verstappen reckoned. "It's not about the singer, it's just standing up there, you look like a clown. It's 99% show, and 1% sporting event."
Fernando Alonso was more diplomatic, stating that "I have to say that I think places like this one, with the investment that has been done and the place that we are racing, I think it deserves a little bit of a different treatment and a little bit of extra show of what we did today. I'm okay to do extra for this type of event."
Leclerc's feelings were similar to Alonso's, explaining that this was not something F1 should pursue for every race, but worked for the nature of the Las Vegas round. "It's a lot. But I think if you don't do that here, you don't do that anywhere," he said. "When you come to a place like Vegas, when you go to a place like Miami, F1 needs to take every opportunity it has. And if that means making a bit more of a show around the race, that's amazing."
7. Norris fine after bump in the road, Piastri rescues McLaren's weekend
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, climbs out of his car after crashing out of the race
Lando Norris ended up with a brief trip to hospital after his third-lap crash at Turn 12, but the Briton was given the all-clear after a check-up. Having skimmed a bump, the McLaren driver immediately lost control of his car and was spat into the tyre barrier at the end of the curved stretch of road, bringing his day to an early end.
This left McLaren's fortunes on Oscar Piastri, who arguably produced one of F1's most impressive drives to 10th place to turn around a dismal qualifying performance for the Woking squad. Both drivers improved upon their grid positions at the start, and Piastri managed to overcome a clash with Lewis Hamilton to soar into the upper reaches of the points. However, the decision to start on the hard tyres had hurt the Australian, as his progress throughout the race was stunted by the need to stop again for medium tyres. A late push resulted in a pass on Pierre Gasly to get into the top 10, although Alonso was too far ahead to catch.
"It's just a massive shame because Oscar was absolutely brilliant," reckoned McLaren boss Andrea Stella. "Somehow today was a bit of a surprise as to how quick we were. So it's a shame that because we had started the race on hard tyres, then we needed to pit before the due time because of the contact with Hamilton, and anyhow today with a safety car placed where it was placed.
"It was always going to be a bit of an unfavourable race for somebody that started on the hard because you would have needed to add a stop at the end."
8. Mercedes' road to second in championship continues to stutter
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Mercedes leads Ferrari by four points going into the F1 finale
George Russell's mid-race clash with Max Verstappen - which ultimately produced the safety car that helped Verstappen's path to victory - resulted in a five-second penalty that cost the Briton an important fourth place, as Mercedes now only sits four points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' standings. Ferrari's better form over the second half of the season means that the Brackley squad must pull out all the stops in Abu Dhabi's finale to keep hold of the constructors' runner-up position.
Russell had managed to charge past Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll late on to move up to fourth, having shown great pace on the hard tyre, but the closeness of the top 10 ensured that he was shuffled back to eighth place behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion had endured his own difficulties after being tagged by Carlos Sainz at the first corner and later suffered a puncture while racing with Oscar Piastri to necessitate another recovery into the points.
“A bad race which summarises our season – a quick car that is able to fight for a podium," rued team principal Toto Wolff. "Lewis was doing Leclerc’s times when in free air but then, obviously, was involved in two accidents and then George with Max, you can’t win [like that], you can’t be in the front. I think the situation with Max was unfortunate. It goes on us – nothing to say to that.”
9. Ocon and Stroll impress amid difficult seasons
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Ocon and Stroll both put in impressive performances in Vegas
Esteban Ocon had to defy team orders to clinch fourth place in Las Vegas, but it very much proved to be the right call as Pierre Gasly fell down the order with graining and battery issues over the race's second half. Ocon had produced a series of strong moves to rise from his lowly 16th-placed grid berth and was up to eighth by the end of the first lap having escaped the chaos ahead.
This yielded Ocon's best finish since his Monaco GP podium, amid a second half of the season that has been plagued by reliability issues at the Alpine squad, while Gasly fell down to 11th as the late-stopping Oscar Piastri broke past the Frenchman to claim the final point on offer.
Lance Stroll finished one place behind to secure his second consecutive fifth-place finish, after making up 10 places at the start to dwarf Ocon's similarly impressive rise through the ranks. Stroll took the opportunity to pit during the Norris-produced safety car, which only cost five of those 10 positions and allowed him to move through the order when others took their scheduled visits to the pitlane later on in the race's first half.
Stroll had got as high as second, thanks to the shuffles in position and pitted when the second safety car emerged to accept a similarly cheap stop. A slightly slow tyre change cost the Canadian a place to Verstappen and was later jumped by Albon on the restart, but Stroll regrouped and fought his way back up to fifth - which became his final classification when Russell was handed his penalty at the end.
It's been a season of frustration for Stroll, particularly as he could not unlock the latent speed from an impressive Aston Martin package at the start of the year, but he appears to have steadied the ship at the right time.
10. Secrets of 2009 revealed in Brawn Disney+ documentary
Photo by: Disney
There was action away from Vegas too, as the Brawn F1 documentary launched
Over the Las Vegas weekend, Disney+ launched its Keanu Reeves-fronted documentary Brawn: The Impossible F1 Story, a re-telling of the story of Brawn GP's title success in 2009 after Ross Brawn's late management buyout of the withdrawing Honda squad. For those already familiar with the story, little - if any - artistic licence is needed to create the drama and the suspense around the Brawn story. For those who aren't, it's the story of a team who rose from the ashes of a failing Honda squad to deliver both F1 titles in 2009 against all the odds, as Jenson Button clinched the drivers' championship.
Featuring the recollections of Brawn himself alongside CEO Nick Fry, drivers Button and Rubens Barrichello, and the likes of Andrew Shovlin and James Vowles along with other staff, Brawn's story from oblivion to victory is laid bare. Reeves, with his charming enthusiasm, acts as the narrator and the interviewer - almost playing an audience surrogate for 2009's unbelievable storyline. Even for those who watched F1 keenly during that season, there are still plenty of details in the four-part documentary that were not wholly known at the time; for example, had the washed-out Malaysian Grand Prix ever restarted, there's a good chance Button may not have got going thanks to rainwater leaking into his steering wheel.
And there's more; the documentary features the likes of ex-Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, Red Bull boss Christian Horner, former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, and driver-commentator Martin Brundle to contextualise Brawn's achievements in an F1 environment that became increasingly fractious between teams and rights holders.
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
The 2023 F1 season draws to a close next weekend in Abu Dhabi2023-11-20T14:23:57Z dg43tfdfdgfd