Charles Leclerc took pole for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, delivering a superb lap on the streets of the circuit which winds through the heart of the city. He beat his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz into second, but the Spaniard will take a 10-place grid penalty after he had to fit a new battery because of the damage he sustained when his car was struck by a drain cover on Thursday. World champion Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton had a disappointing run, knocked out in Q2 in 10th place, while his teammate George Russell was fourth for Mercedes. Pierre Gasly was fifth for Alpine.
With track evolution crucial on the street circuit which was rubbering in as the session went on, the final runs the times were coming down as the clock counted down making for a last lap shoot out. Leclerc had set the pace with his first hot lap, with a 1 minute 33.021 second run just two-hundredths clear of Sainz, with Verstappen in third. The Monegasque driver was clearly hugely confident. He was one of the first to start his last lap and while down on the opening third his middle sector was immense, enough to seal the pole with a time of 1:32.726.
Sainz came close just four-hundredths back but Verstappen, who has not been at the very front all weekend on a circuit he has made clear he does not like, could not respond, finishing a full three-tenths back.
Leclerc is the third driver to have taken pole in Las Vegas after the city hosted two meetings as the Caesars Palace Grand Prix in 1981 and 1982. Carlos Reutemann took pole in 1981 and Alain Prost in 1982.
This is his fifth pole of the season. He took pole in Baku and inherited the top spot in Spa when Verstappen was given a grid penalty and was once more quickest in the US and Mexico, but has yet to convert any of them to a win this season. He will be hopeful of a strong showing again but while Ferrari have been promising over a single lap, Red Bull are still likely to be quick once more in race pace.
It is his 23rd career pole, a fine tally but one undermined by a low conversion rate of only five wins, an indication of how Ferrari have consistently failed to deliver a suitably competitive race car in recent years.
Hamilton appeared to be just unable to eke out more from his car, telling his team he simply “couldn’t go faster”. Before the session had begun F1’s handling of the fall out from the debacle of Thursday’s practice sessions did not go down well. Fans attending practice had been able to watch only eight minutes of the cars on track. The first session was stopped within five laps after Sainz’s Ferrari was struck violently by a water valve cover, bringing practice to a close as the FIA had to inspect and confirm the integrity of the other 30 covers on the Strip.
It caused a five-hour delay before FP2 could begin at 2.30am. However, an hour before that all the fans were told to leave the track because F1 who are promoting and organising the race had contractual and transportation issues maintaining their staff at the circuit. Enormously disappointed fans, many of whom had paid huge sums of money to be there, were forced to leave while the second session went on behind closed doors.
On Friday morning the F1 chief exective Stefano Domenicali and Las Vegas GP CEO Renee Wilm issued a statement attempting to explain why it happened and the circumstances behind their decision to have to ask the fans to leave, largely citing safety and security reasons.
“We have all been to events, like concerts, games and even other Formula One races, that have been cancelled because of factors like weather or technical issues,” the statement read. “It happens, and we hope people will understand.”
However, it noticeably did not contain any apology across the 650 words. This is believed to be for legal reasons to avoid the organisation being open to lawsuits if it had made an admission of guilt but it has been highly criticised as a further insult to those who had been prevented from seeing almost any track action.
No compensation was offered to fans with three-day tickets but subsequently Thursday-only ticket holders were promised a voucher worth $200 to spend in the Las Vegas GP official store. Many fans did not believe this represented sufficient compensation, particularly as it was online only and did not include shipping costs.
Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant were an impressive sixth and seventh for Williams, Valtteri Bottas in eighth for Alfa Romeo, Kevin Magnussen in ninth for Haas and Fernando Alonso in 10th for Aston Martin.
Sergio Pérez was 12th for Red Bull, the team mistiming his runs in Q2. Nico Hülkenberg was 13th or Haas and Lance Stroll was in 14th for Aston Martin but will take a five-place grid penalty for overtaking under yellow flags during practice. Daniel Ricciardo moved to 14th for AlphaTauri.
The two McLaren drivers had a poor run, with Lando Norris finishing in 15th and Oscar Piastri in 18th. Esteban Ocon was in 16th for Alpine. Guanyu Zhou was in 17th for Alfa Romeo and Yuki Tsunoda in 20 for AlphaTauri.