Lap 3/50: The green flag waves, the virtual safety car goes away, and Verstappen retains the lead over Leclerc – however the coverage is suggesting that a call will come from the stewards making him give first back.
The Maclaren of Norris has gone off! A camera shaking crash and a safety car comes out.
Lap 2/50: Verstappen leads from Leclerc, Russell in third, with Gasly in fourth, Albon and Sargeant retain their positions.
Leclerc isn’t happy with how wide he was forced by Verstappen and is one the radio saying that he should be given back the position.
Lap 1/50: Verstappen takes the lead off Leclerc at the start by forcing him very, very wide! Could that be another win sealed on turn one?!?!
There’s been a few spins and spills early on, including for Sainz – the man can’t catch a break! There’s debris at turn one and Alonso is also on the radio complaining of some damage. Perez is also pitting as a virtual safety car comes out.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? No! Wherever you’re watching from around the world, the Sin City GP is underway!
The track is dirty on the left hand side: the parade car of Piastri had an oil spill before it could take him around and forced a clean-up – giving a disadvantage to the even side of the grid.
Formation lap is underway and it’s a medium tyre for the majority of the grid. Hamilton is on hard tyres, as is Guanyu and Piastri. Starting at the very back of the grid, Stroll and Tsunoda are on softs.
A lot of aerial shots of Vegas as we prepare for lights out and there’s no denying it, this race is going to be a visual spectacular – the lights of Vegas, and that giant sphere screen thing, creating a backdrop unique to this season and uniquely American.
The coverage is betting on red, with pundits Danica Patrick and Jensen Button betting on Leclerc to arrest his woes from pole position by going from worst to first in Vegas.
The coverage is hypothesising on if Williams could provide something of a blockage for other cars in the race tonight. Albon and Sargeant will start from fifth and sixth on the grid, which is better than their race pace for much of this year.
The national anthem of the United States is performed by Donny Osmond, who has is own residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas.
Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas rings out upon as soon as the anthem is completed.
But why are we in Vegas at all? Well one of the biggest reasons is that F1 is spending half a billion on it is that they’re trying to boost their profile in the United States from its current niche status; and an extravaganza in the style of the Super Bowl has been tapped to help them do that.
Already on the coverage we’ve seen plenty of the American aristocracy, otherwise known as celebrities, on hand for the event, including the likes of Paris Hilton, Terry Crews, Steven Aoki, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and Usain Bolt.
Here’s Giles Richards’ breakdown.
A bit of work happening to Verstappen’s car? Brundle makes his way over to look at, only to be distracted by Shaquille O’Neal with not a lot actually happening to the car.
Shaq then provides a very short interview: “Lewis Hamilton, baby.”
This isn’t the first time that F1 has come to Vegas, though, with the city, under the moniker of the ‘Caesars Palace Grand Prix’ previously hosting races in 1981 and 1982.
Martin Brundle, doing his customary walk on the grid before the race, seems to be getting a bit frustrated that he can’t find any drivers, only celebrities.
Trying to find Versappen, he’s now been intercepted by will.i.am.
And now he’s shuffling past Zlatan Ibrahimović to get to Ferrari team principal Frédéric Vasseur.
Now we’re back to Ibrahimović, who confirms he drives “several” Ferraris.
This being the first time F1 will be racing on this Vegas circuit, there’s very little data available about how the track will respond in race conditions or what the best strategy will be.
Given the high speeds that the cars are expected to reach on the straights, “Monza with walls” is how some are describing the 50-lap, 17-turn street circuit, a course that will take racers past Caesars Palace, the Bellagio and the Venetian. But the tight corners also harken to Singapore, which may bode well for Ferrari given that Sainz provided the only non-Red Bull victory of 2023 on that street circuit.
“Better hopes than recently, mainly because the track looks a bit more suited to us than recent tracks,” Sainz said ahead of this weekend, drain covers obviously not part of his calculations.
Chris Medland, citing Leclerc’s comments that overtaking has been challenging during practice, has suggested that a one-stop strategy could be the best course of action, prioritising track position and limiting the amount of time that a driver would need to deal with traffic coming out of pit lane. That would lend itself to starting out on medium tyres.
Verstappen hasn’t been shy in sharing his thoughts surrounding this race, doubling down on previous criticism that of the race that tagged it as “99% show, 1% sporting event” by tagging it as a “National League” circuit in comparison to the “Champions League” quality of Monaco yesterday.
Anyway, Giles Richards has more.
There’s been plenty of sympathy for Sainz, who was penalised for the repairs made to his car as Ferrari had already used their allotted engines for the season. The team appealed for leniency from stewards on account of the situation being out of their control but were denied, with decision-makers saying that there was no clause in the rule book that would allow them to take mercy on the Spaniard.
“The thing that I don’t get, and I know it’s a regulation, but can not all the teams agree that should get a pass?” Former world champion Jenson Button said on Sky Sports.
“That’s nothing of their own doing, a very unfortunate and unique incident,” McLaren boss Zak Brown added. “I was a bit surprised to see [the penalty]. I think we need to be a bit more sporting when something like that happens.”
He may have benefited from the grid penalty slapped on Sainz, who proved he had the speed in qualifying but setting the second-fastest time, but Verstappen flat out said that “the rules need to change.”
Giles Richards has been on the ground in Vegas, and here’s his wrap-up of qualifying as well as the fallout from Thursday practice.
Sorry has been the hardest word for F1, who left any kind of apology out of their statement explaining the farce that Thursday’s practice sessions descended into, which, as Giles Richards explains, probably boiled down to the organisation needing to protect itself from lawsuits by avoiding admitting any kind of guilt.
There’s been no compensation offered to fans with three-day tickets following the events of Thursday practice, while those with tickets for just that evening have been offered a $200 voucher to use in the Las Vegas GP’s official online store. Shipping not included.
Alas for organisers, these efforts at contrition haven’t been enough to stave off litigious types, with a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the 35,000 people that had tickets for Thursday’s session.
A spokesperson for the Las Vegas Grand Prix said: “We cannot comment on the litigation. Our focus is on ensuring that our fans have an entertaining experience in a safe and secure environment which is always our top priority.”
It’s the 24th time that Leclerc has secured pole in his career, which is good to have him sitting in 12th all-time. But converting those finishes into a win has tended to be a bit of a problem.
None of the Ferrari driver’s last 11 poles, stretching back to the Australian GP in 2022, have led to victory!
So that ten-place grid penalty moves Sainz down from second to twelfth, while Stroll slips from 14th and down to 19th after being penalized for overtaking under yellow flags.
How they’ll line up in Vegas
1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. George Russell (Mercedes)
4. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
5. Alexander Albon (Williams)
6. Logan Sargeant (Williams)
7. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
9. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
10. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
11. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
12. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
13. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
14. Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri)
15. Lando Norris (Mclaren)
16. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
17. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
18. Oscar Piastri (Mclaren)
19. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
20. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
Hello everyone, Joey Lynch here and welcome to Las Vegas for the penultimate race of the 2023 Formula One season and, well, let’s just hope this evening’s events go a bit more smoothly than the past few days have.
Where to start? Well, the race itself feels like a safe place and it’ll be the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc that will commence this evening’s race in pole position: the Monégasque setting a time of 1:32.726 in qualifying. His teammate Carlos Sainz finished just four-hundredths back of him but thanks to a ten-place grid penalty for the Spaniard, it will be Max Verstappen who instead starts on the front row. The Dutchman has already been crowned this year’s champion but the battle for second place in the driver’s championship received a bit of a shake-up with both Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton knocked out of Q2, with the former starting from 11th and the latter in 10th.
Maclaren has been performing well as of late but that form didn’t carry over to Vegas, Lando Norris set to start in 15th position and Oscar Piastri back in 18th. American Logan Sargeant, though, gave the hometown crowd something to be pleased about when he qualified in the top ten for the first time in his career, set to start in sixth position on the grid behind teammate Alex Albon.
Alas, the Vegas crowd probably needed something to lift their spirits after the sport’s return to Sin City lasted all of ten minutes before the first practice session on Thursday evening was forced to be abandoned when a drain cover on the street circuit ripped through the chassis of both Sainz’s car and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, forcing the former to install new power-unit parts on his car and earning him his penalty. By the time practice resumed after a lengthy delay to make sure there would be no similar incidents with any other coverings around the track it was 2:30 am local time and the few fans that had remained were forced to leave as there was not enough staff on hand to provide adequate safety to spectators.
So, it is not ideal for a race being styled as an unmissable event that would capture the imagination of the American market. Let’s hope the race somewhat makes up for it.
Lights Out: 10pm PST/6am GMT/5pm AEDT