Las Vegas Grand Prix F1 debut: Formula One review and analysis

Las Vegas Grand Prix’s first ever race offered a lot of excitement and drama.

Published : Nov 23, 2023 11:00 IST - 5 MINS READ

Unstoppable: Though Max Verstappen won the race yet again — his 18th of the year — he had to work harder.
Unstoppable: Though Max Verstappen won the race yet again — his 18th of the year — he had to work harder. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Unstoppable: Though Max Verstappen won the race yet again — his 18th of the year — he had to work harder. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

While there is nothing to fight for in terms of championships, Formula One embarked on one of the most important events of the 2023 calendar.

The penultimate race of the year took the Formula One circus to the city of Las Vegas. It is the sport’s biggest gamble in Sin City, which is known more for its casinos and slot machines than for its motorsport heritage.

Though F1 raced in the city in 1981 and 1982, it was in the parking lot of the Ceasar Palace Hotel on an uninspiring layout that found very few takers. The race was held during the day, making it physically exhausting for the drivers in the Nevada desert heat.

Las Vegas is the third F1 event in the U.S. this year, and Formula One is looking to capitalise on the growing interest in the sport in the world’s largest economy.

Unlike other F1 races, where the local promoter pays tens of millions of dollars in licence fees to the Formula One group to host an event, the Vegas event is bankrolled entirely by F1 itself.

Ever since Liberty Media (commercial rights holders of Formula One) bought the sport in 2016, they have been trying to get F1 races in what they call ‘Destination Cities’, where sport and entertainment go hand-in-hand. Miami was one such event that joined the grid last year, but Vegas is the sport’s most ambitious bet.

The track layout runs through a mix of permanent sections and the existing streets of Vegas, including the part of town called The Strip (left), which houses some of the biggest casinos, resorts, and hotels.

Unlike the usual Friday-to-Sunday schedule, the Las Vegas GP was held from Thursday (free practice) to Saturday, with qualifying at midnight on Friday. The race started late at night to help the European audience—where most of F1’s fan base is situated—catch it early Sunday morning.

While there was tremendous excitement and buzz leading up to the race, some drivers, including reigning three-time champion Max Verstappen, did not fully buy into it.

He did not mince words about his distaste for all the razzmatazz surrounding the event, which threatened to make the racing itself a sideshow.

On Thursday, the event got off to the worst possible start. Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari suffered huge damage when he ran over the drain cover that came loose during the first practice session. The session had to be cancelled after eight minutes of running.

Both Sainz and his boss, Fred Vassuer, were unimpressed with the organisers’ oversight in not securing the cover that cost a lot of money in damage and also a penalty for the Spanish driver as he had to do an unscheduled parts change, which is not allowed beyond a limit in the regulations.

The second practice session started in the wee hours of Friday. But once the teething issues were sorted out, the rest of the weekend went smoothly, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc taking pole position in qualifying.

The big concern heading into the weekend was whether the race would be exciting on this track, as street courses can produce processional races. However, the 6.12 km track, one of the fastest on the calendar, served up one of the year’s best races. The battle for the podium continued until the race’s last lap. Though Verstappen won the race yet again—his 18th of the year—he had to work harder. If not for some misfortune from a Safety Car period during the middle of the race, Leclerc could have triumphed.

The long straights on the track allowed for lots of overtaking, and the generally cold track temperatures meant the grip levels were not high, allowing for some exciting battles. The two Safety Car periods mixed up the order, bringing the pit-stop strategy into play.

Verstappen, starting second, took the lead from Leclerc into the first corner by passing him outside the track limits, and he was handed a five-second penalty for his illegal overtake. However, the Dutch driver could not sprint away into the distance, with Leclerc getting the position before Verstappen pitted.

But on lap 25, Verstappen and Geroge Russell hit each other, and the safety car was called to clear the debris from the crash. This allowed Verstappen a cheap pit stop and, with fresh tyres, overtook Leclerc, who was on slightly older rubber, and cruised to victory.

Behind him, Leclerc and Perez were locked in a battle for second and third, with the Mexican passing the Ferrari driver after the latter made a mistake. However, on the last lap, Leclerc found enough pace to take the position back from the second Red Bull driver, capping off an exciting race.


Moving on from the desert of Nevada to the desert of Qatar.

Reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia inched closer to his second MotoGP crown after finishing second in the Qatar GP behind Fabio Di Giannantonio but well ahead of title rival Jorge Martin, who finished tenth.

With just one race to go, Bagnaia leads by 21 points, with 37 to play for in the season finale in Valencia. While Martin won the sprint race on Saturday, the Spaniard struggled on Sunday because of poor-quality tyres by Michelin, which meant he could only pocket one point.

Meanwhile, Bagnaia, backed by the entire Ducati factory operation, is the favourite to seal his second straight MotoGP title. With the fastest bike under his disposal, the Italian should cruise to the championship, considering his healthy lead. but should avoid the costly mistakes that he has made a few times this year.

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