Max Verstappen overcame a time penalty and car damage to take his 18th win of 2023 in an exciting inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in which Charles Leclerc overtook Sergio Pérez on the last lap to take second place. Pérez’s P3 at the flag sealed the Drivers’ Championship runner-up sport for the Mexican.
When the lights went out at the start, polesitter Leclerc got away well to take a narrow lead. However, even though he started on the dirty side of the track, Verstappen also made a good start and he took the inside line on the way to Turn 1. The champion braked late but slide wide, forcing Leclerc off track. When they rejoined, Verstappen was ahead and in the lead. However, the incident was soon put under investigation by the stewards.
Further back, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso also spun in Turn 1 and that caused a number of cars around him to take evasive action including Ferrari’s Caros Sainz One of them was Pérez and as the Mexican tried to react he tapped the back of Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo, sustaining front wing damage.
At the end of the first lap Pérez pitted for a new nose and a set of Hard tyres. He rejoined in 18th place, just as a Virtual Safety Car was deployed to allow marshals to clear debris in Turn 1. However, almost as soon as the VSC ended, the physical Safety Car was deployed when Lando Norris crashed at Turn 12.
The Safety Car left the track at the end of lap six and Verstappen controlled the re-start well to hold the lead but on lap eight, the stewards handed down their decision on the start and Verstappen was handed a five-second penalty for forcing Leclerc off track. The champion, who was now two seconds clear of Leclerc, held position, expecting to serve the penalty in his first stop.
Pérez, meanwhile, was on the move and after rising to 16th under the SC as rivals pitted he then breezed past Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and the AlphaTauris of Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo to take P13.
At the front, Verstappen was trying to shake Leclerc but the Ferrari driver was grimly hanging on to the back of the Red Bull and was just a second behind the race leader. And on lap 12, Leclerc attacked. The Ferrari driver closed up on the long run to Turn 14 and he passed the champion on the inside under braking to take the lead. Red Bull pitted Verstappen and after serving his time penalty and taking on a set of Hard tyres he rejoined in ninth place.
But as others pitted, Pérez vaulted up the order and on lap 18 he was in P2 just 14 seconds behind Leclerc. The Ferrari driver made his first stop on lap 22 and after a 3.9s stop, he rejoined in P3 behind Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and new race leader, Pérez. The Ferrari driver was now four seconds ahead of Verstappen who was back in P7 but being hampered by Alonso and Russell who were battling over P5.
Verstappen was soon past Alonso and after Russell had passed Sainz, the champion followed suit, powering past the Spaniard and tucking in behind the Mercedes. Verstappen went on the attack at the end of lap 25 but Russell was unsighted, turned in and there was contact. Verstappen took third place but was left with a damaged front wing and with debris on the track, the Safety Car was deployed.
The Dutch driver pitted for checks and new tyres while behind him a stream of cars filed into the pit lane for new tyres, including Pérez, who took on another set of Hard tyres and rejoined behind Leclerc who stayed out. Alpine’s Pierre Gasly was now third ahead of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, with both on one stop, and Verstappen was in P5.
The Safety Car left the track at the end of lap 28 and Leclerc kept the lead ahead of Pérez. He tried to quickly shake off the Red Bull driver but the Mexican clung on and when DRS was enabled he closed up and on lap 32 powered past the Ferrari driver into Turn 14 to take the lead once more. Behind them Verstappen muscled his way past Gasly to take P4 and then on lap 33 he passed Piastri for P3, just 1.6s behind Leclerc and 2.4s off Pérez.
On lap 35, Leclerc fought back and the Monegasque surprised Pérez with a late dart down the inside of turn 14 to steal back the lead. Verstappen was now inside DRS range of Pérez and on lap 36 he roared past the Mexican to begin the hunt for the lead. On lap 37 the Dutchman pounced, powering past the Ferrari drive on the run to Turn 14. Leclerc fought back with a late braking lunge but Verstappen was already ahead and into the lead.
Now it was Pérez’s turn to reel in the Ferrari and on lap 43 the under pressure Ferrari driver locked up into Turn 12 and the Red Bull driver swept past.
Leclerc wasn’t done, though, and though the Mexican tried to break DRS, the Ferrari driver stuck closer and on the final lap he went for broke, diving down the inside into Turn 14 to ambush Pérez and steal P2 just a few hundred metres from the flag.
Verstappen, meanwhile, was already there, powering across the line to become the first winner of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Behind Pérez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon took fourth place ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll. Sainz was sixth in the second Ferrari, while Hamilton and Russell were seventh and eighth respectively for Mercedes. Fernando Alonso finished ninth in the second Aston and the final point went to McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix – Race
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 50 1:29'08.289
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 50 1:29'10.359 2.070
3 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 50 1:29'10.530 2.241
4 Esteban Ocon Alpine 50 1:29'26.954 18.665
5 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 50 1:29'28.356 20.067
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 50 1:29'29.123 20.834
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 50 1:29'30.044 21.755
8 George Russell Mercedes 50 1:29'31.380 23.091
9 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 50 1:29'34.253 25.964
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren 50 1:29'37.785 29.496
11 Pierre Gasly Alpine 50 1:29'42.559 34.270
12 Alexander Albon Williams 50 1:29'51.687 43.398
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 50 1:29'53.114 44.825
14 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 50 1:29'56.814 48.525
15 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 50 1:29'58.451 50.162
16 Logan Sargeant Williams 50 1:29'59.171 50.882
17 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 50 1:30'33.639 1'25.350
18 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 46 1:23'38.931 Gearbox
19 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 45 1:21'43.790 Not running