Verstappen hits jackpot in F1 Las Vegas GP; polesitter Leclerc snatches 2nd on last lap from Perez

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Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

A tumultuous weekend ended in familiar fashion as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took the checkered flag by 2.070 seconds over polesitter Charles Leclerc for Ferrari, whose hopes for victory were stymied by ill-timed safety car periods on this brand new street circuit. He passed Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez on the final lap, the star-crossed driver settling for third by just 0.171 seconds. Esteban Ocon finished fourth for Alpine, with Lance Stroll quietly cashing in an uneventful race into a fifth place finish for Aston Martin. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri rounded out the points, with every one of those drivers having to fight back from at least one on-track incident to get into the top ten.

At the start Verstappen went wide at the first corner, pushing Leclerc off with him. Verstappen came out ahead when they rejoined the track, both ahead of Russell, but Verstappen was given a five second penalty for the move. Behind them, Alonso spun and was tagged by Bottas, who was tagged by Perez. Sainz and Hamilton made contact in the fracas as well, with Hamilton the only car of the bunch to not need a pitstop. The chaos necessitated a virtual safety car period, but a couple laps later a full safety car period would be instigated by a spin and crash from Lando Norris at turn 12 on lap 4; Norris would be transported to hospital for observation.

The race resumed on lap 7, and Leclerc was able to maintain no worse than two seconds’ gap behind Verstappen. As the Red Bull’s tires faded, the Ferrari took the lead on lap 16 before Verstappen came in to pit and serve his penalty. As the cars cycled through pit stops, the cars that came in during those early virtual/safety car periods–including Stroll, who, with Yuki Tsunoda, were the only cars to start on soft tyres–jumbled the order around, with Perez working back up to second on lap 18 and putting Stroll, Sainz, and Alonso into the top five by lap 21. Perez would inherit the lead on lap 22 as Leclerc pitted, resulting in a split strategy in which Perez and Stroll led the just-pitted Leclerc, ahead of the early-pitting Sainz, who was then ahead of Russell and Verstappen in the lead pit group.

Russell and Verstappen caught and passed Sainz by lap 25, but they were still about three seconds behind Leclerc. Verstappen got alongside Russell but there was contact, damaging Verstappen’s front wing and earning Russell a five second penalty, which would drop him down from an impressive charge back to fourth on track by race’s end. The resulting debris brought out another safety car on lap 27, under which the lead cars other than Leclerc came in, allowing Perez to maintain second behind the Ferrari, while Verstappen was able to mitigate the damage on track and rejoined in fifth behind Pierre Gasly and Piastri.

The race resumed on lap 29, with Perez hanging close to Leclerc while Piastri made a move around Gasly for third, dropping the Alpine into the clutches of Verstappen. DRS activation was enough to get Verstappen into fourth; a lap later Perez was able to get around Leclerc in similar fashion and back into the lead. On the next lap Verstappen passed Piastri for third, and began to chase down the lead pair, who swapped positions on lap 35 as Leclerc managed to keep in DRS range just enough to make a move at the end of the Strip. Verstappen got around his teammate Perez on lap 36, and past Leclerc and into the lead on lap 37.

Leclerc maintained a steady advantage on Perez but with seven laps to go he went wide at turn 12, allowing Perez to go past. Leclerc stayed within shouting distance, however, and despite Verstappen’s efforts to ease back enough to try and give his teammate an extra tow, the Ferrari retook the position just a couple corners from the end of the race.

The race was an entertaining and satisfying end to one of the more controversial race weekends in recent memory, and, with one more win on Max Verstappen’s register, brings one of the most dominant Formula One seasons–if not the most dominant ever–to its final race next weekend in Abu Dhabi.