LAS VEGAS - Oracle Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen drove to victory down the iconic Las Vegas Strip in the inaugural Heineken Las Vegas Grand Prix, winning one of the most highly anticipated FIA Formula 1 World Championship races in recent memory.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc sat on the pole after outpacing the field in qualifying. However, despite starting on the dirtier side of the track, Verstappen passed Leclerc for the lead at Turn 1 as both drivers went wide.
"I tried to go for it at the start but yeah, I think we both braked quite late and then I just ran out of grip and we ended up a bit wide, so the stewards gave me a penalty for that," Verstappen said.
Verstappen's pass was immediately condemned by Leclerc, who felt that he had been unfairly forced wide.
"At the start it was very tricky because I think Max, on the inside, lost a bit the grip and brought me on the outside," Leclerc said.
Further down the field, F1's most experienced driver, Fernando Alonso, spun out after failing to executive an aggressive move into the first corner.
Alonso's spin brought out the virtual safety car and impacted Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz. The four affected drivers pitted for fresh tires.
"At the start it was really difficult, with a lot of damage initially. We broke the front wing, so we basically went all the way to the back of the grid," Perez said.
Taking advantage of the opening lap chaos, Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll made up a ton of track position. On Lap 3, Lando Norris lost control of his car and suffered a race-ending impact after his car hit the barriers at Turn 12. Norris' crash brought out the safety car.
Three laps later, despite being notified that he was under investigation for his overtake on Leclerc, Verstappen elected to remain ahead of Leclerc on the restart. Verstappen led the field at the restart and managed a clean getaway.
By the time Verstappen was issued a five-second time penalty on Lap 8, he had already managed to eke out a gap of about two seconds to Leclerc behind. Leclerc managed to retake the lead on track just before Verstappen entered the pits on Lap 16.
Lewis Hamilton made contact with Oscar Piastri and picked up a puncture. Hamilton managed to limp the Mercedes back to the pits, but lost many positions in the process.
The Mercedes driver emerged from the pits in 17th position and began a methodical effort to regain the positions he lost.
During Verstappen's charge through the field after pitting, he made contact with George Russell. This contact brought out a safety car for debris scattered across the track.
The safety car offered Perez, who was in the pits at the time, a huge break. Perez was able to leapfrog into second place as Leclerc controlled the restart and remained in the lead.
Perez began to pressure Leclerc with the help of DRS, and took the lead on Lap 33. This move was the first in a series of late-race lead changes.
Leclerc managed to retake the lead and Perez quickly fell victim to Verstappen, who made quick work of Leclerc and got out front again on Lap 37.
"I overtook Charles, but I couldn't pull away from him," Perez said. "I was just carrying a little bit too much wing on my in my car, so my straight-line speed was a little bit down, and I just couldn't pull away from him. And then Max came and he passed us both."
A wide moment for Leclerc at Turn 12 allowed Perez to sneak by the Ferrari driver. However, on the final lap, Leclerc passed Perez on the inside at the last corner and beat him across the finish line.
"In the second to last lap, I started to recharge the batteries in order to get ready for that last lap and it worked out," Leclerc said. "So it was obviously very, very tight but I was really happy and I really enjoyed the fight."
The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix had a reported crowd of about 315,000 fans in attendance.
The 2023 GRID Ranking is the seventh year of the world's premier motorsport ranking and was initially released on Sunday, April 2.
Drivers in the seven racing series participating in the ranking (NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, Formula E, World Rally Championship, Repco Supercars, MotoGP) have earned GRID Ratings, which helped determine their seeding during Week 33 of the 2023 GRID Ranking.
GRID Ranking Week 34 Formula 1 Drivers:
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Full results from the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix can be found here: