Max Verstappen emerged on top at the end of an action-packed Las Vegas Grand Prix, beating Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez to the chequered flag in a race punctuated by several incidents and Safety Car periods.
Verstappen took the lead from Leclerc at the start of the race but was promptly handed a five-second time penalty for forcing his rival off the track and then got overtaken by the pole-sitter before serving it at the first round of pit stops.
Leclerc went longer into the race before changing tyres in an opening stint dominated by graining concerns, only for a Safety Car shortly afterwards to allow Verstappen and several other drivers to pit again under caution.
At the decisive restart, Leclerc initially controlled proceedings from Perez, who had benefitted from an early stop after an incident on the first lap, though ageing tyres meant he came under severe pressure.
Verstappen lit up the timesheets in the final laps to clear both his team mate and the leading Ferrari for a landmark win in the City of Lights, while Perez had followed him through to form a one-two, only to be re-passed by a determined Leclerc on the final lap.
“It was a tough one,” said race-winner Verstappen. “I tried to go for it [with Leclerc] at the start. I think we both braked quite late, then I just ran out of grip and we ended up a bit wide, so the stewards gave me a penalty for that. Of course, that put us a little bit on the backfoot, I had to pass quite a few cars, then the Safety Car again. At the point already there was a lot going on in the race.
“Once we had the message to the end we could go flat-out. You could clearly see with the DRS around here it was very powerful, so even when you would take the lead, if the guy behind would stay in the DRS, he would still have an opportunity to come back at you. I think it created quite a lot of good racing here today, so it was definitely a lot of fun.”
Behind, a remarkable rise from Esteban Ocon netted fourth place for himself and Alpine, despite being narrowly beaten by Mercedes’ George Russell to the line. However, Russell had been carrying a five-second time penalty for a clash with Verstappen that brought out the aforementioned Safety Car.
Russell’s penalty also promoted the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll to fifth, while Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz and the sister Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton – who clashed at Turn 1 – also benefitted to take sixth and seventh positions.
Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri completed the points in their respective Aston Martin and McLaren machines, the Spaniard recovering from a Lap 1 spin and the Australian rookie the only papaya car to make it to the flag after team mate Lando Norris suffered a heavy crash early on.
Pierre Gasly had held points for the majority of the race after starting up in fourth, but a tumble down the order for the Alpine saw him cross the line in 11th, with Alex Albon suffering a similar fate in his Williams.
Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo had lonely races en route to P13 and P14 for Haas and AlphaTauri, with the Alfa Romeos of Zhou Gaunyu and Valtteri Bottas – the latter another caught out at Turn 1 – and Williams rookie Logan Sargeant among the final finishers.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg both pulled off the track in the closing stages amid apparent technical trouble, meaning they joined Norris on the list of retirements and watched the finish from the sidelines.
After a spectacular three days of action under the lights in Las Vegas, F1 will move swiftly on to the Yas Marina Circuit for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next weekend.
The final stop on the 2023 F1 calendar will be Yas Marina for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, which takes place from November 24-26.
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