Formula 1 is about the racing and you can’t say the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix wasn’t exciting from start to finish. If you think it wasn’t entertaining, your mind is clearly clouded by your thoughts on Las Vegas outside of Sunday’s race.
Max Verstappen won yet again but it was one of his toughest victories in the 2023 F1 season as he overcame a penalty and a gusty effort from Charles Leclerc to equal Sebastian Vettel on 53 career triumphs – only Michael Schumacher (91) and Lewis Hamilton (103) have more.
So much was made about the hype around Las Vegas and Verstappen made his feelings clear all week that he doesn’t enjoy the showbusiness side of F1. There was plenty of defence about Las Vegas, particularly from Toto Wolff. Somewhere in between Verstappen and Wolff‘s views is probably a fair middle ground regarding that aspect.
But back to what we saw on track and that was lots of overtaking and some great racing from the front to the back over 50 laps in Vegas.
Track layout surprises drivers
Verstappen, Leclerc and Sergio Perez gave us a rare three-way fight for the win and seeing the cars scream down the straights at over 200mph within a few car lengths each other was magical.
Some of the helicopter shots were spectacular, even though the race could have been in any city going off some of the camera views at the majority of corners.
The long straights with big braking zones made for great racing and the DRS zones were pretty much spot on. It’s always difficult to get the length of the DRS zone right with such long straights.
Verstappen, who has won 18 races this season, says he had fun on Saturday night in Vegas but expected the racing to be good.
“I think low deg on the hard tyre, a lot of slipstreaming, of course, with the long straights,” said Verstappen when asked about the reasons for lots of action.
“And probably a bit of a headwind maybe on the straight as well. So I think, the low-speed corners, I think when you’re following you don’t really lose that much time, because they are that slow, the corners.
“And then there’s a lot of draft around the track, after Turn 4 to 5, from Turn 9 to 12 and then all the way from 12 to 14 and then from 16 to Turn 1 is again, a draft-fest. So that made the racing much better.”
Leclerc in particular was really pushing his car hard, using every bit of track and braking super late. He was on top form and simply outfoxed Perez in their battle, using the slipstream and DRS to stick with the Mexican and made a stunning overtake into Turn 14 on the last lap.
” I loved the racing,” said Leclerc. “I did not expect to have that much fun in the race because in FP2 I was following, I think, George [Russell] and I really struggled to overtake him.
“Then we went down on the downforce and today was much better. I had a lot more fun. So yeah, it was a really exciting race. And I’m pretty sure it was a really good one to watch. So, I’ll make sure I watch that race back.”
One-off or a genuinely good track?
Like anything in life, you shouldn’t just judge something from one thing, in this case, a race weekend. Ferrari‘s competitiveness certainly helped the excitement of the Grand Prix as Red Bull have not been challenged too many times in 2023.
The track is a proper challenge though and Lando Norris was punished heavily for his small swapper which turned into a big slap on the wall. Locking up means you have to go down the escape road and lose time, so there was no track limits antics in Vegas, which was a nice change.
Hamilton charged through the field after suffering a puncture from contact with Oscar Piastri and was a big fan of the race despite only finishing seventh.
“I don’t know how it was as a spectacle for people to watch, but there was so much overtaking,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.
“It was like Baku – but better. I really wasn’t expecting the track to be so great but the more and more laps you did I just really loved racing it.
“Lots of great overtaking opportunities and I think for all those who were so negative about the weekend, saying it was all about show blah blah blah, I think Vegas proved them wrong.”
Calls for Las Vegas schedule changes
It’s not all positive though and one aspect that everyone agrees on is to move the qualifying start time earlier, so it doesn’t begin at midnight.
The Grand Prix itself started at 22:00 local time and the late sessions were partly put in place, so it made for more suitable viewing times in the UK and Europe.
Practice two on Friday was delayed by two-and-a-half hours due to the framing failure of a manhole cover, which Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon ran over. This certainly didn’t help matters as FP2 only began at 02:30 on Friday morning and ended at 04:00.
It’s a tough one for F1 because they don’t want qualifying and the race to be earlier than 06:00 in the UK and Europe, for example, as they will lose a big audience. Moving qualifying from midnight to the same time as the race though does make sense.
“I think mostly that’s the fact that we have been driving so late,” explained Leclerc when asked about changes for next year’s 2024 Las Vegas GP. “I can see the point, obviously with the audience in Europe.
“I don’t know if that’s even the point or why we have been racing so late, but I felt like it was a bit on the limit. Also for the temperatures, it was very, very tricky so this is definitely one thing I would like to change for next year.
“On the other hand, as I’ve said, since the beginning of the weekend I’ve really enjoyed it. and I am especially happy to see that we finished this weekend on a high note because it was hurting me to see the sport that I love so much starting from the wrong foot on Thursday.
“But the fact that we had an amazing race, I think, makes it all up and I’m happy with that. So not much more to change apart from the timing.”
Fans kicked out was a very poor for F1
Another negative were fans being kicked out before FP2 as a consequence of the delay due to risks for fans and a lack of track staff. It was a very sad sight and a lawsuit was brought against the event’s promoters for the 35,000 fans that attended on Thursday in Vegas.
F1 offered fans who purchased single-day passes for the first two practice sessions a $200 voucher for use in the Las Vegas Grand Prix Official Shop.
Esteban Ocon labelled the situation not acceptable and Daniel Ricciardo felt sorry for the fans. Hopefully this situation doesn’t arise again, and it could happen at any venue, but you’ve got to say, after the first day, Vegas certainly delivered on the huge hype.