Max Verstappen won the 2023 Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix through “cleverness” at the first safety car restart, according to Jeroen Bleekemolen, that allowed him to get a gap on Charles Leclerc to defend his position.
Verstappen took the lead of the race twice, but for the final time in the Mojave desert on Lap 37 after he started from second on the grid in what was a record-extending 18th victory for the Dutchman and his Red Bull team.
But according to Bleekemolen, who raced in the FIA GT Championship, A1 Grand Prix competition and the Le Mans Series, believes it wasn’t simply down to his RB19 machine.
“He won this one mainly through cleverness,” Bleekemolen said to Formula 1 Paddockpraat podcast.
“While driving, he always keeps the overview [of the race] and thinks about this. That makes the difference. He really looked for the limit there [first safety car restart], because what he did is actually not allowed.
“The rule is that once you decide to go as the leader, you can’t get off the gas. The problem was that there was another turn coming up so you still had to slow down.
“The intent of that rule, though, is that you then take that turn as hard as you can. But he braked it one more time and Leclerc almost hit him, he was then blocked and at that moment Verstappen gave it gas and he was gone.”
Verstappen’s safety car grey areas
It’s not the first time Verstappen’s exploited safety car loopholes to gain an advantage over his rivals.
Prior to 2022 he used to effectively pull up alongside the leader but remain behind their front wheels. By doing so he would compromise their line at the restart and gain an advantage in the early corners.
It notably happened at the infamous 2021 Abu Dhabi GP when Hamilton had to take a tight line through the final sector at the restart, before Verstappen went on to overtake him and claim his first drivers’ championship.
In the wake of that race, the rules were changed so that the cars are no longer permitted to line-up alongside a car in front at all after Verstappen briefly overtook Hamilton at the 2021 restart although the FIA decided he couldn’t have anticipated Hamilton slowing down.
When is the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
It’s almost time for the curtains to close on the 2023 F1 season, with a few things still to be settled and put to bed in the United Arab Emirates such as whether Ferrari will catch Mercedes to finish second in the constructors’ championship or not.
The Abu Dhabi takes place this weekend – November 24-26 – with the race starting at 17:00 local time, which is 13:00 in the UK. F1 fans in the USA will be able to see the race from Yas Marina at 08:00 EST, and 05:00 PST.