Max Verstappen drew level with Sebastian Vettel on 53 Formula 1 race victories, and did it in style at the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix, triumphing in a three-way battle with Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez.
All three drove fantastic races but there were plenty of other frontrunners who didn’t live up to the hype, so who were the winners and losers?
The Las Vegas GP itself doesn’t feature in either category. There were promising signs that it’s a worthwhile sporting edition to the F1 calendar – but it was far from plain sailing either.
Offering a $200 gift shop voucher to the fans ejected for the delayed FP2 is frankly insulting by F1 and just unnecessary when you consider the half a billion dollars they spent attempting to make the event a success. On that scale, wouldn’t throwing a few more bucks in for proper compensation be worth it to avoid the horrendous PR?
So perhaps the most poignant outcome from the weekend was the class-action lawsuit filed against F1 before the race had even got underway.
But let’s focus on the racing – here are the winners and losers of F1’s return to Sin City.
Winner: Max Verstappen
He had to work for it, but this must go down as one of the more satisfying wins of Verstappen‘s season. It’s not like his options are limited either.
Verstappen even had a character arc for this one, from the naughtiness at Turn 1 and then getting passed by Leclerc, he made the most of his second pitstop and really switched on those hard tyres, even attempting to help Sergio Perez late on.
It was also refreshing to hear Verstappen speak so candidly about the Las Vegas GP event, as F1 tried to build the perfect PR event, he was the one variable they couldn’t control.
How it started: qualified fifth and sixth. How it’s going: 0 points, finished 12th and 16th.
This could have been a statement race for Williams similar to Daniel Ricciardo‘s Mexico City GP result three weeks ago, but despite surviving the chaos of the opening lap, both drivers were brought back down to earth by graining.
When many of the drivers around them pitted under the second safety car, Williams‘ position on The Strip Circuit forced both Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant to stay out, and both drivers were sitting ducks from the restart.
In many respects it might not matter though. AlphaTauri will need to gain eight points in Abu Dhabi to claim seventh from Williams in the constructors’ championship.
Winner: Charles Leclerc
Leclerc has been quietly outshone by Carlos Sainz this season, and looks set to finish behind his teammate for the second year out of three they’ve been together.
He’ll need to finish 13 points ahead of the Spaniard in Abu Dhabi to avoid that fate, but that doesn’t overshadow a remarkable Las Vegas performance by Leclerc. He looked the man to beat right from the off, so much so that Verstappen gave up in qualifying – a compliment indeed.
Leclerc certainly wasn’t helped by the timing of the second safety car, but showed not just fight, but guile to repass Perez on the final lap for second. How many other drivers have overtaken Red Bull three times on track in a race this season?
Mercedes have recorded arguably their two worst weekends of the season in the last two races, as they bumble towards the end of a thoroughly wasted year.
Facing the media post-race, Toto Wolff and his drivers just looked fed up with a race that promised much but delivered little, even if the team principal’s claims that both cars would’ve fought for the podium seemed a little far-fetched.
As it was, Lewis Hamilton was nowhere in Q1 and though Russell was thousandths away from outqualifying Verstappen, he frittered that opportunity away with an unfortunate collision with the Dutchman in the race.
Hamilton wasn’t at fault for either of his incidents, but the team are now just four points ahead of Ferrari in second in the constructors’ championship with the final race to come.
Winner: Esteban Ocon
At the very least, Ocon did Deadpool proud. Sporting the Ryan Reynolds character on his helmet, it looked like it wouldn’t get much action when Ocon was out in Q1 after his chassis was rebuilt on Thursday.
But maybe the superhero’s healing powers worked their magic on the A523, because Ocon was a different beast in the race.
The opening lap was somewhat of a throwback, with so much carnage and Ocon rose to eighth, then steadily built on that platform in the remaining 49 laps.
He even came off best in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel with teammate Pierre Gasly, who could’ve featured in the losers, slumping from fourth to 11th and no points.
Oscar Piastri got the fastest lap! That, and his point for 10th place, were the only things preventing McLaren‘s Las Vegas GP weekend from being an unmitigated disaster.
Both drivers were eliminated in Q1 – the second time in three races for Lando Norris, who was then hospitalised from his heavy crash early in the race after hitting a bump ahead of Turn 14 and spinning into the barriers.
Meanwhile a safety car just wouldn’t fall for Piastri‘s optimistic strategy, meaning his race for meaningful points fizzled out. The only other positive was Fernando Alonso‘s off-weekend meaning McLaren retain an 11-point cushion over Aston Martin in the constructors’ championship.
Winner: Lance Stroll
Speaking of which… for once (and it really is just once), Lance Stroll outperformed Alonso in Las Vegas.
10 places gained on the opening lap must be in contention for one of the best starts of the season – if not the decade – and Stroll then made smart use of the safety car pit windows to consolidate that jump.
From there it was actually a pretty quiet night for the Canadian, who was passed by Russell but still finished fifth thanks to his penalty – not bad from 19th on the grid.
Loser: Toto Wolff
Is it fair to say the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix was a qualified success – no pun intended?
Verstappen‘s claim that the event was 99% show, 1% sport was fair, but F1 fans will tolerate the tackiness if the weekend is entertaining to fans at the circuit and at home.
The two most important, basic parameters for a circuit – before location or race action – are that it’s safe for drivers and accessible to fans, and the Las Vegas Strip Circuit failed on both counts on Thursday.
The race itself proved the naysayers wrong who predicted a dull procession around Sin City, but that was always a daft preconception given the circuit’s simple potential. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve isn’t exactly complex either, and still provides great entertainment year-on-year.
So there were positives and negatives, and hopefully the failures will be ironed out for next year. But Wolff‘s claim that no one would remember the farcical Thursday was an absolute clanger, and his follow-up that Las Vegas ticked all of F1‘s boxes was equally tone deaf.
Winner: Sergio Perez
He has missed out on second and third by an average of just 0.112 seconds in the last two races, but Sergio Perez still had a stellar weekend in Las Vegas.
It was a Red Bull howler that cost him a shot at Q3 pole position, and Perez could’ve been a real threat in qualifying as he appeared well at home on a track less than 300km away from the Mexican border.
But the pitwall made up for it by pulling Perez at the first possible opportunity to get him onto the hard tyres in the race, and the driver took full advantage, cutting through the field and ripping up the script that the race for victory would involve just two horses.
He was caught napping by Leclerc on a couple of occasions, but still notched his first podium since the start of September and confirmed his second place in the drivers’ championship – making some Red Bull history in the process.