Max Verstappen continues his winning streak in Las Vegas

Red Bull's triple world champion wins 53rd F1 race to draw level with Sebastian Vettel on all-time winners' list

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen celebrates winning the Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Max Verstappen won the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix for a record-extending 18th victory of the Formula One season on Saturday.

The triumph was the 53rd of the triple world champion's career, and sixth in a row, leaving the Dutch driver level with now-retired German Sebastian Vettel in third place on the sport's all-time winners' list.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who started on pole position, seized second place from Red Bull's Sergio Perez with a last lap overtake.

“Viva Las Vegas! Viva Las Vegas!” sang the three-time reigning world champion as he crossed under the checkered flag waved by Justin Bieber. Verstappen had slammed the race at every chance, yet raced in an Elvis-inspired fire-suit and took the victory on the famed Las Vegas Strip.

“I hope everyone enjoyed it, we definitely did. Excited to come back here next year and try to do something similar,” said Verstappen, who had markedly reversed his position on the Las Vegas spectacle.

Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez were driven in a limousine to the victory podium located near the Bellagio – "we go straight to the nightclub,” Verstappen told his fellow podium finishers – but they were instead treated to the casino's famed fountain show.

The build-up to Formula One’s debut race on the Strip has been mired in controversy following Thursday’s practice washout and Verstappen comparing the Las Vegas race to football’s National League.

But the 3.8-mile venue served up a brilliant race which culminated in Verstappen passing Leclerc for the lead on lap 37 of 50.

A celebrity-jammed grid dispersed moments before the lights went out in Sin City, and it was Verstappen who raced away from his marks to gazump the pole-sitter into the opening bend.

However, Verstappen’s move courted the attention of the stewards with Leclerc forced off the track.

Behind, Fernando Alonso’s spin triggered a pile-up as Perez tagged Valtteri Bottas. Carlos Sainz also thudded into Lewis Hamilton, but the latter escaped without damage.

The virtual safety car was deployed following the first-corner chaos and when the race resumed three laps later, Norris was in the wall.

Norris lost control of his McLaren through Turn 11 and was soon a passenger as he thudded backwards into the concrete wall amid a flurry of orange sparks, before the car righted itself and Norris went head-on into the run-off barriers at Turn 12.

Norris’ machine was wrecked in the high-speed smash, but the 23-year-old was on the radio to report he was OK, before he made his way into the medical car.

Out came the safety car and Verstappen was dealt a five-second penalty for forcing Leclerc off the road at the first bend.

Verstappen might have felt he would have the sufficient speed in his Red Bull to open up a gap to Leclerc, but the Ferrari man was soon in his mirrors. And on lap 16 the Monegasque swept by to take the lead. In came Verstappen for new tyres.

Mercedes' Russell, now ahead of Verstappen following the Dutchman’s penalty, had the Red Bull swarming in his mirrors.

Verstappen threw his Red Bull underneath a surprised Russell at Turn 12 and the British driver turned into his rival as they duelled for a net third.

Russell made contact with Verstappen’s Red Bull with debris falling off both of their machines.

The safety car was out for a second time and Leclerc took the lead with Perez moving up to second by virtue of a free pit stop.

When the safety car came back in, Perez passed Leclerc to take the lead on lap 32 while Verstappen was also on the move as he swatted Piastri aside for third.

Three laps later, and Leclerc was back on top after fighting his way back past Perez. A lap later, Verstappen moved ahead of Perez on the Las Vegas Boulevard for a second, and then on lap 37, he slung his Red Bull underneath Leclerc’s scarlet machine for the lead.

Perez looked to have completed a one-two for Red Bull when he made his way ahead of Leclerc with seven laps to go only for the Monegasque to fight his way back past on the last tour.

Russell crossed the line in fourth, but was demoted to eighth after he was hit with a a five-second penalty for his collision with Verstappen. Esteban Ocon took fourth, one place ahead of Lance Stroll with Carlos Sainz sixth and Lewis Hamilton seventh.

“It was a tough one,” said Verstappen. “I tried to go for it at the start. But I ran out of grip and the stewards gave me a penalty which put me on the backfoot.

“I had to pass a few cars to get into the battle and it was definitely a lot of fun.”

Updated: November 19, 2023, 12:42 PM