Max Verstappen won a captivating Las Vegas Grand Prix – a race of twists and turns, crashes, courage and mistakes that lived up to its hot billing on the Strip.
A bet on the world champion may be the safest punt in all Sin City but it did not always look like that under the bright light of this inaugural event.
The outcome was an 18th win in 21 rounds for Verstappen, yet the most precarious and fluctuating of the season, and the Dutchman only finally pulled off the victory on lap 37 of 50 when he passed Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in a blur of increasing inevitability.
As he did so, news broke that Lando Norris had been taken to the University Medical Center for tests after a big smash at 180mph. The Briton had walked out of his stricken McLaren into the medical car and is basically
Another stand-out fact was the poor performances of the Mercedes duo again. Lewis Hamilton, who had two prangs, the second his fault and which caused a puncture, condemning him to finish seventh. George Russell, never quite in the groove, finished eighth, after taking a five-second penalty.
An upturn in the Silver Arrows’ fortunes look as elusive as ever. How Hamilton, the sport’s biggest global star, must have wished it could have worked out differently on this big and glitziest stage Formula One has ever known.
The event, which got off to a dismal start on Thursday night when practice was abandoned and delayed, and fans sent home, came up trumps when the eyes of the world were turned on it, however bleary they might have been back in European heartlands before breakfast on the Sabbath.
But this was a show for a Saturday night audience Nevada primarily, and it worked. A super-packed grid set the scene. In fact it was so busy that several announcements were made to ‘please move’ off it so the lights could go out at the appointed time on a cleared road. This has happened by the skin of teeth.
As for Verstappen, he started second on the grid and wasted no time or energy in pushing pole-man Leclerc so far wide the Ferrari man was almost in the Harbor Island Apartments on the outside of the left hander.
Verstappen refused to concede he had erred, arguing over his radio that he was in front. He was. But, as we were saying, so far off the track it was hardly a legitimate argument. He was handed a five-second penalty. ‘Yeah,’ he said with sarcasm to the stewards. ‘That’s fine. Send them my regards.’
Actually, Leclerc was flying, and passed Verstappen just before the first round of stops Could a surprise winner be on the cards? They are all surprises if Verstappen’s name does not lead the rest.
Before the customary conclusion, Verstappen tangled with Russell at Turn 12 – the bend into the Las Vegas Boulevard. It was where most of the overtaken action occurred. Russell was at fault as Verstappen pushed his claims with his usual gusto down the inside, a bravura act. Russell didn’t appear to realise the Red Bull had come at him like a rocket and was right there beside him. He turned in. A bit of damage to both cars, but not too much. The safety car came out and they pitted. The stewards slapped Russell with his penalty.
Verstappen had the bit between his teeth by now. He is a driver with a short touch-paper and you could sense the fireworks popping inside him. He passed his team-mate Sergio Perez, ultimately to finish third, and then came the killer move on Leclerc.
What else? That Norris incident early on. The McLaren lost control on his way past the Wynn, a big snap of unsteer, into Turn 12 – where else? – and spun into the wall, scraping along it until his car righted to north and he went nose first into the thankfully distant barrier down the run-off escape, but still hurtling at some speed. That brought out the first of the two safety cars.
Justin Bieber waved the chequered flag. He is Hamilton’s pal. Verstappen isn’t but the world champion was two seconds ahead of Leclerc by then. All over, bar the limousine ride to the Bellagio hotel for the presentations on an evening when nothing was underdone, but one on which the ‘sport’ lived up to the ‘show’.