Charles Leclerc took pole at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, putting in a magnificent lap on the streets of the circuit that winds through the heart of the city. He overtook his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz to second place, but the Spaniard will receive a 10-place grid penalty after he had to fit a new battery due to damage he suffered when his car was hit by a drain cover Thursday. World champion Max Verstappen was third with Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton had a disappointing run, eliminated in Q2 in 10th place, while his teammate George Russell was fourth for Mercedes. Pierre Gasly was fifth for Alpine.
With the crucial track evolving into a street circuit that progressed as the session progressed, times dropped as the clock counted down, leading to a penalty shootout on the final lap. Leclerc had set the pace with his first fastest lap, with a time of 1 minute 33.021 seconds, two hundredths ahead of Sainz, with Verstappen in third place. The Monegasque driver was clearly very confident. He was one of the first to start his final lap and, although he was down in the first third, his middle sector was immense, enough to seal pole with a time of 1:32.726.
Sainz approached, four hundredths behind. Verstappen, who has not been in front all weekend on a circuit that has made it clear does not likeHe could not respond, finishing three tenths away.
Leclerc became the third driver to take pole Las Vegas. The city hosted two meetings such as the Caesars Palace Grand Prix in 1981 and 1982. Carlos Reutemann took pole in 1981, Alain Prost in 1982.
This was the fifth pole of the season for Leclerc. He took pole in Baku and inherited first place at Spa when Verstappen took a grid penalty and was once again fastest in the United States and Mexico, but has yet to convert either of them into a victory. He will be hoping to put in a strong performance again, but while Ferrari has been promising on a single lap, Red Bull is likely to be quicker on race pace again.
It’s his 23rd career pole, a good tally but undermined by a low conversion rate of five wins, an indication of how Ferrari has consistently failed to deliver a suitably competitive race car in recent years.
Hamilton seemed unable to get more out of his car and told his team that he simply “couldn’t go any faster.”
Before the session began, F1’s handling of the fallout from Thursday’s practice session debacle had not been well received. Fans who attended practice were able to see eight minutes of the cars on the track. The first session was stopped five laps after Sainz’s Ferrari was violently hit by a water valve cap, shutting down practice as the FIA had to inspect and confirm the integrity of the other 30 caps on the Strip.
It caused a five-hour delay before FP2 could start at 2.30am. However, an hour before, fans were asked to leave because F1, which promotes and organizes the race, had contractual and transport issues for Keep your staff in the loop. Hugely disappointed fans, many of whom had paid huge sums of money, were forced to leave as the second session took place behind closed doors.
On Friday morning, F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali and Las Vegas GP chief executive Renee Wilm attempted to explain the circumstances behind their decision to ask fans to leave, largely citing safety reasons.
“We have all been to events, such as concerts, games and even other Formula One races that have been canceled due to factors such as weather or technical problems,” they said. “It happens and we hope people understand it.”
Clearly there was no apology in the 650 words. This is believed to be for legal reasons, to prevent the organization from being exposed to lawsuits if it had admitted guilt. It has been widely criticized as yet another insult to those who had been prevented from seeing almost any action on the track.
No compensation was offered to fans with three-day tickets, but Thursday-only ticket holders were promised a voucher worth $200 to spend at the official Las Vegas GP store. Many fans did not believe this represented sufficient compensation, particularly because they were online only and did not include shipping costs.
Once racing resumed, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant were impressive sixth and seventh for Williams, Valtteri Bottas in eighth for Alfa Romeo, Kevin Magnussen in ninth for Haas and Fernando Alonso in tenth for Aston Martin.
Sergio Pérez was 11th for Red Bull, the team misjudged their runs in Q2. Nico Hülkenberg was 13th for Haas and Lance Stroll was 14th for Aston Martin, but will receive a five-place grid penalty for overtaking under yellow flags during practice. Daniel Ricciardo moved to 14th place for AlphaTauri.
The two McLaren drivers had a poor run, with Lando Norris finishing 15th and Oscar Piastri 18th. Esteban Ocon was 16th for Alpine. Guanyu Zhou placed 17th for Alfa Romeo and Yuki Tsunoda placed 20th for AlphaTauri.