Written by Destiny Lam, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
An action-packed weekend unfolded in Las Vegas, as Formula 1 raced down the iconic Strip after 41 years, bringing in fans from across the world. In the heart of towering hotels, all-nighter casinos, neon lights, and magic, Formula 1 marked a monumental moment in Las Vegas sports history.
This high-speed event promised the adrenaline rush of the F1 cars zipping through the Las Vegas Strip, at jaw-dropping speeds of 200 mph, and 82 separate overtakes during the race.
The multi-day race weekend commenced with an opening ceremony exclusively for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix on November 15, Wednesday evening, in typical Vegas style.
With A-list performances featuring the Blue Man Group; a pop-up bar at the Bellagio offering cocktails in custom branded leather shoes; fine dining by world known chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the weekend was titled as Formula 1’s version of the Super Bowl Halftime show.
Set before the actual racing began, organisers stopped at nothing to bring the nightlife of Las Vegas, lining up the Cirque du Soleil with performances from John Legend, Steve Aoki, Marshmello, Will.i.am, Keith Urban, Andra Day, Bishop Briggs, J Balvin, and even a drone show, introducing all 20 Formula 1 drivers who were set to rev down the Strip on Saturday, November 18.
Despite over 40,000 fans in attendance, not everyone basked in the glamour of Sin City. Formula 1 drivers had mixed feelings and reactions towards the event as well.
Max Verstappen did not hold back on expressing his views on the ceremony, saying he felt like a “clown standing on stage,” and concerns about Formula One becoming more about entertainment than the competition of the race.
On the other hand, Daniel Ricciardo and a number of other drivers embraced the bright neon lights and show business. While the world geared up for the race weekend, many local residents of the city complained about the cost of attending the event, the unbearable traffic, obstructed views, and the feeling of the event being favoured for high rollers, more than the average fans, flooded over social media and local news outlets.
Many who welcomed the madness of Sin City, set up spots to view the event for those who could not afford the expensive tickets, but in doing so, disrupted the hard work and energy of construction and event volunteers.
“It’s 99% a show and 1% a sporting event.” - Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Driver
Despite the criticism, the streets of Las Vegas filled with excitement, as people saw glimpses of the new Formula 1 liveries. The teams went all-out with new unique liveries and engagement tactics with their sponsors, to highlight the United States and the nightlife of Sin City.
The Red Bull Racing team provided an eye-catching show, revealing a special Las Vegas inspired livery at the high-profile OMNIA Nightclub. Formula 1’s return is a game changer for a city traditionally known for entertainment rather than live sports. The focus of the Las Vegas Grand Prix remains on the racing competition, with a newly-constructed 3.8 mile (6.201 km) circuit, with multiple DRS zones set to promise thrilling overtaking on race day.
“It’s amazing to be here. It was something we were dreaming of having a race here many years ago, and it’s surreal to be here, it’s so exciting. It’s such an incredible place with the many lights, great energy and buzz.” - Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes Driver
The early running on the new Vegas circuit got off on a rocky note.
During the first practice session, amid growing disappointment for the fans, Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz’s car suffered intense damage after hitting a loose manhole cover on the Las Vegas Strip.
Driving over the loose cover caused sparks from Sainz’s Ferrari, and he was forced to a stop with a red flag. As a result of this, it led to a cancellation, only nine minutes into the opening practice session, while waiting for the FIA to inspect the issue and finding more uncovered drains down the all-new street circuit.
In FP1, it was also noted that Alpine driver Esteban Ocon also encountered issues stemming from loose drain covers on the track. Ocon had to undergo a change due to the damage that it caused. With organisers citing safety concerns, fans attending the first practice session were then blocked from entering, and advised to leave the premises that evening.
As the inspection continued, the situation became worse for Sainz, as he was penalised ten places on the grid, come race day on Saturday, November 18. This was due to the Scuderia Ferrari team forced to change parts of Sainz’s car, which would not have been fair to the rest of the teams on the grid if it were to slide.
Regulations require tracks to pass an inspection a day before any on-track action, but the Las Vegas course barely made the cut, due to the last-minute construction, and poorly timed work closures. This delay caused the second practice session to be pushed into the wee hours of the next day, and further running followed without any hitches.
“He hit something on the track and he didn’t know what it was. We completely damaged the engine and battery. It’s just unacceptable.” - Frederic Vasseur, Scuderia Ferrari Principal
Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz dominated a thrilling qualifying session for the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday, November 18. Leclerc took the maiden Vegas pole position, with teammate Sainz securing second, showcasing the strengths and abilities of the Ferrari SF23.. However, as Sainz faced a 10-place grid penalty starting in 12th position, it set the rest of the drivers to move up one position each on the grid.
The reigning champion, Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen secured the third spot in qualifying. The big surprises included Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing driver Sergio Perez faced eliminations after Q2, adding onto the double-McLaren exit earlier in Q1. This unexpected turn of events added another layer of excitement revolving around the late-night race.
Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso initially found himself fourth, before dropping down to tenth on the grid. The highlights of Q3 included the Williams Racing duo Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant seizing the opportunity, finishing sixth and seventh respectively. The latter became the first American to start in the top 10 in a home country grand prix since 1987.
“It’s truly gratifying to see all the hard work pay off. We’ve put a lot of effort knowing this weekend was a great chance for us and we started off on the right foot.” - Logan Sargeant, Williams Racing Driver
The 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix created a whirlwind of chaos and adrenaline, right from the outset. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen engaged in battle immediately, fighting to take the race lead, the Red Bull driver snatching the lead off the track at turn one.
Verstappen received a five-second penalty for the incident with Leclerc on Turn 1. At the same time, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas found themselves facing each other in the run-off, forcing drivers behind to take evasive action, and an ensuing spin for Carlos Sainz.
Lando Norris’s race unravelled on the second lap, colliding with the wall at turn 12, with extensive damage to the McLaren. Norris radioed in after the crash, “I’m OK,” and was taken to the hospital to ensure his well-being and safety checks.
The spotlight then turned onto his teammate, McLaren driver Oscar Piastri’s performance. Rookie Piastri showed an impressive race, overtaking to climb up the rankings against competitive drivers. He managed to drive on older tires compared to others, who opted for earlier pit stops.
Verstappen’s tyres looked to have faded, as Leclerc wrested back the race lead on Lap 16, setting up a seat-grasping fight all through the race. As the Grand Prix continued, the Red Bulls began a wild chase with the car in red, and a thrilling three-way battle set the tone for the rest of the race.
Verstappen quickly overcame setbacks and took the lead from Leclerc, gunning for another victory. Fighting for a place in the podium finish, Perez and Leclerc hung on to the race for second place. The two drivers engaged in an entertaining dance of speed and strategy, with position exchanges around the track, down the Las Vegas Strip.
Leclerc gained a bittersweet last-minute, last-lap, second place finish, having started from pole. Despite Perez starting from the back and weaving through collisions, his remarkable comeback secured him a third place podium finish, missing out on second by the barest of margins.
The Grand Prix, the first in Las Vegas in over four decades, gathered the multi-day race weekend with an adrenaline-fuelled and entertaining event. Formula One had officially made its Las Vegas debut, and in some fashion.
Despite the multitude of challenges and criticism faced, the Las Vegas Grand Prix aims to establish itself as an annual event in the upcoming years. The current contract between Formula 1 and Las Vegas officials spans three races over three years, but both parties anticipate an extension beyond 2025, paving the way for more glamorous races in Sin City.