Former Formula 1 driver and Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle summed up the results of the Las Vegas Grand Prix…
The Las Vegas Grand Prix disappointed some people, including those who were desperate for the big show to fail. After all, the start of the first training session on Thursday, when the lid of the drainage well was opened, was the most unfortunate of all possible.
Hours later, with the fan and guest areas unceremoniously vacated due to security and traffic concerns and rushed repairs completed, the racers left for 90 minutes at half past two in the morning. The sound of the cars echoed off the empty stands, creating a surreal feeling, but then everything worked out.
The track is very fast, the new asphalt is shiny and slippery. I drove the Aston Martin DBX for a few laps and found the track to be quite technical and challenging in some areas.
This is, of course, not just a series of 90-degree turns between concrete blocks, as in the distant past. Some straights seem too long, but they play their role in the race.
Each of the twenty riders impressed me with how resilient they were in overcoming challenges, unusual schedules and jet lag to get out on the track with enthusiasm.
The schedule at this time of year, with cold nights and qualifying starting at midnight and racing at 10pm, really felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I’m not sure this really works other than allowing public roads to close a little later, and I’m hoping this can be fixed next year.
I stood in the pit lane for a while, looking around, admiring the buildings, the scenery, the sphere, the lights and the screens, and reflecting on how far Formula 1 has come in the last few decades.
There were 12 people on the entry sheet for my first Tyrrell race in Rio in ’84, including Ken and Nora Tyrrell and both drivers. There were no guest areas, there was no motorhome, Stefan Bellof and I sat in the pits or in the trailer all day. There were no sponsorships, and all communication with the media took place with our journalist friends when we bumped into each other in the pit lane. Bernie Ecclestone stood at the gate, checking that programs were being sold and tickets were being checked.
On the day of training, the track was tidied up and fresh paint was applied somewhere. The main grandstand on the back straight had no roof to protect it from the scorching Brazilian sun, and from time to time a fire truck sprayed water on the fans patiently waiting for the race to begin.
Now the races take place in incredible venues, are watched by tens of millions of people around the world, and are sponsored by the largest companies on the planet.
But all this doesn’t matter if the race turns out to be uninteresting, and this time, fortunately, everything worked out!
The Ferraris were fast, just as at Monza, and their aerodynamics with low downforce and high top speed worked well.
Carlos Sainz’s car was seriously damaged in the first practice after contact with an open drainage hatch, the team had to replace many things, including the energy storage unit, for which he was penalized by losing 10 places on the starting grid. After the session, Carlos kept himself under control, but was clearly beside himself with anger, as was his team, who considered the penalty to be unfair under the circumstances. And they wanted to know who would compensate for the damage.
There are hundreds of pages in the technical, sporting regulations and international sporting code, but there is nothing that allows stewards to legally turn a blind eye if something seems unfair to them.
It is dangerous to set a precedent where stewards can unilaterally ignore rules in the name of common sense and fairness in force majeure situations, even if all teams and other key bodies agree. But we do need to add some language that can be enforced without fear of subsequent lawsuits or being taken advantage of by teams in other scenarios.
Charles Leclerc started from pole again, Red Bull realized that they could not get ahead of Ferrari in qualifying, and reduced the downforce on the car of Verstappen, who started second, which came in handy in the race.
The low grip asphalt and the cool night air made for a very unpredictable starting field. Both Williams drivers, Kevin Magnussen in Haas F1, Pierre Gasly in Alpine and Valtteri Bottas in Alfa Romeo, finished in the top ten. At the same time, Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes and both McLaren drivers did not make it to the final, as did Sergio Perez.
The new asphalt was slippery, and the lack of support races to help cover the line with waste rubber prevented the track from developing as usual. In addition, the asphalt temperature was about the same as the low air temperature, which is unusual for Formula 1 racing tires.
It didn’t help that one of the historic cars used for the drivers’ parade lost a huge amount of oil on the left side of the starting straight, which was already slipperier than the right. The oil had to be removed using a special powder, and then with the help of sweepers and blowers.
I don’t know how Verstappen, from that dusty side of the grid, got ahead of Leclerc’s Ferrari in the very short space before the first turn, but they went wheel-to-wheel into it.
According to the rules, if your front axle is level with or ahead of your opponent’s front axle at the apex – not always easy to determine this point in a long corner – then you have earned the right to space and legal overtaking. But at the same time, it is necessary to maintain control over the car and stay on the track, which Max did not do when he took the Ferrari with him.
Like Leclerc with Ferrari, most of us assumed that Max would have to regain the position, but he did not do so, receiving a five-second penalty. Under normal circumstances, and even with a two-second margin, this was a very lenient punishment.
Then, due to a serious accident by Lando Norris, the safety car came out, Max made a pit stop, served a five-second penalty and rolled back.
There was an accident in the first corner of the race. The cars spun around on the slippery asphalt, they crashed into each other, and went to the pits for repairs. Among them were Perez, Alonso and Sainz, but when the safety car came out they gained the advantage of making a pit stop without losing time.
The grip in the race was so low that it seemed as if the drivers were driving on intermediate tires on dry asphalt, but at the same high speed as in Monza or Baku.
Throughout the fifty laps they showed poise and courage as they attacked and overtook each other. This is one of those races when in the commentary booth I suddenly saw that there were only three laps left – the time had passed unnoticed.
There were many contacts. Verstappen overtook George Russell so boldly that the Mercedes driver didn’t even see he was being attacked, receiving a five-second penalty that dropped him to eighth place. George expected a lot from this season, but was clearly disappointed.
For the second time in the last two races, Perez lost position on the final lap when Leclerc, rightfully crowned the best driver of the day, took the lead brilliantly with three corners to go. However, Perez secured second place in the drivers’ championship, securing Red Bull’s first ever Drivers’ Championship double.
Oscar Piastri set the fastest lap of the race and attacked aggressively from his low position at the start. He is involved in too many incidents, this time with Hamilton, but when experience is added to his speed, he will become a great driver.
Lance Stroll had a great race in the Aston Martin, finishing fifth after starting from 19th position, while Sainz finished sixth after a penalty.
Verstappen didn’t like everything about the Grand Prix in Las Vegas, but he scored a brilliant 53rd victory in the race. Like all the other racers, he thoroughly enjoyed the frantic race.
Leclerc failed to win for the 12th time after starting from pole position and was clearly regretful that both Red Bull drivers had changed tires behind the second safety car and he had not.
There is another desert race ahead, we are moving from North America to the Middle East – it will be a little warmer there and the next Formula 1 season will end.