Max Verstappen overcomes time penalty to win Las Vegas Grand Prix
Champion Max Verstappen has won the inaugural Las Vegas GP for his 18th win of the season. Photo: Getty
Champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull has overcome a five-second penalty to win the inaugural Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix.
After sharply criticising the event on the Strip during the week, Verstappen seemed to have made peace with the circuit, celebrating his 18th victory this season with a rendition of Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley over the team radio.
He ended the weekend saying it was “a lot of fun down there” and that he’s “excited to come back here next year”.
Charles Leclerc of Ferrari was second after overtaking Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull in the final metres of the last lap of Saturday night’s race (Sunday AEDT).
“Honestly, I enjoyed it so much. I’m disappointed to be second, but it’s the best we could do. We were really strong overall, we got a bit unlucky with the safety car,” the Ferrari driver said.
Verstappen took the lead from polesitter Leclerc at the start of the race, but was handed a five-second penalty after pushing him off the track.
“We both braked late and I ran out of grip and went wide so the stewards gave me a penalty for that,” Verstappen said.
Leclerc tried to solve matters on track and made a move in Lap 17 to overtake Verstappen, who then immediately pitted for new tyres and to serve his penalty.
The Red Bull driver came out in 11th and started to climb through the field.
On lap 25, a safety car was deployed after Verstappen made contact with Russell in a dispute for fourth place and the incident left debris on the track.
After the restart, it didn’t take Verstappen long to overtake Perez and then Leclerc to eventually claim his 53rd career win.
There was an early safety car phase after Lando Norris of McLaren lost control of his car on the straight before turn 11 on lap four and hit the barriers. He was taken to hospital for precautionary investigations.
After Verstappen pitted and served his penalty, Leclerc also got a new set of tyres and returned to the track in third behind then leader Perez.
With the second safety car, the Red Bull drivers again pitted for new tyres, but Leclerc stayed out to retake the lead. Leclerc and Perez took turns up front until Verstappen took first place for good in Lap 38.
Perez and Leclerc fought a fierce battle for second that was only concluded when the Monegasque passed the Mexican at turn 14 on the final lap.
Verstappen had criticised the race in Vegas, which had the worst possible start on Friday when the first practice session was cut short and the second was greatly delayed due to an incident with a loose water valve cover.
The Dutchman said the event on the Strip, which should cost F1 some $US500 million ($768 million), was “99 per cent show and one per cent sport”.
The race, however, was one of the most exciting in a season dominated by Verstappen and Red Bull, as both team and driver have already claimed their respective world titles.