A stunning race by Charles Leclerc all but won it for him in Las Vegas. A safety car and a decision to pit or not to pit robbed Charles of the win but not the admiration of everyone for his performance. In any event Leclerc equalled his best result of the 2023 F1 season with a magnificent drive to capture second place from Sergio Perez by a smidgeon in a thrilling final lap at the Las Vegas Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Ferrari are now just four points behind Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship. That shapes up to be an enthralling late season battle for second. It was the second Safety Car at the Las Vegas Grand Prix that surely cost Leclerc the race win to Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
Leclerc had positioned himself to capture the lead with the advantage of his tyre management when race control called for a Safety Car on Lap 27; the cause was debris from a contact between Verstappen and George Russell.
Sergio Perez was one of the luckiest from that. Leading on old hard tyres, the Mexican dived into the pits for a new set of hardsand was positioned menacingly behind Leclerc, who did not pit, for the restart. Verstappen also pitted for fresh tyres and rejoined fifth in his super-fast-paced RB19.
When the Safety Car had been called, Leclerc was with a two-second advantage over Verstappen and fresher tyres, with both drivers set to race to the finish. It was Leclerc’s race at that point. The safety car unravelled it.
It had all started with a winning qualifying run with Charles taking pole for this inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. He delivered a superb Qualifying lap on the streets of the circuit that winds through the heart of the City of Las Vegas.
In the race proper it was expected that Red Bull would show their extra race-pace and a chaotic opening lap indeed saw Max Verstappen overtake pole-sitter Leclerc as multiple cars collided.
Snatching the lead away from Leclerc’s Ferrari with an aggressive move like that on the inside at Turn One cost the Dutchman a penalty of five seconds for forcing his rival off the track.
Forcing another driver wide has always been controversial in F1. Leclerc has made his viewpoint clear that the sanction for the offending driver should be to give the place back rather than a time penalty.
Verstappen on the other hand feels he paid the penalty, so it didn’t matter. His view was if you go back behind, you probably also would end up losing five seconds, so it’s much the same.
Enthralling Final 20 Laps
As the race continued Leclerc re-overtook Verstappen and fought hard with Perez, losing the lead and retaking it, before both drivers were then overtaken by Verstappen again in an enthralling final 20 laps.
With eight laps to go, Leclerc ran wide at Turn 12 and it looked as if he had handed second place to Perez but Charles made a sensational last lap move at Turn 14 at the end of the Las Vegas Strip to steal back second place.
If only the Principality’s ace had had enough to take the deserved win.
Nevertheless it was the closest our talented Monegasque has come to standing on the top step of the podium this year. AndLeclerc put on such a great fight striving for the win that it made him more than worthy of the Driver of the Day award from fans.
1: Max Verstappen; Red Bull
2: Charles Leclerc; Ferrari
3: Sergio Perez; Red Bull
After the thrills of Las Vegas, Formula 1 moves next to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the 2023 season finale and another spectacle, also under the lights.