LAS VEGAS — For Formula 1, the Las Vegas Grand Prix was billed as the height of the popularity growth in the Americas for F1.
However, the start of the weekend has not gone off to the start F1 was hoping for. As teams look to the end of the year with the hopes of trying to get a hand-up for next season, teams such as Charles Leclerc and Scuderia Ferrari hope to take the fight to Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
The weekend did not start well as the first two practice sessions did not go as planned. With everyone ready for the first chance to take to the brand-new circuit, teams were eager to see how the cars would handle the track.
Early in the session, it became clear that the Ferrari of Leclerc would be one to look out for as the circuit suited the quick-paced Ferrari.
However, teams could not gather the data they needed. Barely 10 minutes into the session, Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari found a manhole cover that had become loose due to not being adequately secured, damaging the underside of his car.
The session was red-flagged and soon suspended with no intention of being resumed due to a need to inspect all manhole covers around the track for the same issue. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was also suspected to have received damage from a manhole cover.
Adding insult to injury for Ferrari and Sainz, they were handed a 10-place grid penalty for replacing parts due to the damage. Ferrari attempted to appeal to the FIA that they should not be penalized for the damage caused due to the poor preparation work from the track. However, the penalty was still handed out.
Teams finally got consistent track time when the second practice finally came around with extended time. Delayed due to track inspection, the now 90-minute session (void of fans after being kicked out just minutes before the start) was finally run with minimal issues.
While Verstappen initially opened up the session at the top of the timing sheets, Ferrari’s Leclerc and Sainz were again leading the way. Trailing the Ferrari duo were Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, who grabbed a faster time than Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Alfa Romeo delivered with a surprising effort from Valtteri Bottas who rounded out the top five in the timing sheets.
A new day opened up with more hope that the upcoming final practice session and the qualifying rounds would go off with no issues. The final practice was to get better data on the Hard compound tire and long runs before a last attempt to get the best set-up for the upcoming qualifying session.
Mercedes power swept the three fastest times as George Russell was the fastest, with the McLaren of Oscar Piastri and the American Williams rookie Logan Sargeant picking up the second and third fastest times, respectively. The Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez rounded out the top five.
The session ended early after the other Williams of Alex Albon got into the wall, and a wheel was set rolling down the road. Teams like Ferrari could not get a final flying lap in on the Soft tires.
Finally, the qualifying rounds began with the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip, front and center. Immediately in the first round of qualifying, Leclerc and Ferrari started to set the pace as the track and conditions suited the car, setting the theme for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, the experiences were not as happy for the McLaren team.
Between close calls involving Lando Norris and Perez during his first round and a tiny bit of contact with the wall from Piastri, the McLaren team was put on the backfoot through the end of the session. By the time the round ended, they were on the outside looking in. They were joined by the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda, the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon.
The second round soon arrived, and while Alonso went fastest momentarily, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz returned to the top, proving that they were still the team to beat. However, there was still drama.
After a disappointing Brazilian Grand Prix, the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Perez were unable to make it into the next round after not getting the best track conditions possible during their runs. They were outside looking in with the AlphaTauri of Daniel Ricciardo, the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, and the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg.
It was now time for the final 10 cars to fight it out for the pole position, and it was a fight to see if Ferrari could continue their form or if a different team could take the fight to them.
The first runs from the three favorites of Leclerc, Sainz, and Verstappen made it look like it would be a close battle when the second run would occur. However, Leclerc found even more speed in his second run to distance himself from his teammate further. At the same time, Verstappen backed out of his second run after getting almost too close for comfort to the barriers, settling for the third fastest time that would see him promoted to second after Sainz takes his 10-place grid penalty to 12th on the grid for the Grand Prix.
The Mercedes of Russell found speed to pick up the fourth-fastest time, while the Alpine of Pierre Gasly gave a shocking fifth-fastest time by the time the checkered flags flew. Taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and the long straights, the Williams pair of Albon and Sargeant showed strength as they grabbed the sixth and seventh fastest times, respectively, making them a darkhorse team to look out for during the Grand Prix. The Top 10 was rounded out with Bottas, the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, and Alonso.
Eyes now turn to the Las Vegas Grand Prix. For how the weekend started, Formula 1 hopes for an excellent race to salvage what could be a disaster. With the prospects of a battle between the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz versus the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, the Las Vegas Grand Prix could be an excellent race to watch.