SIX THINGS WE LEARNED from the Las Vegas Grand Prix

F1 racing DOES belong in Sin City (despite an embarrassing start), Oscar Piastri is the real deal for McLaren and Lewis Hamilton is miles away from another race win – never mind a title! SIX THINGS WE LEARNED from the Las Vegas Grand Prix

  • READ: Lewis Hamilton claims Las Vegas Grand Prix proved its critics WRONG
  • RACE REPORT: Max Verstappen channels his inner Elvis after 18th win of season 
  • Despite its detractors, Vegas proved it is here to stay on Formula One’s calendar 

Red Bull’s dominant 2023 continued with victory at the Las Vegas Grand Prix. 

For an event widely panned by Red Bull’s poster boy Max Verstappen as a race weekend that is an equivalent to the National League – the fifth tier of English football – the end result was one that stuck it to critics. 

There was to be more misery for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, while Lando Norris was given a scare as he had to go to hospital for checks after a nasty crash. 

Mail Sport picks out six things we learned from the Sin City showpiece… 

Las Vegas is a HIT (even with some teething problems)

Verstappen was wrong. Plain and simple.

And as he sang along to the Elvis Presley hit ‘Viva Las Vegas’ while driving across the finish line, even he could accept that his rash judgement about F1’s return to Vegas proved misplaced. 

To get it out of the way, yes things started badly.

First and second practices were shambolic. Any event that has charged eye-watering prices for tickets and serves up action with fans locked out and finishing at 4am local time is going very, very wrong.

Las Vegas provided an iconic backdrop for the first Sin City Formula One race since 1982

The famous Las Vegas strip had been turned into a £400million race track for the event 

But organisers would not be deterred and from that early wobble came defiance and then quality by serving up an impressive qualifying session, and then a thrilling race. 

‘Lots of great overtaking opportunities and I think for all those who were so negative about the weekend, saying it was all about show blah blah blah, I think Vegas proved them wrong,’ Lewis Hamilton, one of the biggest champions of the race, told Sky F1. 

Even Red Bull team principal Christian Horner conceded Verstappen’s cynicism was wrong.

‘I thought it was a great race. Exciting. You’ve got long straights, big braking zones and no grip, so tricky for the drivers,’ Horner said.

‘I thought it delivered a great Grand Prix and the speeds around here are insane.

‘[Verstappen] loves a race like that. Even though he was on the end of a penalty. When he came back…the way he fought. I think he changed his mind about Vegas!’

For all of Verstappen’s assertions that Monaco is the ‘Champions League’ and Vegas is the ‘National League’, he couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Monaco is a race weekend that is incredibly limited for overtaking and feels far more about the yachts and the champagne receptions than the racing. Nostalgia seems to be keeping it on the F1 calendar. 

Max Verstappen was one of the weekend’s biggest critics but his assessments were misplaced

In the cool down car Verstappen (middle) even joked about heading to a nightclub post race

Vegas isn’t for everyone, granted, but the turnout, from regular fans to A-List celebrities, highlighted it can become one of the sporting events in the year. F1 would be mad to listen to the nay-sayers. 

F1 has been trying to pull off a street race in Vegas for decades and now they finally have it. On TV it looked brilliant and the actual race was exciting for drivers. Heck, it actually made Red Bull sweat for victory.

What some saw as a £400million gamble to put this show on was more than paid back. 

Formula One doesn’t need Las Vegas? Think again. This one is here to stay. 

Max’s historic season is one for the ages 

It feels like with every passing race week Verstappen is rewriting the history books.

His win in Las Vegas saw him draw level with Sebastian Vettel‘s 53 career wins, putting him third in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher’s 91 and Lewis Hamilton‘s 103.

Furthermore, his impressive drive in Sin City took him to 16 wins from the last 17 Grands Prix. 

That’s 18 race wins overall in 2023, extending his own single-season record. Don’t bet against that being 19 after Abu Dhabi either.

Verstappen’s display in Vegas saw him once again rewrite the history books in Formula One

Speaking of breaking his own records, Vegas was Verstappen’s 20th podium finish of the season, also extending his own single-season record.

The Flying Dutchman is now also the first driver ever to win in the same country three times in a single year after US wins in Miami, Austin and now Vegas. 

Add in that Verstappen’s relentless dominance on the sport meant Red Bull broke rivals Mercedes’ single-season record of 19 wins in a year – the Silver Arrows achieved that in 2016 – and he really is underlining again and again that he’s in a league of his own. 

Ferrari must go all in for Leclerc to win

When Charles Leclerc passed Sergio Perez for second, ruining a dream one-two for Red Bull, with a couple of corners to go, there was a roar on the Ferrari pit-wall.

It wasn’t victory – it is now 12 pole positions unsuccessfully converted into wins for the Monegasque driver – but Leclerc further proved to many that he is a driver capable of a championship should Ferrari provide him a reliable and competitive car. 

Credit has to go to Leclerc because this was a proper race. 

Of Verstappen’s 18 wins this season this was right up there in terms of difficulty rating, such was the Ferrari’s speed. 

‘Charles was mega. He overtook the Red Bull three times today – no one’s done that this season,’ delighted team boss Fred Vasseur.

Charles Leclerc has now had 12 successive pole positions without converting into a race win

The 26-year-old (right) is loyal to Ferrari but he needs to be in position to contend for a title

There is an emotional attachment between team and driver having seen Leclerc emerge through Ferrari’s junior programme. 

But Leclerc, who is happy to stay where he is for now, needs to be in a position to seriously challenge Verstappen for a championship.

‘Ferrari is so special and I wouldn’t change my position with anyone else on the grid,’ he told ESPN recently.

‘Do I want to win World Championships? Of course, this is the same for everybody, but do I want to change my place with anyone? No, I don’t. I have always been dreaming of being a Formula One driver, and even more so with Ferrari.

‘It’s a bit of a family feeling now, it’s been so many years I have been within the team, whether it is as an actual race driver for Ferrari or at the Ferrari Driver Academy in the years before.

‘It’s been many years together and I want to finish the mission with a World Championship.’

The loyalty of the 26-year-old is admirable – with Mercedes and Alpine admirers of his talent – but Ferrari have to repay that with a car that can challenge at every track, not just under the Las Vegas lights. 

Vegas was a sign that Ferrari can make Red Bull sweat – but consistency is their biggest issue

Hamilton is a WORLD away from winning a race – never mind another title

Lewis Hamilton now has one shot left to ensure it isn’t two successive winless seasons. 

The reality that both he and Mercedes know is that that feels almost inevitable at this point. 

Mercedes aren’t seriously in conversations about race wins, let alone how they can deliver Hamilton the record eighth world title that he craves.

There are doubts around Toto Wolff and how much longer he will stick at it with no end to their miserable race runs in sight. 

The Mercedes team principal says ‘anger’ motivates him to deliver for Hamilton, 38, after his star driver was denied the championship so controversially in Abu Dhabi two years ago. 

But Brazil was a major setback that left everyone wondering how much longer they wanted to stick at this.  

And worst of all in Vegas, with so many fans and celebrities out solely to root for him, was that Hamilton was never in contention to win here. 

Lewis Hamilton no longer looks in position to win a race, never mind contend for another title

It is a shame for F1 that Hamilton (left) and Verstappen (right) are no longer fighting at the front

So next year. It’s been about 2024 for a long while now with Mercedes. 

But what is to say next year will be any different to the sub-standard car and sub-standard results they have delivered this season? 

Hamilton finished up seventh in Vegas, 21.755 seconds adrift of Verstappen. It is no longer marginal gains that seperate them – as it was in that controversial 2021 season.

The gap feels big and as if it’s getting bigger. While the latter isn’t exactly true, the notion that Mercedes have been hiding away a 2024 car that will fire them up the standings seems fanciful.

In Brazil Hamilton finished one min and three seconds behind winner Verstappen. 

‘Fundamentally, we need a different car next year,’ Wolff said in Sao Paulo. 

‘There is something fundamentally wrong mechanically. It feels horrible for the whole team.’

Hamilton and Mercedes feel aggrieved by how 2021’s season ended but so should fans. Since that dramatic finale in Abu Dhabi Hamilton has been out of the picture when it comes to winning and F1 is worse for it. 

Oscar Piastri is the real deal

On a weekend of disappointment for McLaren Piastri showed again why he is the real deal. 

The 22-year-old rookie has been a breath of fresh air this season and with two podium finishes in his debut F1 season for McLaren, he has shown huge potential.

Here in Vegas he casually climbed from P18 into a points finish – along with tagging on an extra point for the fastest lap.

Piastri’s composure stands out – he has never once looked in awe of racing the guys he grew up idolising, nor has he appeared erractic in his drive style.

At one point he was battling with Pierre Gasly and Verstappen for third place, before he was required to pit again to make sure he used a different tyre compound having used two sets of hards up until that point. 

Oscar Piastri drew lots of plaudits for his performance in Las Vegas amid lots of turbulence

Fans revelled in his ‘driver of the day’ display in what was another sign he is the real deal

From there he had to rally again, knifing his way through the pack to finish 10th, which was a magnificent return all told.

‘Mega drive from Oscar who picked up points for the team, finishing in P10 and snatching the fastest lap,’ team boss Zak Brown said. ‘The team will now push hard one last time in Abu Dhabi. Let’s finish the season on a high.’

Rightly, fans are very high on the potential of Piastri’s team-mate Lando Norris, but there is also a reason McLaren were quick to extend Piastri’s contract until the end of the 2026 season.

Whether he is a future world champion or not is perhaps a topic for when he’s no longer a rookie, but his potential is immense. His Vegas drive once again highlighted he is the real deal.  

Lance Stroll sends timely message to critics

When you’re the son of the team’s owner and 127 points behind your team-mate, you best bet people will point and scream ‘nepotism’. 

They’ve screamed far worse words at Lance Stroll across a disastrous 2023.

And yet here in Vegas he produced one of the most impressive drives of the weekend to come from P19 to P5, a nod, perhaps, to a brighter future with Aston Martin. 

‘It’s been a massive up and down [season] for him this year,’ Sky F1 pundit Jenson Button said after the race.

‘It started off really well, obviously he had his injury but did such a good race in Bahrain, and then had a quite a big slump.

‘It happens, when things just aren’t going your way, but he’s had some really good performances towards the end of the year and he seems just confident in the way that he’s driving out there.’

Button is right to point out that the initial signs for Stroll this season were solid.

Lance Stroll produced an incredibly impressive drive in Las Vegas to suggest a corner turned

The young Aston Martin driver navigated his way from P19 to secure a successive P5 finish 

He recorded top seven finishes in three of the first four races, even sniffing a podium place in Australia when he ended up fourth.

In the 14 races that followed Baku, Stroll only broke into the top six once (Spain) and paddock chatter was beginning to escalate on whether team owner Lawrence Stroll needed to cut his own son from the team. 

And yet since his DNF in Mexico he has plugged in fifth place finishes in both Brazil and in Las Vegas. Follow it up with another similar display in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and there is reason for Aston Martin, who are sticking with the Canadian for 2024, to be optimistic.

‘It’s such a mental sport and your head has to be in the right place,’ Button added, ‘and he’s definitely turned a corner with that and it’s a lovely way for him to end the season looking forward to ’24.’ 

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