F1 – Las Vegas GP – Qualifying

Hello, MiniFan! The official Vegas track inauguration has creeped upon us after many years of teasing and promises. Friday didn’t end up too well for either drivers or fans, as the fist practice was red flagged due to a manhole cover coming loose and badly damaging Sainz’s Ferrari, and the second was delayed so much that fans were escorted out prior to it starting. Saturday kicked off better, but it wasn’t until qualifying that we could see the cars’ true speed.

More than half the grid left the pits as soon as they were allowed to in Q1, trying to maximize their time on track to combat possible yellow flags and time losses due to ending up in a runoff area. Haas were the first ones to top the timing tower, but their dream was over in just a couple of minutes, the time it took Pérez to kick them off of it. Laps started off quite slow, due to both the surface being slippery and cars being loaded up with gasoline to be able to do a few attempts per stint.

Ferrari seemed to be in shape, with Sainz edging out Verstappen before Leclerc destroyed both of them by more than half a second. The gap between the teammates hosted other cars, but it was only temporary until both of them lowered their times even further, opening up another space to the rest of the grid. The last minutes of this first session saw them relaxed back in the box, as everyone else gave their all to take advantage of the improving track conditions. The main exception, apart from the mentioned Ferraris, was Norris, whose team trusted their time previsions and failed miserably, not giving either of their drivers a fresh set of tyres and dooming them to start from the back portion of the grid. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Norris (P16), Ocon (P17), Zhou (P18), Piastri (P19) and Tsunoda (P20).

Needing to prepare their tyres and reading the track, both Aston Martin teammates scored the first times of Q2, but were soon displaced by Magnussen and the Ferraris as soon as they came out. They were all edged out by Pérez, who had to fit fresh tyres to barely kick out Leclerc from first. The Italian team called their drivers to the pits after Alonso topped the timing tower, giving them a brand new set of softs in a quick change, having filled the cars with enough fuel to last them the whole session.

Mercedes and Verstappen toyed with first place, but Ferrari showed how strong they were, easily regaining the front row by a big margin to third. On the other hand, the fight to be the last in Q3 or first one out of it was much closer, with less than a tenth separating both places. Sargeant surprised by shooting up to sixth, but it soon became almost the norm. Both Albon and Bottas improved enough to edge Hamilton and Pérez out. The seven-time world champion was on track, but Pérez had been sitting in his garage, both at least party suffering from errors in strategy, as neither was given fresh softs. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Hamilton (P11), Pérez (P12), Hulkenberg (P13), Stroll (P14) and Ricciardo (P15).

In the usual fashion, Magnussen was out on track as soon as he was allowed, opening the curtain to Q3, and everyone soon followed. Following in the steps of the rest of the night, Ferrari in general and Leclerc in particular dominated this first stint with an iron fist. At least until Verstappen came round, improving his previous times by almost half a second and managing to set a time within a tenth of Leclerc’s. The best of the rest after everyone was back in the pits for a quick change of shoes was Alonso, proving once again that age is just a number to him and adapting to a new track is no problem for the old champion.

Unlike in the beginning of the last session, places didn’t swap around much, and only in the lower placements, with the exception of Russell climbing up to P4. Verstappen, seeing that he was not going to beat the red cars, aborted his lap and headed to the pits, leaving Leclerc and Sainz to enjoy a result they wouldn’t enjoy on Sunday, as Sainz had been given a ten-place grid penalty for Sunday after needing to change several pieces of his car due to the manhole over making a mess of the Ferrari.

After more than forty years away from Las Vegas, Formula 1 has returned to Sin City… with a bang? Many complaints from many different fronts seemed a bit silenced by the qualifying results, which gave us a poleman that isn’t dressed in a Red Bull suit, but all the context surrounding the event has dampened spirits among fans, including everything that went down on Friday. However, the way the track works for a full race remains to be seen, so redemption among those still against racing here might be possible, depending on how Sunday turns out.

MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Las Vegas GP