F1 – Las Vegas GP – Race
Hello, MiniFans! Instead of the usual Sunday race, we’re here on a Saturday night, surrounded by all kinds of lights and colours. The show started hours before the race kicked off, mixing the already known American pre-race spectacles with Las Vegas’ own personality. As the kick-off time came near, a grid that had been filled to the absolute brim with VIP guests emptied to give way to the real stars of the night.
The abysmal lack of grip made it so the start in general and the first corner in particular became an ice skating rink. Both Leclerc and Verstappen went so wide that they were fully outside of the track, while a bunch of cars in the middle of the pack, including but not limited to Alonso, Bottas, Sainz and Pérez, came together. The impacts weren’t too spectacular or harsh on the cars, but the coming together of drivers forced a virtual safety car to clean up the bit of debris littering the surface of the circuit.
Once the race resumed and the first corner incident as a whole was being reviewed by the stewards, Verstappen was at the front, having gained the position during the first corner, but his joy didn’t last long, as a full safety car needed to come out due to Norris crashing into the barriers in the runoff area of turn 12. The McLaren driver had spun in the corner leading up to it, luckily finding a big empty area to try and brake as much as he could with only three tyres, as he had lost the rubber of his rear left. This event prompted many to fit hards, whose behaviour was pretty much unknown.
Verstappen caught everyone by surprise at the restart, quickly opening up an almost two-second gap to Leclerc that would be useful as soon as it was announced that the Dutchman got a five-second penalty for forcing another driver off the track. Meanwhile, the Spanish speakers of the grid were having fun exchanging positions at the back and Piastri had his work cut for him, fighting hard to get past the Haas, slinging himself into the points. The other big eye catcher was Gasly, who was fourth, keeping up with Russell, thanks to the massive straights and Alpine’s insane top speed, sprinkling a fastest lap in the mix until Verstappen reclaimed it, closely followed by both Williams, who had managed not to lose positions, and his very own teammate.
The small train that Tsunoda had created was broken as soon as the Japanese driver was called into the pits, allowing the Spanish speaking crew and Stroll to reach and get past Ricciardo in their quest to try and reach the points. Back at the front. Verstappen wasn’t opening a gap anymore, as Leclerc fought hard to not let it grow, and it rather shrunk to under a second as Verstappen’s medium tyres seemed to be suffering from graining issues while hards started to rise as the favourites. Once he was called into boxes to give a solution to his problem and fit some white rimmed tyres, his team performing the stop flawlessly after waiting the mandatory five seconds to comply with the penalty.
Verstappen wasn’t the only one to be called into the pits, as a small collision between Hamilton and Piastri sent both of them to their boxes because of tyre damage. The Australian could get into the pits in the same lap, getting a slightly slow stop due to his quickness in driving to the pitlane, while the British driver had to do a full lap with a punctured tyre that didn’t make an appearance until the pitlane entry was long gone.
When it finally seemed like the race was slowly starting to settle and things were calming down, a strange collision between Verstappen and Russell as the Red Bull was getting past developed into a new safety car. This came as a blessing to those who had been about to make a stop, which meant everyone bar those who had just pitted, including the involved parties in the incident that ended with a five-second penalty for Russell for causing a collision.
The race had turned on its head for Leclerc. The Monegasque had been expecting a nice coast to the finish line, the gaps to his rivals easily manageable while taking care of his tyres. The safety car made it so the field compacted, as Pérez was now breathing down his neck and Piastri, who got past Gasly as soon as the safety car left, was eager to prove himself after not having gotten out of Q1 on Saturday. These were not the only threats, as Verstappen had locked his eyes onto the first position, thirsty to reclaim his throne.
The fight for the win started off with a third of the race to go, as Pérez easily got past Leclerc, but the Ferrari driver didn’t back down and managed to hold onto the Red Bull’s DRS zone, eventually overtaking him again. The biggest problem was coming from the back, though, as Verstappen had reached them, getting past his teammate without breaking a sweat and asking for teamwork to catch their rival. This wish couldn’t come true, as Pérez wasn’t able to stay in his teammate’s DRS zone while Verstappen stepped into the lead.
The last ten laps were the calmest of the race despite the close gaps and overtakes still being performed, as tyres started to give up on drivers. Leclerc experienced this first hand, with his worn hards not helping him to fend off Pérez. This phenomenon was clearly seen on Piastri’s set, who was called into the pits to change them with barely six laps to go as he reached the cliff. This situation was critical in the midfield, which had been home to battles that hadn’t stopped in the whole race and their tyres could give way at any second. Russell seemed to be the exception to this, as he kept chomping away at Stroll and Ocon, setting his sight on fourth.
Two late retirements in Hulkenberg and Tsunoda pulled two very brief yellow flags as they headed beyond the barriers to get out of the way quickly. This didn’t affect the race as things had finally settled once and for all with merely a couple of laps to go. The only exception was Leclerc, who had sneaked back up to Pérez’s rear and, despite Red Bull asking Verstappen to lower the gap to his teammate down to two seconds and the Dutchman complying, the Ferrari managed to get past in the last lap, breaking up the Red Bulls.
Las Vegas had been summoned as the place where Red Bull could have shown a bit of their human side, proving they’re not machines and that things don’t quite always go their way, but don’t be mistaken: they may not be a literal machine, but they’re a well oiled one, taking advantage of each and any opportunity given to them. The second safety car got them fully back into the race and they didn’t let the opportunity go, betting it all on a single card and leaving the night as the rightful winners.