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Max Verstappen Wins Las Vegas Thriller As F1’s Roll of the Dice Pays Off

Verstappen earns 18th victory of the season in lively race.

Las Vegas, USA. 19-11-2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, winner of the race, on the podium.
Formula 1 World Championship, Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, winner of the Las Vegas GP, on the podium. (Photo: Shutterstock/Cristiano Barni)

After a tumultuous week for Formula One, marred by days of apprehension and dissatisfaction in Las Vegas, the sport ultimately triumphed on the city’s streets, turning what was a significant gamble into a genuine success.

Predictably, Max Verstappen clinched victory at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, but his win was hard-fought, ensuring the racing matched the grand spectacle that F1 had promised. Verstappen’s victory was particularly impressive as he had to recover from both a penalty and an on-track collision with George Russell. This intense competition saw the world champion thrillingly contest with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who finished second, and his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez, who came in third.

The buildup to this event was relentless, with anticipation and hype reaching new heights. Formula One invested a staggering $700 million to host the event, acting as both promoter and organizer for the first time. This was their showcase, akin to their Super Bowl, aimed at cementing their presence in the crucial US market.

F1 had insisted the race take place in the heart of the city, featuring the iconic Las Vegas Boulevard, known as the Strip. This vision was realized with the support of the casinos and a backdrop that included Caesars, the Bellagio, Paris, and the Venetian. The cars racing past these landmarks at over 200mph made for one of the most striking and grandest stages in Formula One history. Failure here would have been a very public debacle.

There was, however, significant concern as the weekend began poorly. Fans witnessed only eight minutes of action during the first practice session on Thursday and were then barred from watching a second session delayed by five hours and held behind closed doors. This led to immense disappointment and anger, especially from those who had spent substantial amounts of money. A class action lawsuit has already been filed as a result.

Max Verstappen passes the Sphere on his way to victory in Las Vegas.
Max Verstappen passes the Sphere on his way to victory in Las Vegas. (Photo: Shutterstock/Cristiano Barni)

Adding to the tension, Verstappen had criticized the event’s accompanying fanfare, arguing that the focus should be on racing, which he felt was being neglected.

Given these circumstances, there was a genuine fear that the race might fail to deliver on track. Concerns were raised that the 3.8-mile circuit would offer few overtaking opportunities, leading to a procession of cars simply managing their tires – a conservative approach that would disappoint fans who had paid top dollar for the pinnacle of motorsport.

As the night progressed, the tension only increased. The grid was packed to capacity, making movement nearly impossible. Usain Bolt, among the attendees, could barely move through the crowd.

When the race began, Formula One collectively held its breath, but it soon became evident that the sport had indeed backed a winner. The track proved to be exceptional, providing enough grip for aggressive driving. Drivers seized the opportunity, with numerous overtakes and thrilling maneuvers, easing the nerves of F1’s hierarchy, which had been on edge all weekend.

Verstappen took the lead at turn one, pushing pole-sitter Leclerc wide, for which he received a five-second penalty, dropping him down the field. Both Verstappen and Pérez made comebacks, aided by a well-timed pit stop under the safety car. Leclerc fought valiantly for Ferrari, reclaiming and losing the lead multiple times in a thrilling battle.

Ultimately, Verstappen’s relentless drive saw him regain the lead by lap 37. Leclerc’s final lap attempt to pass Pérez for second place at turn 14 was a fitting climax to a sensational race.

This spectacular event overshadowed the weekend’s earlier issues. Even Verstappen, initially critical, joined in the celebration, singing along to “Viva Las Vegas” over the team radio.

Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and Sergio Perez on the podium
Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and Sergio Perez on the podium. (Photo: Shutterstock/Jay Hirano)

By the end, Verstappen expressed his enjoyment, saying, “It was a lot of fun out there. I hope they enjoyed it. We definitely did. I am already excited to come back here next year.” This was a significant endorsement from Verstappen, one that F1 will undoubtedly welcome. Fireworks lit up the city as casinos celebrated the event’s success, likely believing they were part of something with a promising future.

As Elvis Presley famously sang in “Viva Las Vegas,” “If you see it once, you’ll never be the same again…” Formula One may have indeed found the catalyst to revolutionize its presence in the US. Viva Las Vegas, indeed.

Esteban Ocon finished fourth for Alpine, Lance Stroll fifth for Aston Martin, Carlos Sainz sixth for Ferrari, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton seventh and eighth for Mercedes. Fernando Alonso secured ninth for Aston Martin, and Oscar Piastri rounded out the top ten for McLaren.

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Chief Motorsport & Formula 1 Correspondent

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