After a shambolic start to the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend, we were rewarded on Sunday with a fantastic race – albeit one that was won by Max Verstappen for the 18th time this year.
My weekend was book-ended by seeing Nile Rodgers play all his hits at a gig on Wednesday, to having a deep and meaningful conversation on Sunday morning in a nightclub after the race with Cara Delevingne about her mother’s laundry (we share the same dry cleaner in Pimlico). This wouldn’t happen at Spa-Francorchamps.
Once things really got going on Friday after an inauspicious beginning, whereby a loose manhole cover wrecked Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and fans who’d paid thousands to watch only saw eight minutes of action, we witnessed an unpredictable event which looked for a long time like the spoils would go to the Scuderia.
Charles Leclerc started on pole and probably would have taken victory had it not been for a second safety car.
Verstappen received a five-second penalty for forcing Leclerc off the road at Turn 1, telling the stewards on the radio ‘give them my regards’.
Somehow, he came back to win despite his Red Bull suffering considerable damage from a contretemps with George Russell’s Mercedes. And if anyone should have got a penalty for that, it’d should’ve been Max not George.
Sergio Perez, who started 11th and lost his front wing at Turn 1, led for a time and it looked like he might win his first race since Azerbaijan in April. However, both Verstappen and, on the last lap, Leclerc were able to draft past. For the second time in a fortnight, Perez was the losing driver in a photo finish, but at least he got on the podium.
In Las Vegas, after parking up in Parc Ferme, the top three drivers were put in a Rolls-Royce Phantom and whisked to the Bellagio hotel for their post-race interviews. It might have been awkward, had Verstappen not taken the middle seat between the Mexican and the Monegasque.
It was also a fantastic weekend for Alpine, with Esteban Ocon finishing fourth. The Enstone team celebrated by visiting Kylie Minogue’s Las Vegas residency at the Wynn hotel, where my dry cleaning chat with Cara occurred.
Leclerc, despite finishing second, was relieved the weekend had ended up a win for Formula One.
He said: ‘I really enjoyed it. I think we needed it [to be a success]. Of course, the weekend didn’t start the way it had to start, but I’m so happy that it ended that way. It’s such an incredible sport.’
The organisers offered fans who had a ticket for Thursday’s practice sessions a $200 voucher to be used at its merchandise concessions. A local law firm has launched a legal action to pursue a refund to the tune of $30,000 per spectator.
Toto Wolff, who’d got incredibly worked up earlier in the week when asked about Thursday’s track chaos, felt satisfied the weekend had ended on a positive note. ‘Lots of things that were said look a little bit out of proportion or too negative because we are leaving Las Vegas after a great weekend,’ said the Mercedes supremo.
‘I think it will have increased the popularity of Formula One in the United States, for sure. There’s nothing negative I can find. The drain cover was nothing, like I said. When I look back; a spectacular race, great audiences, a mega event and some good racing at the front. That is what I will remember of the inaugural Las Vegas race that ticked all the boxes.’
There’s a hole lot of upset for Carlos
I put it to Carlos Sainz Jr that it was madness he was given a ten-place grid penalty when it was the track that was at fault for destroying his car during Thursday’s FP1, not Ferrari, when he hit a loose manhole cover on Las Vegas Boulevard.
‘When you put it like that, the thing speaks for itself, no?’ he said, with tears in his eyes. ‘There was clearly a safety issue at the track. That safety issue destroyed my car. My mechanics invested five hours in putting together a completely new car. I’m extremely disappointed and just upset and in a bad mood because I expected more from the sport.’
Apparently, it was Mercedes who objected to Ferrari getting a free pass for a battery change, due to the two constructors being so close in the championship, despite it being a case of force majeure.
The prancing horse’s team principal, Fred Vasseur, was furious with the FIA and his old friend, Toto Wolff. ‘It’s not an easy one, to give a set of tyres or to give an engine, because it’s a gain of performance,’ he said.
‘But the battery? There is no performance into the battery.’
The accident cost, according to Vasseur, ‘millions’, and the Scuderia intends to have a ‘private discussion’ with the governing body to recoup its losses, which could impact its budget cap.
‘There will be a discussion,’ confirmed Fred. ‘The decision, it’s another thing.’
There is a precedent for the FIA paying out in events like this: they paid compensation to Haas in 2017 after Romain Grosjean hit a drain cover at the Malaysian Grand Prix.