Verstappen elbows his way to Las Vegas GP win
By Mat Coch
Sunday 19th November, 2023 - 6:50pm
Max Verstappen got his elbows out to claim victory in the Las Vegas Grand Prix ahead of Charles Leclerc.
The Dutchman recovered from a penalty after he forced Leclerc off the road at the first corner, racing his way through the pack.
In doing so, he made contact with George Russell, for which the Mercedes driver was penalised, before reclaiming the lead to take his 18th win of 2023.
Results: Las Vegas Grand Prix
Pole-sitter Leclerc has slipped to third after an ill-timed Safety Car for the Russell/Verstappen clash, while Perez carved his way through the field after displaying strong early pace.
A last-lap move saw the pair swap positions, Leclerc stealing second to relegate Perez to third.
As the lights went out, Verstappen and Leclerc ran deep at the opening corner, the Dutchman taking the lead while both ran off the circuit.
That prompted Leclerc to ask for the incident to be redressed, while Red Bull were confident their driver could maintain the place.
George Russell ran third from Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon and Kevin Magnussen as they headed into Turn 5.
Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, and Valtteri Bottas all struck trouble and fell down the order at Turn 1, drawing the Virtual Safety Car.
Perez took the opportunity to pit at the end of the opening lap while his Red Bull team-mate held a 1.6s advantage as they crossed the stripe for the first time.
The Mexican swapped his front wing and fitted another set of hard compound tyres, Aston Martin doing the same for Alonso, who’d started on the mediums.
The Spaniard had spun in the pack after he lost the rear end, clouting Bottas, while Lewis Hamilton was tagged by Sainz, turning the latter around.
Racing resumed as Verstappen started Lap 3, but it lasted barely half a lap as the Safety Car was called when Lando Norris crashed at Turn 12 – the left-hander onto the long back straight.
The McLaren driver spun on approach to the corner, well before the braking zone.
The back end gave up, spinning him around in a shower of sparks and into the wall as he exited the race.
In the early confusion, Yuki Tsunoda climbed from 20th to 10th, while Oscar Piastri improved to 11th.
The Safety Car was withdrawn at the end of Lap 6, Verstappen heading the field from Leclerc and Russell.
Piastri immediately attacked Tsunoda, stealing the place away at Turn 1 to move into the points.
Shortly after the restart, officials handed Verstappen a five-second time penalty for his move on Leclerc at the race start.
On track, Piastri continued his forward charge as he put a move on Nico Hulkenberg at Turn 5 on Lap 8.
Kevin Magnussen was next on his hit list, the Haas driver falling victim at Turn 1 as they started Lap 10.
The Dane didn’t give up without a fight, using DRS on the run to Turn 5 to reclaim the spot before falling back once more as they ran down the Strip half a lap later.
Verstappen had built a small gap in the lead but could not extend it, remaining just under two seconds ahead of Leclerc.
A bold move from Piastri saw the Australian put manners on Logan Sargeant, who was beginning to fade on his medium tyres.
It moved the McLaren driver into seventh, followed by Hamilton.
Sargeant pitted at the end of Lap 15 as the opening round of stops got underway.
Second-placed Leclerc had closed on race leader Verstappen, the pair split by less than a second as they began Lap 16.
The Red Bull driver dived into the pits at the end of the lap, though not before losing the lead on track as Leclerc made the move at the end of the Strip.
Piastri and Alex Albon were in the lane too, as was Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton and Piastri had made wheel-to-wheel contact immediately prior to the McLaren driver boxing, both cars appearing to take damage.
Hamilton carried on before pulling in a lap later with a suspected puncture as he dropped down the order.
Leclerc remained on track, as did Esteban Ocon who ran second until Perez passed the Alpine on Lap 19 under braking for Turn 14.
He sat 14.5 seconds back from the race leader, though had already taken his first stop and boasted strong pace on the hard compound tyres.
Verstappen was ninth on track, having lost ground owing to the penalty served at his Lap 16 stop.
Leclerc finally pitted on Lap 21, handing the lead to Perez as he fed back out into third behind Lance Stroll.
The Ferrari driver completed the opening round of pitstops, with Verstappen seventh behind a battle between Russell and Alonso, while Sainz had risen to fourth.
Verstappen improved to sixth at the start of Lap 23, Alonso offering no defence when the Red Bull moved up the inside at the first corner.
On Lap 24, a three-way scrap developed between Sainz, Russell, and Verstappen.
Both moved by the Ferrari down the Strip, Mercedes on the outside and the Red Bull to the inside.
A lap later, Verstappen scythed up the inside of Russell at Turn 12, the pair making contact.
Both cars sustained damage, a broken front wing for the Red Bull and a suspected floor issue for Russell, while debris littered the circuit, both cars were able to carry on.
Investigated by the stewards, Russell was handed a five-second penalty after he was deemed to have turned down on Verstappen.
The bulk of the field opted to stop as the Safety Car was deployed to clean up the mess, Perez among them.
That left Leclerc in the lead from the Mexican, then came Gasly, Piastri, Verstappen, Ocon, Stroll, Albon, Russell, and Sainz.
Red Bull did not fit a new wing to Verstappen’s car, the Dutchman having stopped under the Safety Car, while Leclerc out front remained the only driver yet to pit.
The Safety Car was called in at the end of Lap 28.
A fast restart from Piastri moved the Australian into third after he picked Gasly’s pocket into Turn 5.
It was a fine move, the McLaren driver darting to the inside to take the place before quickly pulling clear.
However, he had a stop still to serve, having only used the hard compound tyres to that point – his jump in position owed partly by not stopping under the Verstappen/Russell Safety Car.
By the time DRS was enabled two laps after the Safety Car restart, Leclerc had only managed to extend a 0.4s advantage over Perez.
The Red Bull driver wasn’t close enough at the end of the Strip to make a move, while Verstappen was able to clear Gasly to move up to fourth.
Next time by, Perez was through into the lead and quickly pulled clear.
Behind them, Verstappen passed Piastri on Lap 33 to move in to third, moving by under brakes at Turn 14.
The Dutchman quickly closed on Leclerc ahead, who’d managed to claw his way back into DRS range of Perez.
The Ferrari driver reclaimed top spot on Lap 35, seemingly catching Perez by surprise at Turn 14.
A lap later, he fell to third when Verstappen breezed by down the 1.1 mile back straight.
The champion-elect was wasting no time to put manners on Leclerc at the end of the back straight on Lap 37.
Leclerc looked comfortable in second before a mistake at Turn 12 on Lap 43 opened the door for Perez to take the place.
The Monegasque driver pinched the front brake and did well not to take to the escape road, but was compromised his corner exit.
It left him out of DRS range as Red Bull moved into first and second.
Shortly after that happened, McLaren called Piastri in for his second stop, feeding him out into 11th on a set of scrubbed medium tyres.
It saw him rejoin in 11th with six laps to find his way as far forward as possible.
Leclerc closed on Perez in the final laps and found himself back in DRS range on the penultimate lap.
Verstappen led with such ease that he backed off to offer a slipstream to his team-mate to fend off the charging Ferrari.
It wasn’t enough, Leclerc lunged at Turn 14 to steal second place almost within sight of the flag.
Verstappen won by two seconds while Russell took fourth on the road, before his five-second penalty was applied which dropped him to eighth.
Then came Ocon, Stroll, Sainz, Hamilton, Alonso, and Piastri, who stole the last points-paying position from Gasly in the dying moments.
In the latter stages, Nico Hulkenberg and Yuki Tsunoda were retirements, the latter with gearbox issues.