Leclerc bemoans Las Vegas safety car as he felt ‘the win was ours’

Charles Leclerc felt he should have won the inaugural Las Vegas GP

Charles Leclerc felt he should have won the inaugural Las Vegas GP but for a safety car. Image: Charles Coates/XPB

Charles Leclerc was left with “mixed emotions” following a Las Vegas Grand Prix in which he felt the introduction of a safety car wrecked his victory bid, only to grab the runner-up spot at the death with a late-race pass on Sergio Perez.

Starting from pole position, Ferrari driver Leclerc was pushed wide at the first corner by Max Verstappen, earning the three-time F1 champion a five-second penalty for forcing another driver off the track.

Leclerc, who had been quick all weekend, managed to keep Verstappen in his sights, reclaiming the lead on lap 16, triggering Red Bull into bringing in their driver for fresh tyres.

The Monégasque managed to keep his rubber going for another five laps before switching to the hard tyres, only for his strategy to be undermined when a second safety car of the race was summoned following a further five laps after Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell collided, leaving debris on the track.

Whilst many drivers pitted, including Sergio Perez and Verstappen, Leclerc naturally stayed out on track given his tyres were not that old, only to be passed by Perez three laps after the safety car withdrew.

Again, though, Leclerc did not fall away, instead reclaiming the lead for a second time with a superb move on the Mexican at the end of the Strip on lap 34.

By that stage, Verstappen, who had fallen to fifth after his pit stop under the safety car, had the duelling duo in his sights, and after taking care of his team-mate, reeled in Leclerc on lap 37, going on to win his 18th race of the season.

Behind him, the action was not over, as Perez sparked hopes of a Red Bull one-two by passing Leclerc soon after. For the third time, Leclerc did not wilt, with the race ending in dramatic fashion on the final lap as he again overtook his rival into the turn at the end of the Strip.

Following the race, Leclerc conceded to “mixed emotions”, adding: “On one hand, I’m extremely happy with the performance.

“We didn’t leave anything on the table. Until the last corner of the last lap, I gave it my all and managed to get that second place.

“On the other hand, I’m obviously disappointed because I really believe that without the safety car, the win was ours, because we had a really good first stint on the medium and the hard was five laps newer than Max.

“I had a good four, five laps in order to bring them up to temperature, and we did a really good job on that, so I was really confident the win was ours.

“But, unfortunately, there was the safety car. Max and Checo stopped and I stayed out on my five-lap used hard, which was not too much, five laps.

“But the problem is that when they cool down behind a safety car, to then restart a used tyre is incredibly difficult with those temperatures, and there we lost the race.

“But the last part of the race was extremely fun. That gave me a lot of adrenaline inside the car, and I really enjoyed it.”

Leclerc was amongst those who emerged from the 50-lap grand prix declaring racing to be the winner following a troubled start to the event after team-mate Carlos Sainz’s car was severely damaged by a water valve cover, and second practice took place in front of empty grandstands.

“Again, I really enjoyed it,” said Leclerc. “I think we needed it.

“Of course, the weekend didn’t start the way it had to start, but I’m so happy it ended in the way it did. It’s such an incredible sport.

“There was no better race for a first race in Vegas. The energy around the city is incredible.”

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