Verstappen continues his winning streak in Las Vegas

19 November 2023 - 10:00
By Reuters
The triumph on a spectacular night in Sin City was the 53rd of Verstappen's career, and sixth in a row, and came after a five-second penalty for forcing Ferrari's Charles Leclerc off track at the start and then a collision with Mercedes' George Russell.
Image: Chris Graythen/Getty Images The triumph on a spectacular night in Sin City was the 53rd of Verstappen's career, and sixth in a row, and came after a five-second penalty for forcing Ferrari's Charles Leclerc off track at the start and then a collision with Mercedes' George Russell.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen sang Viva Las Vegas after racing to a record-extending 18th victory of the season and joining Sebastian Vettel in third place on Formula One's all-time winners' list.

The triumph on a spectacular night in Sin City was the 53rd of the triple champion's career, and sixth in a row, and came after a five-second penalty for forcing Ferrari's Charles Leclerc off track at the start and then a collision with Mercedes' George Russell.

Leclerc finished second after starting on pole position, losing and regaining the lead and then losing it again before passing Sergio Perez on the final lap to deny Red Bull a seventh one-two of the season.

The win was Red Bull's 20th in 21 races, another record for a single season, and delivered the racing that had risked being swamped in a wave of hype as Vegas hosted a grand prix for the first time since the 1980s.

It also completed a sweep of three US wins in 2023 for their 26-year-old Dutch driver, who was also dominant in Miami and Austin.

"It was a tough one," said Verstappen, whose race suit paid homage to the signature jumpsuit of the late "King of Rock and Roll", Elvis Presley.

"I tried to go for it at the start, I think we both braked quite late and then I just ran out of grip and we ended up a bit wide so the stewards gave me a penalty for that. That put us a little bit on the back foot, I had to pass quite a few cars ... It was definitely a lot of fun."

Red Bull played the timeless Elvis song over the team radio, after pop star Justin Bieber waved the chequered flag, and Verstappen showed he is a far better driver than singer by joining in.

Leclerc, whose team are the only ones to beat Red Bull this season, showed all his fighting spirit after the initial setback.

"I wanted that win so bad — but what a race!" he gasped over the radio after finishing 2.070 seconds behind Verstappen.

It was the second race in a row that Perez had lost out on the last lap, with the Mexican passed by Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso at the line in Brazil. Perez at least had the consolation of securing second in a championship won long ago by his teammate — another first for Red Bull who have never previously ended a season with their drivers one-two.

Safety cars

Esteban Ocon was fourth for Alpine, with Lance Stroll fifth for Aston Martin and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz sixth.

Mercedes' seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh, ahead of a demoted Russell, Alonso and McLaren's Australian rookie Oscar Piastri, who took a bonus point for fastest lap.

While Red Bull won both titles long ago, Ferrari closed the gap to second-placed Mercedes to four points with one race remaining in Abu Dhabi.

The lack of grip was evident from the start as cars accelerated past the floodlit casinos and hotels and down the Strip.

As Verstappen forced Leclerc wide to take the lead, without giving the place back, Alonso spun and was hit twice by Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas with Perez also involved.

The Mexican pitted for a new front wing as the virtual safety car was deployed but McLaren's Lando Norris then brought out the full safety car when he crashed on lap three.

Norris was taken to the University Medical Centre for further precautionary investigations.

When racing resumed on lap 7 stewards handed Verstappen a five-second penalty, but he shrugged off the decision. "Yeah, that's fine, send them my regards," he told race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

Leclerc retook the lead on lap 16, with Verstappen pitting and serving the penalty with a 7.7-second stop that dropped him to ninth.

Perez took over at the front on lap 22 when Leclerc pitted, with the Mexican also helped by the safety car being deployed again on lap 27 to recover debris from the clash between Verstappen and Russell, who was given a five-second penalty.

The 10pm start was the latest in F1 history.