In their storied Formula 1 history — six Constructors’ Championships and counting, along with seven Drivers’ Championships — one accomplishment had still eluded Red Bull.
That changed under the neon lights in Las Vegas.
A third-place finish from Sergio Pérez locked up P2 in the Drivers’ standings for the Red Bull driver, marking the first time in the team’s history they saw their drivers finish one-two in the standings.
Following the race, Team Principal Christian Horner praised his drivers, singling out Pérez.
“Certainly, because as a team we’ve never achieved before,” said Horner after the Las Vegas Grand Prix. “I mean, what more can you ask for from your drivers than first and second in the Drivers World Championship? His [Pérez’s] pace was right there again today. So, the last two or three races, he’s really been finding his form again.”
In many ways, this bit of team history is a deserved result for Red Bull, who have been the dominant package since pre-season testing in Bahrain all the way back in February. It was clear to the entire field that the RB19 was going to be a strong car, and both Pérez and Max Verstappen showed that all season long.
And now they have a one-two finish to show for it, along with a second-straight Constructors’ Championship.
Winner: Sergio Pérez
A special acknowledgement now for Pérez. Sure, he was unable to hold off Charles Leclerc on the final lap. and was forced to settle for P3 in the race.
But the result was enough for him to lock up P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, his best finish in his F1 career, and a result which eluded him a season ago.
While F1 is filled with stressful jobs, these two might be the most intense: Team Principal at Ferrari, and Driver Number Two at Red Bull. That second job has often been called the “second seat of death,” and Pérez’s poor form in the middle of the season had many wondering if he was entering his own “death spiral” at Red Bull. With struggles in qualifying, and questions following him week-to-week about his future, it seemed Pérez was on the verge of losing not just P2 in the standings, but his job at Red Bull altogether.
However, now he can firmly claim the title of “Best Driver Not Named Max Verstappen in 2023” which, given how dominant Verstappen has been, is quite the accomplishment.
Of course, the first time Pérez slips up — and frankly, some are wondering how he could have lost out on P2 to Leclerc in this race already — those same questions will resurface. But for at least one writer, this was a tremendous season for Pérez, and one that may even look better with time.
Well, game on in Abu Dhabi.
While both Mercedes and Ferrari managed double-points finishes in the Las Vegas Grand Prix, the Scuderia shrunk the gap between the two teams to just four points entering the final race of the season. A second-place finish for Leclerc, coupled with an impressive drive from Carlos Sainz Jr. as he rebounded from the ridiculous ten-place grid penalty to climb from P12 at the start to a P6 finish, saw the team net 26 points in Sin City.
As for Mercedes, it was just not their night. Despite starting near the front of the field, and having the pace to fight for a podium, a collision between George Russell and Verstappen saw the Mercedes driver hit with a five-second penalty, ending any hopes of a top-three finish. He would ultimately finish in eighth.
Russell took complete responsibility for the incident.
“Today was on me; I simply didn’t see Verstappen. He was totally in the blind spot, and we made contact; it was completely my fault. We knew they were much quicker than us and I was happy to concede the position,” said Russell in the team’s post-race media report. “I knew our fight wasn’t with Verstappen and tyre management was more important. It was a real shame as we were on course for a podium. It changed the dynamic of the race too with the Safety Car. It feels like we’ve thrown another one away today and I am really disappointed right now. It is the story of our season.”
As for Lewis Hamilton, his promising race was undone by two different incidents. First was some contact with Sainz, which saw him lose a few spots on the track. Then contact with Oscar Piastri caused a puncture to one of his rear tires, but it occurred after he had passed pit lane, so he needed to do an entire lap before they could make a chance.
He ultimately finished just ahead of Russell in P7, but Ferrari is now right in the rear-view mirror.
Now the team heads to Abu Dhabi for the season finale, at a track where they have experienced heartbreak before. This is where the Hamilton versus Verstappen fight in 2021 came down to the final lap of the season, and a race director’s decision that apparently haunts Toto Wolff to this day.
“I think we’re going there pretty much equal on points. With a proper race director, so that should be fine,” said Wolff after the race.
“Then let’s race. It’s all down to the last weekend. They are very quick and done a good job. I think we could have been on par today. But the result shows something different. To be honest, it’s good to have P2 as a positive to finish the season, but P2, P3 for me there is little… it doesn’t make me particularly cheerful anyway.”
Something tells me P3 versus P2 make a big difference in his mind. And now, it is all to play for. But should Mercedes ultimately lose in that fight, they will have many races such as this to point to in the postmortem.
Winner: Lance Stroll
We have, albeit fairly, been critical of Stroll at times this season.
But my goodness did he put in a performance in Las Vegas.
Despite a brutal PF3 and qualifying session that saw him penalized and dropped to the back of the field, Stroll picked up 14 spots on the track, coming up to finish fifth after starting in P19.
“That was a fun race,” exclaimed Stroll after his fifth-place finish.
“I gained 10 positions in the first corner with a lot of other drivers going wide, moving up from P19 to P9, so it immediately felt like it was all to play for.
“From that point, we were on the front foot and attacking throughout the race with a quick car. We made some good strategy calls, pitting under both Safety Cars, and then I was able to pass a few cars into Turn One to secure P5.”
Team Principal Mike Krack sang the driver’s praises.
“Full credit to Lance to recover from the back of the grid to take two consecutive fifth places,” said Krack in the team’s post-race media debrief. “He had a very strong race and made the most of an early switch to the Hard tyres to secure good track position. From there, he delivered one of his best races of the year with strong pace and important overtakes.”
Stroll is one of the handful of drivers who have come under intense scrutiny this season, with rumors even swirling about a switch to tennis, or perhaps rally racing, following this F1 season. But a front-foot performance such as this one likely quells those rumors.
At least for one week.
Winner: Esteban Ocon
Another driver who managed to charge through the field?
Similar to Stroll, Esteban Ocon started at the back of the field and fought his way into the points, climbing up to finish just off the podium in fourth place. This, after starting back in P16, is another impressive result.
“What a night in Las Vegas to be outside of the points to finishing in fourth place! I would like to say a massive congratulations to the team for this great result and amazing recovery,” said Ocon following the race in the team’s media report.
“It was a chaotic start and we managed to keep it clean and gain eight positions on lap one. After that, we had to be patient, execute a clean race and managing the tyres was really the key. I made some good overtakes along the way and to finish fourth at this amazing venue is really a great result, especially considering how I was left feeling after Qualifying,” added the Alpine driver. “There is one more race to go in Abu Dhabi next week and we will aim to carry this momentum into the season finale.”
“While yesterday in Qualifying belonged to Pierre after a brilliant single lap effort, today, it was about Esteban who drove superbly to rise from sixteenth to fourth to score 12 points,” said Interim Team Principal Bruno Famin. “He did well to avoid the chaos at the start and then pieced together two well managed stints to look after the tyres well and maintain competitive pace to the end.”
Qualifying was a tremendous success for Williams, who put both Logan Sargeant and Alexander Albon into Q3, and saw both drivers start the Las Vegas Grand Prix on the third row.
However, that tremendous straight-line speed and qualifying pace which helped them on Friday, eluded them on Saturday. It came down to tire management, and while Sargeant managed an impressive 36-lap stint on a set of hards, the wear was just too much, and he ended up in P16.
As for Albon, he was in the fight for points, but eventually finished in P12.
The timing of a safety car also hurt the duo, as both Sargeant and Albon made early stops to switch to hards. But a safety car followed, allowing some of the drivers around them to make a stop under more favorable conditions.
Team Principal James Vowles broke it down in this video after the race:
As noted by Vowles, a silver lining is that their competition for P7 in the Constructors’ Championship had difficult nights as well, so they head to Abu Dhabi for the final race of the season still seven points clear of AlphaTauri, and 12 points clear of Alfa Romeo.
Just four points separate Ferrari from Mercedes, and P2 in the Constructors’ standings.
Leclerc notched another podium finish, his fifth of the season, as he came out on top of Pérez in a thrilling fuel to finish in second.
As for Sainz, he overcame a brutally-unfair penalty handed down after FP2 to make up six spots on the track, and bring home a sixth-place finish.
“It’s been a good weekend for the team even though it was a tough race for me. We struggled with engine temperatures because we were racing in the middle of the pack and it was difficult to make up positions quickly,” said Sainz in the team’s post-race report.
“However, we nailed the strategy switching to a two-stop and the second part of the race was better, making up a few places to finish P6. It was a case of damage limitation after the penalty and scoring very important points for the Constructors’ championship,” added Sainz. “I can’t wait to race in Abu Dhabi next week. The fight for second is still on and we’ll do everything we can to take it!”
Team Principal Frederic Vasseur praised both drivers, and in particular Leclerc, describing his performance as one of his best races.
“With Charles we had put everything in place to bring home the win as we had looked after the tyres at the beginning and then we overtook Max on track,” said Vasseur. “The Safety Car didn’t help him, as he struggled with graining after the restart but was able to manage it and in the closing stages, he was again very competitive, to the point of overtaking Perez for P2. I think Charles delivered one of the best drives of his career today, while Carlos also had a very strong second part of the race.”
And now, a thrilling clash awaits between Ferrari and Mercedes in the season finale.
Winners: Las Vegas Grand Prix
It got off to a rocky start.
Lawyers are already involved.
And there are some things that might still need to be ironed out.
But one of the things race promoters promised in the buildup to the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix was that there would be good racing.
We saw that, and more, when the lights finally went out. And do not take it from me, take it from those who were on the track, or trackside.
“This first race in Las Vegas delivered the show that everybody was expecting, so well done to Formula 1 as this was one of the best races of the season,” said Vasseur in Ferrari’s post-race report.
“I wasn’t expecting the track to be so great but there was lots of racing and overtaking opportunities. For all those who were so negative about the weekend, I think Las Vegas proved them wrong,” described Hamilton.
“I think Las Vegas truly delivered on the hype with a very entertaining race this evening,” described Aston Martin Team Principal Mike Krack. “I thought the circuit produced some really good racing today, alongside all the spectacle – so well done to everybody involved in delivering this Grand Prix.”
Just how good of a race was it? Verstappen, who seemed at times more annoyed than anything else this week, was singing the Las Vegas Grand Prix’s praises at the finish. Figuratively, and literally. Not only was he singing when he took the checkered flag, but he praised the racing following the finish.
“Yeah, it was a lot of fun there. Like I said, with the DRS as well, that helped a lot for very good racing here. Also, I think the low degradation with the tarmac you could really push on the tires, which I think was good. So yeah, like I said, it was a lot of fun out there,” said Verstappen trackside after his win. “A great crowd. I mean, I hope everyone enjoyed it a bit. We definitely did. So, yeah, already excited to come back here next year and hopefully we’ll try to do something similar.”
There are certainly things to work out, such as the timing of the race, the track surface, and more. And maybe F1 might consider toning down the spectacle a tiny bit next year, and focusing a bit more on the racing itself. Future events might want to include a few support races, which may help to “rubber in” the surface more, giving the drivers a bit more grip on the tarmac.
But after a rocky start, the Las Vegas Grand Prix delivered what matters most of all.
A great race.