Notching his 17th victory of the season and claiming the win the final Sprint Race of 2023, Max Verstappen statistically became the move successful driver over a single season, having been victorious in over 77% of the races on the calendar without running the final two events of the season. The Dutchman’s season has been so dominant in fact that he can skip the final two races of the season and still finish with an over 77% win rate. Victories in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi would bring his margin to over 85% for the year, a staggering number unlikely to be surpassed.
Despite a lull in the only practice session on Friday, Verstappen’s form was never at risk as he claimed pole for Sunday’s main race in a rain-shortened Q3 session Friday afternoon. With rain the area, and the sky darkening, Red Bull sent both cars out early for laps – a crucial decision for Verstappen as he claimed pole with over 5 minutes left in the session as a deluge of rain pummeled the circuit, causing damage to some grandstand awnings in the process.
McLaren’s Lando Norris, Verstappen’s only real threat on the weekend, was unable to point his way to the sharp end of the grid and was resigned to 7th behind the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Russel. The Aston Martin pair of Alonso and Stroll made a shock return to the 2nd row of the grid, having stripped their struggling AMR23 back to early season spec in an effort to regain the lost pace over the second half of the season as Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc continued his recent strong qualifying form sharing the first row with Verstappen.
Saturday’s Sprint Shootout saw Lando Norris point his McLaren to pole, a scant 0.061 seconds ahead of Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez, but the victory was short lived as Verstappen leapt to the lead and never gave a look back as he claimed another sprint win. Statistically, Verstappen has now won over 50% of all Sprint races held in Formula 1 – another record for the books.
While Sunday was another Verstappen victory, with only Lando Norris giving challenge at any one point, the drama behind the Red Bull driver ensnared many as issues evolved before the lights went out as Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc found himself in the barriers in turn 6 as the grid went to formation.
Said LeClerc after the incident:
“I turned into Turn 6, everything was fine and then as you can see, I basically lose the wheel because there is no power steering anymore, the steering wheel feels extremely stiff, then I go straight,” he said afterwards. Then the engine stopped for safety reasons, which made the rear wheels lock, which made me spin. Then I touched the wall, I started to start the car again, I did 20 metres then exactly the same thing happened. So that’s it.”
The field, down one driver as LeClerc retired from the race before it began, formed on the grid as the lights went out – only to immediately stop as quick as they began.
As drivers took off, the Haas pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen clashed with and the Williams of Alex Albon – the tangle sending Albon into Magnussen and immediately putting both out of the race before turn 1. In the process, a loose wheel bounced through the apex of turn 1, claiming the rear wing of Daniel Ricciardo while Magnessen, now a pin-ball at 100mph, collided with the rear of Oscar Piastri, breaking his rear wing and forcing the McLaren driver to initially retire the car.
With the field in pit lane, teams went to work on the Alpha Tauri of Ricciardo and the McLaren of Piastri in an effort to return both cars to the grind. Successful in their persistence, both Aussie drivers were able to return as the field went back to green flag conditions, abet a lap down to the field due to red-flag rules and damaged vehicle policies.
While Verstappen and Norris left the field behind, the Mercedes duo suffered one of their worst races of the season as Hamilton finished 8th while teammate George Russell was forced to retire his car on lap 57. Team Principal had this to say about the team’s current form:
“Inexcusable performance. There’s not even words for that. That car finished second last week, and the week before, and whatever we did to it was horrible. Lewis survived out there but George… I can only feel for the two driving such a miserable thing. It shows how difficult the car is, it’s on a knife edge. We’ve got to develop that better for next year because it can’t be that within seven days you’re finishing on the podium – solid, one of the two quickest cars – and then we finish eighth.”
While the team only has two further races with the underperforming W14, a resurgence in form has Fernando Alonso setting his sights on podium finishes in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi as he narrowly beat our Sergio Perez for the final podium spot on Sunday. Teammate Lance Stroll finished a respectable 5th behind the Red Bull Driver as Carlos Sainz finished 6th over Pierre Gasly.
The Formula 1 circus heads to the city that never sleeps, Las Vegas, Nevada, for the first ever Las Vegas Grand Prix on the streets of Sin City. With the late night starts, and the lights and sounds of Vegas, this is sure to be a visual spectacle to behold as the weekend festivities begin on Thursday, November 16th.