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HINCH’S HEROES: Who makes James Hinchcliffe's list after the thriller in Las Vegas?
This season, IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe is taking stock after every Grand Prix and presenting his heroes from the weekend, exclusively for F1.com. Here are his picks from the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix…
Esteban Ocon – P4
This was a beautifully executed race from the Frenchman, on a weekend where the Alpine had surprising pace. Being impeded in qualifying relegated him to a 16th place starting spot – no doubt disappointing with his team mate up on the second row of the grid.
He did well to avoid the Turn 1 melee, and pick off one or two cars after, to be up nine positions when the Safety Car came out for Lando Norris.
Once racing resumed, Ocon balanced lap time and tyre deg perfectly to be able to extend his first stint a few laps and steadily move up the field. This was tricky to do in Vegas because the cooler temperatures allowed drivers to push more than at a high deg track like Brazil, but still required a bit of finesse and restraint to make sure you had enough tyre to push at the end of a stint.
To put this performance into perspective, Pierre Gasly, having started 12 places higher and on the exact same strategy, was over taken by his teammate on lap 35.
His fifth on the road became fourth after George Russell’s penalty, and it was a welcome reward for a team that had to change a chassis after that bizarre drain cover incident in FP1.
Lance Stroll – P5
Neither Aston Martin driver showed the pace in qualifying that they were thought to have after practice, with Stroll being further hampered by a five-place penalty for a yellow flag infraction in FP3.
Starting a lowly 19th, Stroll took a punt by starting on the less favoured soft tyre, hoping for a start advantage and then an early Safety Car – or VSC – to switch to a more appropriate tyre.
They got their wish, and Stroll negotiated the Turn 1 chaos to emerge a staggering 10 places up, coming in to the pits under the Norris Safety Car and throwing on hard tyres. The cooler temps meant the over-cut was less of a penalty – maybe even an advantage – than at most races, and a great middle stint allowed Stroll to come out in P7 after his final stop.
On the same rubber as many around him he pulled off some great passes while managing the tyres and ended up an impressive – albeit somewhat quiet – fifth place. It was a clean, mistake free Grand Prix from start to finish.
Charles Leclerc – P2
Leclerc will have been gutted to once more fail to convert pole into a win, but the effort he put in was the stuff of a champion.
Not losing his cool after being run off the road in T1 is where it all starts. Knowing Max Verstappen would be getting a penalty, he pushed to keep the Red Bull man within reach before the first stop. Not only did he do that, he managed his mediums better and actually passed Verstappen on track before the first stops.
It’s the first time in who knows how long that Verstappen has been bested in a straight up fight over a stint. Then the race was going Leclerc’s way until a Safety Car brought the field together and – crucially – brought Verstappen from 15 seconds behind the Ferrari man to under four when the restart took place.
His back-and-forth battle with Sergio Perez in the final stint was nail biting stuff, and the last lap pass for second was the stuff of legend. He did everything possible to maximise his day and finished closer to Verstappen across the line than anyone else has managed this year.
George Russell – P8
Russell was having a good race running in the top five until the contact with Verstappen damaged his Mercedes. And then, somehow, it became a great race.
After stopping under the Safety Car – as many did – he emerged in ninth, and with an ill car many thought that would likely be the highest he would manage.
He ran in line for much of the next stint until clearing Alex Albon for eighth with about 10 laps to go. From there, spurred on by a radio message from team boss Toto Wolff, he proceeded to storm through the cars in front, setting up a brilliant last lap battle to the line for fourth with Ocon, who he nosed ahead of on the final lap.
With a damaged car and limited time, his last 10 laps of that Grand Prix were simply sublime. It’s a real shame the penalty incurred for the Verstappen contact robbed him of the deserved final classification and dropped him four places back down to eighth.
Oscar Piastri – P10
McLaren’s weekend was a bizarre one from start to finish. Piastri’s result should come as the sole highlight, though, after an absolutely storming drive from 18th on the grid.
He was one of only a few to start on the hard tyres and used the over-cut to great effect. He managed the tyres incredibly well, while still executing passes on track, to be as high as sixth before his first stop.
The crucial moment came when the team fitted another set of hards, meaning he was committed to a two stop strategy. When the Safety Car came out just past half way, many were able to come in for a free stop, but the rookie could not make a set of mediums last that long and was forced to stay out.
Running fourth on the road, with lap times to justify it, showed his true potential, but the required late stop relegated him to P10 at the flag, with an extra point for fastest lap for good measure. Not the desired result for the team, but a damn impressive drive nonetheless.