Leclerc charges to pole for Las Vegas GP ahead of Sainz and Verstappen
Charles Leclerc converted his strong practice pace into pole position for the Las Vegas Grand Prix during a thrilling qualifying session around the all-new Strip Circuit, with the Ferrari man getting the better of team mate Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Leclerc was consistently quick throughout Saturday morning’s running and delivered a 1m 32.726s in the decisive pole shootout to finish half a tenth clear of Sainz, who will drop 10 places on the grid due to an engine penalty.
While both Leclerc and Sainz improved on their second Q3 runs, Verstappen could not find any more pace and returned to the pits, leaving him third from George Russell, who was the sole remaining Mercedes after Lewis Hamilton dropped out in Q2.
Several drivers starred in the tricky, cool conditions, with Pierre Gasly putting his Alpine an incredible fifth, Williams team mates Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant taking P6 and P7 and Valtteri Bottas ending eighth fastest for Alfa Romeo.
In a Q3 session that also lacked the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who joined Hamilton in the list of Q2 eliminees, Kevin Magnussen claimed ninth for Haas, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso rounding out the top 10.
FORMULA 1 HEINEKEN SILVER LAS VEGAS GRAND PRIX 2023
United States 2023
|1 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:32.726|
|2 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:32.770|
|3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:33.104|
|4 George Russell RUS Mercedes||1:33.112|
|5 Pierre Gasly GAS Alpine||1:33.239|
Hamilton’s Q2 exit left him down in 11th, as he radioed the Mercedes pit wall to explain that there was nothing left in his car, though he will at least gain a place for the race due to Sainz’s aforementioned grid penalty.
Perez, having sat out the second segment’s final runs, had to settle for 12th from Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg, the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll – who will take a five-place grid drop for a yellow flag breach in practice – and AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo.
McLaren had a nightmare session as their recent run of form took a nosedive along Vegas’ high-speed streets, with Lando Norris missing the Q2 cut by 0.020s in 16th and F1 rookie Oscar Piastri only managing the penultimate spot on the grid in 19th.
Esteban Ocon and Zhou Guanyu could not match the pace of their team mates as they fell at the first hurdle in 17th and 18th respectively, as replays showed the Alpine racer getting caught up in a peculiar moment with Verstappen during the final Q1 runs.
Yuki Tsunoda was another to have a scruffy session in the other AlphaTauri, having seen one of his lap times deleted for exceeding track limits and then made a mistake on his last run of the session, leaving him 20th and last on the grid.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Ferrari lead the way as McLaren hit trouble
After getting to grips with the Las Vegas Strip Circuit in practice, the time had come for drivers to push to the limit around the city’s famous streets and fight for all-important grid positions ahead of Saturday night’s race.
When Q1 got under way amid one of the most spectacular backdrops in F1 history, it was Leclerc who set the early pace with an initial 1m 34.898s, before improving to an eye-catching 1m 34.072s – sending a clear message to his rivals.
Meanwhile, there was trouble for McLaren, with Norris complaining that Perez “completely got in my way” during his first run on softs, and team mate Piastri clipping one of the concrete walls, albeit seeming to escape without any damage.
Halfway into the session, Leclerc still led the way with his 1m 34s flat effort, putting him half a second clear of Perez, followed by Hamilton, Norris, Sainz and Verstappen in a closely-matched group of cars behind the flying lead Ferrari.
At the other end of the timesheets, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Gasly, Tsunoda and Russell found themselves in the drop zone, with the latter two losing lap times over track limits, meaning they had to dust themselves off and go again.
As the final minutes ticked away, another host of improvements ended with Leclerc in P1 on a 1m 33.617s, a couple of tenths clear of team mate Sainz, as Russell rounded out the top three ahead of Verstappen and the high-flying Hulkenberg, Gasly and Bottas.
Hamilton and Magnussen made it through in the other Mercedes and Haas machines in P8 and P9 respectively, along with Aston Martin pair Alonso and Stroll (the latter being investigated for another yellow flag breach), Williams duo Sargeant and Albon, Perez’s Red Bull and Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri.
Stroll’s last-gap effort pushed Norris into the drop zone and confirmed a painful double Q1 exit for McLaren, with team mate Piastri back in 19th – behind Ocon’s Alpine and Zhou’s Alfa Romeo – as the papaya cars struggled for pace.
Ocon was involved in a strange incident with Verstappen at the end of the session as they squabbled for track position, shouting over the radio that the reigning world champion was “diving into Turn 1 like crazy”, while the Dutchman argued that his rival had acted like an “idiot”.
Tsunoda brought up the rear as he followed up his deleted time with a moment at Turn 5 on his final run, prompting the Japanese racer to throw his headrest out of the cockpit in frustration when he returned to the AlphaTauri garage.
Knocked out: Norris, Ocon, Zhou, Piastri, Tsunoda
Q2 – Hamilton and Perez miss out on the pole shootout
As the remaining cars returned to the track for Q2, it was Alonso who made the first move to briefly lead the way with a high 1m 33s lap, before the Mercedes drivers edged ahead and Verstappen then upped his pace to go quickest on a 1m 33.607s.
When Ferrari emerged on fresh, rather than used, soft tyres, Leclerc smashed that benchmark by turning in a 1m 32.834s to go the best part of a second clear, with Sainz slotting into second position, some five-tenths away from his team mate.
Another batch of runs sent the timing screen into a frenzy of purple and green sector times, as Leclerc shaved a few hundredths off his best time to remain P1 from Sainz, Russell, an impressive Gasly and Verstappen.
Both Williams drivers progressed to Q3 as Albon rose to sixth and Sargeant took a fine ninth, split by Alonso and Magnussen, with Bottas rounding out the top 10 positions to dramatically deny former Mercedes team mate Hamilton.
Hamilton lamented that he “couldn’t go faster” en route to his shock Q2 exit, but there would be another surprise as Perez – who watched on from the garage for the final runs – dropped out in 12th, along with Hulkenberg, Stroll and Ricciardo.
Knocked out: Hamilton, Perez, Hulkenberg, Stroll, Ricciardo
Q3 – Leclerc too fast for Sainz and Verstappen
Leclerc kept his place at the top of the times when Q3 kicked off as he clocked a 1m 33.021s, though Sainz was just 0.022s adrift and Verstappen only 0.083s back, setting up the prospect of a pulsating second sequence of runs.
When these arrived, Leclerc took things to another level to produce a 1m 32.726s, some half a tenth faster than Sainz managed in the sister Ferrari, while Verstappen backed out of his last lap and headed to the pits.
On a weekend where Red Bull have struggled to live with Ferrari’s pace, replays showed Verstappen getting perilously close to one of the concrete walls and swearing over the radio at his lucky escape – though P3 becomes P2 due to Sainz’s penalty.
As the other times filtered in, Russell salvaged fourth for Mercedes, while Gasly starred en route to fifth in his Alpine and similarly strong performances from Albon and Sargeant netted sixth and seventh on the grid for Williams.
With both Hamilton and Perez dropping out in Q2, Bottas, Magnussen and Alonso took advantage to secure positions P8 to P10, with Sainz set to drop all the way down to 12th position thanks to his power unit-related penalty.
“I’m of course happy,” said pole-sitter Leclerc. “First in Las Vegas, obviously it’s an incredible event, and to be starting from pole tomorrow is great.
“However, I’m a bit disappointed with my laps in Q3, I didn’t do a good enough job, but it was enough for P1, so that’s all we need. Now it’s full focus on tomorrow to try and put everything together in the race.
“Normally that’s where we lack most performance, so I hope we can put it all together and win here.”
The drivers will now debrief with their teams and ready themselves for Saturday night’s Las Vegas Grand Prix, which is scheduled to begin at 2200 local time. Head to the RACE HUB for more information.