Max Verstappen overcame a determined Charles Leclerc and a five-second time penalty to win the Las Vegas Grand Prix, his 18th victory of this season.
The reigning World Champion found himself in a three-way battle for the victory, the decisive pass coming on lap 37 when he overtook Leclerc at Turn 14 to set up the win ahead of the Ferrari driver and Sergio Perez.
Lando Norris brought out an early Safety Car when he crashed at Turn 12, a sideward snap putting him backward into the barrier before sliding into the run-off area where he hit front-on. He was taken to a local hospital for further precautionary checks.
Red flag for Lando Norris, penalty for Max Verstappen
Charles Leclerc lined up on pole position for the fifth time this season but still seeking his first win, with Max Verstappen P2 and potentially at a disadvantage after an earlier oil spill on his side of the grid.
He wasn’t put paid to that suggestion, immediately drawing alongside Leclerc with the two running wide at Turn 1. Verstappen returned to the track in the lead ahead of Leclerc and George Russell. Red Bull told the Dutchman he didn’t have to give the position back as he had his nose ahead, but Leclerc argued to Ferrari that was not the case.
Fernando Alonso had a spin, Valtteri Bottas then hit him, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton made contact, and Sergio Perez was also involved in the melee and pitted for a new front wing. Alonso also made an unscheduled stop with the VSC out for the marshals to collect a few chunks of debris.
The racing resumed but not for long as Lando Norris lost control of his McLaren in a sideward snap into Turn 12, leading to a big accident. That brought out the Safety Car, but thankfully the driver was “okay”. Sainz was the only driver to pit, swapping to the hard Pirellis which dropped him into the bottom five.
Back to full speed on Turn 7, Verstappen made a good getaway and almost immediately put two seconds between himself and Leclerc, Oscar Piastri caught Yuki Tsunoda napping to slide into the final points-paying position, and Alonso was all over the back of Sainz’s Ferrari. Hamilton also overtook Tsunoda.
Lap 9 Verstappen was slapped with a five-second time penalty for forcing Leclerc off the track at Turn 1. “That’s fine, send them my regards,” was the World Champion’s response.
Charles Leclerc passes Max Verstappen for the lead
Despite concerns about the quality of racing the track could deliver, Alonso overtook Sainz, Esteban Ocon passed Kevin Magnussen, Piastri and Magnussen had a back-and-forth tussle which the Aussie won, and Tsunoda lost yet another position this time to Zhou Guanyu.
Hamilton made his way into the top ten with a pass on Nico Hulkenberg, Sainz got the better of Alonso, and Pierre Gasly hounded Russell. Ocon, Piastri, and Hamilton all overtook Logan Sargeant one after the other.
Racing in a five-driver battle Sainz was warned by Ferrari to cool his car otherwise they’d have to retire it. He quickly made his way past Daniel Ricciardo to grab a few metres of clean air. And that was all within the space of 10 laps.
Back at the front Leclerc closed the gap to Verstappen to less than a second with the Ferrari driver using DRS to drag his car closer and closer to the rear wing of the Red Bull. Leclerc overtook Verstappen on lap 16, the Dutchman pitting immediately after – stationary for 7.7s with his penalty.
That sparked a rush into the pits with Russell and Piastri in, Hamilton too as he reported a puncture having made contact with Piastri and lost positions on his way in. Hamilton was 19th and last after his stop.
As the last of the pit stops for the leaders played out, Leclerc in on lap 22, Perez having stopped after his lap 1 collision was leading ahead of Stroll, Leclerc, Sainz, Russell, Alonso, Verstappen and Gasly. Piastri and Alex Albon made up the top ten.
More drama for Max, Perez and Leclerc fight for the lead
Russell and Verstappen made short work of Sainz, both drivers passing him down the straight one after the other. Verstappen then overtook Russell but there was contact with the Red Bull leaving pieces of its wing behind. “Mate, he just turned it on me,” complained Verstappen.
The Safety Car came out for the debris, Perez straight into the pits, followed by Verstappen, Russell, Sainz, Hamilton, and others. But notably not Leclerc.
He regained the lead ahead of Perez, Gasly, Piastri, Verstappen, Ocon, Stroll and Albon. Russell and Sainz made up the top ten with Russell slapped with a five-second penalty for the Verstappen incident.
Perez didn’t let Leclerc scamper off in the restart while Piastri took third off Gasly in an audacious overtake, the Frenchman then losing fourth to Verstappen. Perez made his move on lap 32, down the inside into Turn 14, and up into the lead.
His teammate was up into third two laps later as he overtook Piastri with Leclerc finding himself in a Red Bull sandwich. Leclerc was back in the lead on lap 36, coming from a long way back to pass the Mexican driver into Turn 14. Verstappen took second off him.
Charles Leclerc v Max Verstappen for the win
Hounding Leclerc and dragging Perez along with him, Verstappen dived up the inside of Leclerc at Turn 14 – the favoured overtaking spot – to once again run P1 on lap 37 at the Las Vegas circuit. The race win, though, was by no means done and dusted as Leclerc tried to stick to his rear wing. Leclerc, however, lost third when, reporting his “tyres are f***ing gone”, he ran wide and let Perez through.
Behind them Albon was knocked out of the points with Sainz up to ninth ahead of Alonso and Hamilton. Gasly lost sixth to Stroll with Alpine reporting engine issues for their French driver. He dropped down to 11th as the problem persisted, Piastri back inside the points.
After 50 laps of high octane drama, Verstappen took the chequered flag to secure his 18th win of this season by two seconds ahead of Leclerc who passed Perez on the very last lap.
Russell was next across the line but dropped to eighth due to his penalty. That meant Ocon was fourth ahead of Stroll, Sainz, Hamilton and Russell with Alonso and Piastri completing the top ten.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:29:08.289
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +2.070
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +2.241
4 Esteban OCON Alpine +18.665
5 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +20.067
6 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +20.834
7 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +21.755
8 George RUSSELL Mercedes +23.091
9 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +25.964
10 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +29.496
11 Pierre GASLY Alpine +34.270
12 Alexander ALBON Williams +43.398
13 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +44.825
14 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +48.525
15 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +50.162
16 Logan SARGEANT Williams +50.882
17 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +85.350
Did not finish
Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri – gearbox
Nico Hulkenberg Haas – mechanical
Lando Norris McLaren – crash