Leclerc takes Vegas pole as Sainz’s penalty costs Ferrari a front row lock-out

2023 Las Vegas GP qualifying report

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Charles Leclerc secured the first pole position in the history of the Las Vegas Grand Prix after beating team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr in qualifying.

Leclerc won the battle of the Ferrari drivers, but with Sainz taking a 10-place grid penalty for Saturday’s grand prix, Max Verstappen will start alongside Leclerc on the front row of the grid.


The first qualifying session for the Las Vegas Grand Prix began under a cool night sky with temperatures just under 15C but with minimal risk of rain affecting proceedings. The two Haas drivers, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, wasted no time heading out on track, the former posting the first lap of the qualifying hour with a 1’35.968, which his team mate couldn’t match.

Sergio Perez was the first of the drivers from the front-running teams to post a time with a 1’35.323, putting him on top. But he was soon replaced by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, four tenths of a second quicker, as Williams’ Logan Sargeant popped up in second with a time faster than Perez.

Max Verstappen’s first flying lap was not quick enough to beat Leclerc as he moved into second place. Behind him, Lando Norris abandoned his first flying lap attempt after he claimed to have been “completely blocked” by Perez’s Red Bull in the opening sector.

The Ferraris went even quicker on their second push laps on their soft tyres, with first Carlos Sainz Jnr improving to go quickest of all, but only for a matter of seconds as Leclerc completed his lap behind him to move back into first.

The Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were the final pair to set representative lap times. Hamilton went third-fastest with his first effort and Russell benefitted from a slipstream from his team mate to move into fifth. Verstappen improved on his second push lap on his soft tyres, but could not quite match Leclerc’s best.

With under five minutes remaining in the session, the drop zone was made up of Zhou Guanyu, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda slowest of all. Gasly jumped into the top five with Hulkenberg and Zhou also improving, which dropped Oscar Piastri and Lance Stroll – who will receive a five-place grid penalty after qualifying – into danger.

Tsunoda’s final attempt was ruined by an error in turn five, which guaranteed he would be eliminated slowest of all. Team mate Ricciardo improved but only to 14th, dropping Esteban Ocon into danger. Stroll successfully improved to go safe, which dropped Norris into the drop zone. Surprisingly, neither McLaren driver was able to improve, leaving Norris out in 16th.

Ocon was also knocked out in 17th after an incident with Verstappen where the Alpine driver overtook the Red Bull into the final corner before their final flying lap attempts, before Verstappen returned the favour by diving up the inside of Ocon into turn one, effectively ruining both their laps. Zhou was also out in 18th, with Piastri eliminated in the second McLaren.

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Q1 result

P. # Driver Team Model Time Gap Laps
1 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 1’33.617 8
2 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari SF-23 1’33.851 0.234 8
3 63 George Russell Mercedes W14 1’34.137 0.520 8
4 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’34.190 0.573 8
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’34.265 0.648 10
6 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault A523 1’34.272 0.655 10
7 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari C43 1’34.305 0.688 9
8 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W14 1’34.307 0.690 8
9 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’34.337 0.720 10
10 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’34.422 0.805 9
11 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’34.504 0.887 10
12 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’34.525 0.908 10
13 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’34.574 0.957 8
14 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’34.634 1.017 8
15 3 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT AT04 1’34.683 1.066 10
16 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes MCL60 1’34.703 1.086 9
17 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault A523 1’34.834 1.217 10
18 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari C43 1’34.849 1.232 10
19 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes MCL60 1’34.850 1.233 10
20 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT AT04 1’36.447 2.830 9

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Fernando Alonso was eager to get his first lap of Q2 under his bag as he sprinted out of the pit lane on fresh soft tyres when the lights turned green. After two build up laps, the Aston Martin driver posted a 1’33.880 to be quickest of the initial runners, which included both Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz running on nine-lap-old softs.

Ferrari brought their two drivers in to switch to brand new softs as Red Bull sent Verstappen out for his first run on brand new tyres at the same time. Verstappen’s first effort put him quickest of all by two tenths, ahead of the Mercedes of Hamilton and Russell who also had fitted fresh tyres.

Ferrari returned to the top of the order thanks to their next run on new soft tyres, with Leclerc becoming the first driver to break into the 1’32s, and Sainz also comfortably ahead of Verstappen.

In the closing minutes, Alexander Albon was the first driver at risk of being eliminated in 11th, with Gasly, Logan Sargeant, Stroll and Ricciardo all needing to find time if they were to reach Q3. Stroll improved to just go safe in 10th, but drivers were continuing to improve across the board.

Both Williams drivers improved to safely secure passage to Q3, as did Gasly. That caused major problems for Perez, who was sat in the pits unable to respond and was knocked out. Hamilton was also out in 11th place in another shock elimination, having been unable to wring any more pace from his Mercedes.

Joining the two big names out were Hulkenberg in 13th, Stroll who fell back down to 14th and Ricciardo who ended the session 15th and last

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Q2 result

P. # Driver Team Model Time Gap Laps
1 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 1’32.775 17
2 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari SF-23 1’33.338 0.563 16
3 63 George Russell Mercedes W14 1’33.351 0.576 15
4 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault A523 1’33.494 0.719 18
5 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’33.572 0.797 14
6 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’33.588 0.813 16
7 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’33.617 0.842 17
8 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’33.664 0.889 17
9 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’33.733 0.958 18
10 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari C43 1’33.809 1.034 15
11 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W14 1’33.837 1.062 15
12 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’33.855 1.080 14
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’33.979 1.204 17
14 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’34.199 1.424 18
15 3 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT AT04 1’34.308 1.533 18

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The battle to decide who would have the honour of being the first pole winner around the new Las Vegas Strip Circuit began with all four main contenders – Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz and Russell – heading out on brand new soft tyres.

Sainz was the first of the quartet to complete his first flying lap, posting a 1’33.043. That was quickly beaten by team mate Leclerc, but he could not match his session-best time from Q2. Thankfully, neither could Verstappen, whose first effort was slower than both Ferraris as he slotted into third.

Russsell began his first flying lap out of sequence with his rivals, enjoying the entire track to himself. However, he could not get within half a second of Leclerc’s provisional pole time and went into fifth positon, behind Alonso’s Aston Martin.

With under three minutes remaining, the field returned to the track for their final runs of qualifying. While both Ferraris had brand new soft tyres for this last attempt, Verstappen remained on tyres that were just a handful of laps old.

Leclerc improved by three tenths of a second to lower his own provisional pole time to a 1’32.726. Verstappen abandoned his fianl attempt, returning to the pit lane and guaranteeing that a Ferrari driver would be quickest. The question being whether Leclerc or Sainz would be fastest was decided when Sainz completed his lap and was 0.044s slower than his team mate, sitting in second.

That ensured Leclerc would take pole position for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. Verstappen will start alongside him on the front row as Sainz’s 10-place grid penalty, a consequence of the damage he incurred due to a broken water valve cover on Thursday, means he will start from at least 12th on the grid.

Russell will start third for Mercedes, ahead of Gasly in fourth and the two Williams of Albon and Sargeant locking out the third row of the grid. Bottas secured seventh on the grid for Alfa Romeo with Magnussen starting from eighth. Alonso will start ninth after he was slowest in Q3, with Hamilton promoted into the top 10 as a result of Sainz’s penalty.

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Q3 result

P. # Driver Team Model Time Gap Laps
1 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 1’32.726 23
2 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari SF-23 1’32.770 0.044 23
3 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’33.104 0.378 19
4 63 George Russell Mercedes W14 1’33.112 0.386 22
5 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault A523 1’33.239 0.513 25
6 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’33.323 0.597 21
7 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’33.513 0.787 23
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari C43 1’33.525 0.799 19
9 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’33.537 0.811 23
10 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’33.555 0.829 24

2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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33 comments on “Leclerc takes Vegas pole as Sainz’s penalty costs Ferrari a front row lock-out”

  1. I dont understand the penalty for a bad track. If anything, F1 should gift FER one million dollars

    1. So Sainz should be rewarded with a fresher power unit than everyone else?

      1. At least reduce the penalty to a 5 place grid drop. These are unexpected circumstances.. and the penalty needs to be modified bearing the context of who’s fault it actually was.

        1. @todfod
          I have understood that the current rules don’t allow more lenient penalty based on circumstances. I’m not sure if such clause would be wise either: then we’d have endless discussions on teams complaining that some factor outside their control resulted in component change.

          Luck has always been part of Formula One. At least Sainz now has the chance to score good points in the race. If the accident had happened during the race, the result would have been a lot worse (zero points from this race and grid penalty for next race).

          1. If this had happened during the race, we would have gotten a red flag and no more race resulting in the biggest farce in years given the money involved. F1 just dodged a huge bullet there and should be grateful Sainz was hit in its place. That alone should be reason enough to void the penalty..

          2. The teams together could had decided not to punish Sainz. And 9 out of 10 teams voted in favour of this. You do the math who voted against.

          3. @spafrancorchamps, which was the one team out of ten that voted against waiving the penalty? Given their track record for screw ups, it was probably Ferrari.

      2. yes, bare minimum compensation for having sabotaged his car. There is definitely a slight imbalance in such a scenario, but it’s far, FAR less of an imbalance that what has come to pass.

        A complete and utter failure of the venue, organizers, and inspectors has lead to a competitor losing massive amounts of time, money, and opportunity on top of having created a massive risk for one of the racers. (more than one, in fact)

        There is absolutely NO world where the slight advantage of a fresher power unit is less acceptable than destroying a competitor’s race and equipment.

        1. “Sabotage” is quite the choice of word, there.

      3. Should he be rewarded for hitting a heavy piece of metal that shouldn’t have been able to be there at very high speed? Frankly, yes… Yes he should.
        It wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t do anything to miss it and it could have killed him and anyone very near him. If it had managed to enter the cockpit through the survival cell it split open, or burst the batteries/fuel/oil tanks…. Or bounced up into someone else’s path.. it doesn’t near thinking about.

        So, F1 allowing him to repair his car without penalty is the absolute least they should do.

    2. You can’t change the rules as you go along (and save the 2021 title discussion for another time). Regardless of the reason, Sainz should get a penalty. The finantial side of it is probably going to be sorted, as it did with Haas when they ran over a drain cover a couple of years ago in Malaysia.

  2. Ham not in the running at all. No doubt focussing on his movie scenarios.

    1. Someone will say he’s sacrificing his own performance to test setups for next season, no doubt.

    2. Russel was very close to Max, the speed for 3rd was definately there for Mercedes

  3. The panning shot in the last kink looked really cool. From the approach with the skyline, the big swing showing the great speed; nice!

    The rest, especially onboard, looks awfully grey. But that’s always going to happen if you put hundreds of incredibly bright lights on the track. The dynamic range of a camera sensor can only capture so much of the darker parts when they’re having to expose for multiple floodlights pointing straight at them. They’re going to have to put in a lot of helicopter/drone shots to sell the city vibe they’re going for.

    It’s always great to see Leclerc on form in qualifying. He’ll probably, and unfortunately, add another pole without a win to his already very list – but when it comes to making a car dance around the track in qualifying there aren’t many who can make it look more exciting than Leclerc.

    1. He’ll probably, and unfortunately, add another pole without a win to his already very list – but when it comes to making a car dance around the track in qualifying there aren’t many who can make it look more exciting than Leclerc.

      Agree.. he’s hands down the most impressive qualifier on the grid. His special racedays are slightly more rare though. If he has a Bahrain 2022 kind of fight with Max tomorrow… then it would be exciting for the fans.

    2. Very good point on the grey colours. I did like their helicopter shot of the cars cutting through the Strip, but that’s the only reason they were there in the first place! But the rest of the track just doesn’t look impressive at all.

  4. Both Mclarens eliminated in Q1 is something that hasn’t happened for a little while, so surprising, as were Hamilton’s & Perez’s Q2 eliminations or, more so, the former’s.
    Both Williamses in Q3 were a positive surprise, though.
    The new LV circuit ultimately proved to be only the outright seventh-fastest current circuit rather than third, which I expected beforehand.
    The Sphere section alteration from initial planning had a bigger impact on average lap speed than I could envision.

  5. This track it’s by far the worst in the calendar. You have no idea where they are on track… it’s probably a nice view from the grandstands (if they allow you to watch) with all the building and stuff but from the TV it looks horrible.

    1. Struggling as well, but maybe it needs a bit more time to get used to or rather get familiar to as we’ve not raced this track before.

    2. And it’s also because of the definition of a street circuit; all those horrible Formula E fences make all parts look the same. You could basically run anywhere on the planet since it all looks the same. It’s like a movie prison scene in which inmates are allowed to be outside for a certain period. We will have to get used to it, I am afraid, as Liberty would love to just have street circuits. It’s a wonder (and blessing) they don’t put up those fences in Monaco (yet).

    3. Totally agree. I’ve studied the track map but am failing to figure out where a car is in that concrete tunnel, especially as the cameras are switching around so much. I’m not even sure I’ll watch the race.

  6. I have to say that this circuit is seriously dull.

    Has to be one of the worst tracks F1 runs on right now & is easily top 10 worst F1 tracks of the past 40 or so years.

    And the fact that we were seeing just as many higher shots of the trackside scenery as we were the track action itself tells you everything you need to know about the order of importance of things during this entire farce of a show.

    There simply isn’t anything about this track that is particularly exciting or which looks like it’s any real challenge. It just offers nothing as a track, There’s no thrilling corner or sequence that makes you go ‘wow’ because you know it was a big test of driver skill or anything. It’s just a nothing track that offers nothing.

    According to F1TV commentary they extended the DRS zone on the strip by 50m so maybe we’ll see a lot of DRS-ing but I don’t really find DRS to be all that fun when it tends to be a bit too easy on track configurations like this so that prospect does nothing to excite me.

    Like with Miami & Saudi I just can’t wait for these circuits to fail & vanish into obscurity never to be spoken about again outside of popping up on ‘worst circuit’ lists.

    And thats the thing. Would anyone really be disappointed if Vegas, Miami or Saudi dropped off the 2024 calender? Like with Valencia & Sochi there tracks that nobody would miss & which would be very quickly forgotten because none of them are especially good circuits.

    1. +1 horrible track. Entertaining environment for sure, but not a sporting event, just 100% entertainment monetization. Liberty at its best.

    2. some racing fan
      18th November 2023, 14:04

      I agree 100 percent that Saudi needs to drop off the calendar. In addition to it being in Saudi Arabia, a country with barbaric, medieval laws and atrocious domestic human rights violations the Jeddah circuit is shockingly dangerous- there are tracks from the 1970s that are less dangerous than that place.

      But Miami is a track that with a few alterations would become much better than it is now.

      1. The main alteration needed for the Miami Grand Prix is to move it 650 miles or so to the north and have it at Road Atlanta.

        1. Or go a bit further and end up at Road America at Elkhart Lake…..

  7. This was even worse than I expected, such an incredible boring layout, it looks like it could be anywhere with the night lights and fences. And its just cars blasting down a narrow straight and wrestling the cars around way to slow bends. I dont want to be negative, but i have very low hopes for the race, since i dont enjoy DRS passing very much. I hope im wrong…

    1. @maisch Fear not, the DRS is particularly weak here due to the low downforce.

  8. Everyone will be relieved and excited to go to Yas Marina after this. It’s all part of the plan!

  9. It’s not like there’s thousands of acres of barren desert just outside the city where a nice track could be built, oh wait.

    1. Too late. Plans already touted for a 10,000 acre olympic ice rink in the desert.

  10. Here’s what I’m expecting for the race, big crash turn 1 first lap. Takes hours to fix damage to track. All fans sent back to their hotel rooms and told to watch rest of race on tv. 25% off next year’s race tickets given as compensation.

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