Why Leclerc sees Las Vegas as Ferrari’s best chance to win since Singapore

2023 Las Vegas GP pre-race analysis

Posted on

| Written by

The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino sits in the heart of Las Vegas is just a mile away from the world famous strip.

Long after Formula 1 left behind the ugly, unpopular Ceasars Palace circuit, Las Vegas would, decades later, again see some major names in international motorsport all racing in Sin City.

For many years, the Rio hotel was host of the SuperNationals karting festival – a major event on the karting calendar in the United States of America that brought some of the best young talent from Europe and beyond to compete. And in 2012, SuperNationals two prodigious young drivers were among the hundreds who rocked up to the Rio – Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.

While racing in different categories, both left quite an impression when they left Las Vegas. Both secured pole position in their respective categories – Leclerc in the TaG Senior class, Verstappen in the KZ2. Neither would go on to win their respective main events. Leclerc finished fourth after a recovery drive, Verstappen suffered a kart problem that dropped him from the lead.

Now, 11 years later, both drivers are eager to right the wrongs of history and leave as the winner of the biggest motorsport event ever held in the city of Las Vegas.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023
Leclerc has been on it all weekend
It’s only fitting that these two lifelong rivals will occupy the front row of the grid for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. Arguably the two most successful drivers of F1’s ground effect era to date, both Leclerc and Verstappen are the perfect representation of Formula 1’s present. A blockbuster blow-for-blow battle between them would be the perfect way for F1’s biggest ever grand prix to play out in front of the US and the world watching on – particularly after Thursday’s shaky start to the newest grand prix on the calendar.

Leclerc did not nab pole from the world champion against the run of play. He was the consistent pace-setter through the weekend and converted his potential into pole. The Ferrari was ahead of the Red Bull on their respective quickest Q3 laps from the moment Verstappen hit the brake pedal for the first corner – mere metres before Leclerc did. But while beating Verstappen over 50 laps is much more difficult than doing it over just six kilometres, Leclerc seems genuinely boosted by his pole.

“The confidence is high because we are starting first,” he said. “It’s the best position to start from.

“On the other hand, we know that Red Bull is going to be very strong, and Max obviously is going to be very strong in race pace. But I feel like we’ve had positive signs this weekend on the high fuel, more than other races, so I hope we can convert that pole position into a win.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

While Leclerc start from pole position for the fifth time in 2023 – easily the most of anyone after Verstappen, he has so far been unable to convert any of them into victories. But while Red Bull were beatable in qualifying, Verstappen has plenty of reason for confidence heading into the race.

Sainz lost his front row spot
“The whole weekend I think we were not strong enough over one lap, so no real surprises there,” he said. “Yesterday, I think the long runs looked good, so hopefully that will be the same in the race.”

But this should really have been a triple-threat match-up. Leclerc’s Ferrari team mate, Carlos Sainz Jnr, originally claimed the front grid slot that Verstappen will occupy on Saturday evening, but will start from 12th on the grid after being hit by a controversial 10-place grid penalty.

He’s not the only driver who considers it wrong he has been penalised for exceeding his power unit parts allocation due to damage incurred when he hit an unsecured water valve cover during the first practice session. It’s little wonder that Sainz was salty to be denied the opportunity to start up front for such a marquee event.

“I have people that have never come to a race that are still asking me why I’m getting a penalty for what happened,” Sainz said. “And they’ve never been to an F1 race.”

During the long runs in the extended second practice session, Verstappen set the best pace of anyone on the medium compound rubber with a 1’39.5 average lap time. That made him marginally quicker than Sainz – only compounding Ferrari’s frustrations – while Leclerc’s pace gave him an average lap time of a 1’40.2. That was quicker than Sergio Perez managed during his own 10-lap run on the mediums late in second practice. But he will start outside the top 10 once again, being the last driver to benefit from Sainz’s penalty, taking 11th on the grid.

The start of a grand prix is always critical, but Las Vegas will likely prove one of the most challenging of the season. So low is the level of grip, Mercedes’ George Russell, who starts third, suggested that “the track’s going to be a disaster in this first five laps of the race.”

Thanks to the curtailment of the first practice session and Alexander Albon’s crash at the end of the third, the field head into the race with just a single practice start under their belt from the end of second practice, leaving them with limited data to work from. And with a cool track expected with a natural low grip level of a new street circuit, Verstappen expects those who start on the outside of the grid on the racing line to have a significant advantage.

“I think it’s a bit like Austin when it was the first race, there it was also very bad on the inside,” Verstappen explained. “So that’s not ideal.

“Luckily the run to turn one is not too bad. But if you have a bad start, you can still lose a lot of positions. So we’ll work on that tomorrow.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The weekend so far has been dominated by tyre warm-up determining the best performance over a single lap and tyre wear impacting performance over the long runs. Lewis Hamilton complained his rear tyres were finished after just 14 laps on the mediums in second practice, yet Verstappen was able to catch up to the Mercedes on his own long run despite being on tyres three laps older than Hamilton’s, demonstrating the Red Bull’s superior tyre management.

Graining has been a headache for teams – especially Mercedes
But drivers have been complaining about graining in all sessions, with Albon claiming that Pirelli’s above-average minimum tyre pressures for this weekend has only exacerbated graining. But Pirelli’s Mario Isola says it’s all about who can keep their discipline with their right foot onto the many straights drivers will be running down during the race.

“If you slide a little bit more, you accelerate the issue,” Isola explained. “It’s probably more important to keep a good traction here because you don’t have high-speed corners. You need the traction out of the slow corners. So if you are able to keep good traction and protect the rear tyre, then you can work around the understeer. But it’s probably better to have graining on the front rather than the rear.”

With the degradation, Pirelli expect drivers to stop at least twice during the grand prix and to stay away from the soft compound – unless the track surface improves considerably in the latter stages of the race. That will likely lock the field in to starting on mediums to avoid losing ground over what is likely to be a very low-grip start as it is, before switching to the hards for the final two stints. But third-placed Russell expects the tyre situation will likely play into Ferrari’s hands.

“Ferrari look in a league of their own, they haven’t had any graining, they’ve been super-fast in the high fuel,” Russell said.

“But equally as the track grips up tomorrow maybe we’ll see graining in stint one but you won’t see it in stint two and three because the track is probably going to be probably three seconds quicker in the last laps, compared to the early laps, probably even more because we’ve got no support series.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The low grip and close barriers around the Las Vegas Strip Circuit would typically be a recipe for chaos with multiple Safety Cars or even red flag interruptions, yet so far only one driver has struck the wall in any significant way over the three major sessions completed over the weekend. Some drivers, including Russell, have questioned whether DRS will be enough of an advantage with most cars running low downforce packages to enable overtaking down the Strip. But practice indicated opening DRS should allow for more than enough of a speed advantage to pull alongside – and the zone on the Strip was extended by 50 metres ahead of Saturday’s running.

The first run to turn one could prove tricky
Even if Leclerc can keep ahead of Verstappen in the opening laps, he’s led enough grands prix with Verstappen behind him to know what the most likely outcome will be. However, based on what he has shown so far over the weekend, it seems this truly could be Leclerc’s best chance of beating Verstappen in a straight fight all season. And he knows it.

“In Singapore, in some places, you can drive one-and-a-half or two seconds off the pace and still the cars behind cannot overtake,” he said. “Here it’s going to be very, very different and pace will have a much more important role in the race

“Not to say that we are stronger in race pace compare to Max, but I think we are closer than other races. So if there is one race to win since Singapore, it’s this one and I’ll obviously give it all.”

But just like no one can know for sure who holds the best hand until the betting is done at the poker table, we will only get our answers about what kind of grand prix Las Vegas will be as the race itself plays out. And that’s just how Verstappen likes it.

“I think it will depend a lot on who can keep the tyres alive or whoever grains their tyres more,” he said.” So we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow.

“That’s the beautiful thing, there’s no sprint race to find out.”

Qualifying times in full

P.DriverTeamQ1Q2 (v Q1)Q3 (v Q2)
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’33.6171’32.775 (-0.842s)1’32.726 (-0.049s)
2Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’33.8511’33.338 (-0.513s)1’32.770 (-0.568s)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’34.1901’33.572 (-0.618s)1’33.104 (-0.468s)
4George RussellMercedes1’34.1371’33.351 (-0.786s)1’33.112 (-0.239s)
5Pierre GaslyAlpine1’34.2721’33.494 (-0.778s)1’33.239 (-0.255s)
6Alexander AlbonWilliams1’34.6341’33.588 (-1.046s)1’33.323 (-0.265s)
7Logan SargeantWilliams1’34.5251’33.733 (-0.792s)1’33.513 (-0.220s)
8Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo1’34.3051’33.809 (-0.496s)1’33.525 (-0.284s)
9Kevin MagnussenHaas1’34.3371’33.664 (-0.673s)1’33.537 (-0.127s)
10Fernando AlonsoAston Martin1’34.4221’33.617 (-0.805s)1’33.555 (-0.062s)
11Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’34.3071’33.837 (-0.470s)Missed by 0.028s
12Sergio PerezRed Bull1’34.5741’33.855 (-0.719s)Missed by 0.046s
13Nico HulkenbergHaas1’34.2651’33.979 (-0.286s)Missed by 0.170s
14Lance StrollAston Martin1’34.5041’34.199 (-0.305s)Missed by 0.390s
15Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri1’34.6831’34.308 (-0.375s)Missed by 0.499s
16Lando NorrisMcLaren1’34.703Missed by 0.020s
17Esteban OconAlpine1’34.834Missed by 0.151s
18Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo1’34.849Missed by 0.166s
19Oscar PiastriMcLaren1’34.850Missed by 0.167s
20Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’36.447Missed by 1.764s

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Sector times

P.#DriverS1S2S3Ultimate lap (deficit)
116Charles Leclerc26.079 (1)30.647 (1)35.85 (7)1’32.576 (+0.150)
255Carlos Sainz Jnr26.157 (2)30.772 (2)35.74 (2)1’32.669 (+0.101)
31Max Verstappen26.289 (4)30.828 (3)35.958 (11)1’33.075 (+0.029)
463George Russell26.364 (5)30.99 (5)35.758 (5)1’33.112
510Pierre Gasly26.415 (7)31.019 (7)35.75 (3)1’33.184 (+0.055)
623Alexander Albon26.576 (10)31.008 (6)35.727 (1)1’33.311 (+0.012)
714Fernando Alonso26.483 (8)31.106 (9)35.861 (8)1’33.450 (+0.105)
820Kevin Magnussen26.248 (3)30.966 (4)36.236 (18)1’33.450 (+0.087)
977Valtteri Bottas26.393 (6)31.141 (12)35.918 (9)1’33.452 (+0.073)
102Logan Sargeant26.605 (11)31.106 (9)35.802 (6)1’33.513
1144Lewis Hamilton26.831 (14)31.187 (13)35.752 (4)1’33.770 (+0.067)
1227Nico Hulkenberg26.55 (9)31.107 (11)36.127 (14)1’33.784 (+0.195)
1311Sergio Perez26.627 (12)31.043 (8)36.185 (15)1’33.855
1418Lance Stroll26.722 (13)31.265 (16)36.212 (16)1’34.199
153Daniel Ricciardo27.132 (18)31.202 (14)35.957 (10)1’34.291 (+0.017)
1631Esteban Ocon27.098 (17)31.227 (15)36.005 (12)1’34.330 (+0.504)
174Lando Norris26.851 (15)31.483 (17)36.352 (19)1’34.686 (+0.017)
1881Oscar Piastri26.884 (16)31.669 (19)36.219 (17)1’34.772 (+0.078)
1924Zhou Guanyu27.161 (19)31.568 (18)36.085 (13)1’34.814 (+0.035)
2022Yuki Tsunoda27.724 (20)32.222 (20)36.429 (20)1’36.375 (+0.072)

Speed trap

P.#DriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
111Sergio PerezRed BullHonda RBPTRB19348.3 (216.4)
263George RussellMercedesMercedesW14348.1 (216.3)
32Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45347.8 (216.1)
477Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43347.7 (216.1)
51Max VerstappenRed BullHonda RBPTRB19347.1 (215.7)
610Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523346.1 (215.1)
755Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23345.9 (214.9)
816Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23345.3 (214.6)
923Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45344.9 (214.3)
1044Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14344.8 (214.2)
1114Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23344.7 (214.2)
123Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04342.9 (213.1)
1327Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23342.4 (212.8)
1420Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23341.5 (212.2)
1518Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23340.6 (211.6)
1681Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60340.3 (211.5)
1722Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04340.1 (211.3)
184Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60338.7 (210.5)
1931Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523338.2 (210.1)
2024Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43331.1 (205.7)

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Over to you

Will Leclerc finally get one over Verstappen in Las Vegas? Share your views on the Las Vegas Grand Prix in the comments.

2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix

Browse all 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix articles

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

7 comments on “Why Leclerc sees Las Vegas as Ferrari’s best chance to win since Singapore”

  1. This is a daring headline!

  2. I bet leclerc does think he has a chance, Ferrari may think otherwise

  3. He’s going to bin it on the first lap, isn’t he? I’d love to see leclerc win though but I feel he’ll do something disastrous.

    1. I think he’ll win only cause he’ll have little pressure. The Ferrari is genuinely faster here, unless RBR set their car more radically toward the race than they already usually do. It’d be a good decision cause there are bound to be safety cars.

    2. I just investigated. Seeing Leclerc’s quali pace, RBR did go radically toward a race set up. Charles is toast.

  4. Will Leclerc finally get one over Verstappen in Las Vegas? – No.
    Good that Strip’s activation zone got extended a little, which was a positive surprise as I thought such changes couldn’t be done during an event anymore since the 2018 Russian GP, although probably unimpactful anyway.

    1. More appropriate question is can Charles finish within 15 seconds (assuming he doesn’t bin it)?

Comments are closed.