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Other SportsLas Vegas Grand Prix preview: Race for second the focus as Hamilton...

Las Vegas Grand Prix preview: Race for second the focus as Hamilton battles Perez in Sin City

They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. That won’t be the case this weekend, however, with the eyes of the world on Sin City as Formula One returns for the first time since 1982.

The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix won’t be the first F1 race to take place in the city, with the Caesars Palace Grand Prix running in 1981 and 1982, but things will be different – and certainly bigger – this time around.

Not everyone has been taken by F1’s attempts to make waves in the American market with the glitziest event of the season, and the third to take place in the United States.

World champion Max Verstappen, seemingly unimpressed by an opening ceremony featuring performances from Kylie Minogue and will.i.am, described the weekend as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sporting event”.

Others have a feeling it’s going to be a good, good night when the race begins at 10pm local time on Saturday, a novelty which could present particular challenges for the teams given the expectation of single-digit temperatures. At five degrees Celsius, the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix holds the title of coldest race in F1 history.

The new street circuit, which has taken nine months to prepare and has caused major inconvenience for many Vegas residents, is being described as a potential leveller in a season which has seen Red Bull win 19 of 20 races.

Indeed, the last race to take place at a street track – September’s Singapore Grand Prix – brought Red Bull’s only defeat of the campaign as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz clinched victory on a weekend which saw the champion constructors struggle.

Asked to assess Ferrari’s chances in Nevada, Sainz said: “Better hopes than recently, mainly because the track looks a bit more suited to us than recent tracks. Long straights, like in Monza. Tight corners, like in Monza or Singapore.”

Ferrari will be involved in one of the major battles to take place this weekend, with second-place finishes up for grabs in both the constructors’ and drivers’ championships. On the latter front, Lewis Hamilton needs a positive result to take his duel with Sergio Perez to the final race of 2023.

Verstappen may not be overly excited about one of the biggest events in F1 history, but with glamour, razzmatazz and intriguing storylines everywhere you look, he’s in the minority.

THE BIG STORY

We may not have a title battle on our hands, with Verstappen equalling Michael Schumacher’s benchmark of capturing the championship with six races remaining last month, but there is still plenty of intrigue for fans.

Verstappen’s team-mate Perez will be looking to clinch second in the drivers’ championship – which would be a career-best finish – in the desert. He begins the weekend 32 points clear of Hamilton, who must outscore his rival by seven points to keep the battle for silver alive going into next week’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Perez knows his third win of the year would be enough, but he shouldn’t expect any help from Verstappen as Red Bull target their first season one-two.

Team principal Christian Horner has said there is no chance of the champion playing a supporting role, particularly as Verstappen’s next victory will be his 53rd in F1, putting him joint-third in the all-time Grand Prix winners’ standings, level with Sebastian Vettel and behind only Schumacher (91) and Hamilton (103).

THE SUBPLOTS

Hamilton is eyeing individual and team success this weekend, with Mercedes desperately trying to hold off Ferrari for second in the constructors’ championship, which would represent a notable achievement given the reliability issues with their W14 car.

The seven-time world champion also needs to be wary of those behind him in the drivers’ standings, with Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris both chasing a top-three spot. Alonso looked like a serious contender for second earlier in the year, while Norris has finished second six times in the last 11 races, aided by Perez’s inconsistency and Ferrari’s struggles.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

Vegas, baby! The new street circuit takes in a 1.4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard – popularly known as The Strip – and will be lined by many of the city’s recognisable landmarks.

The start line and run from Turn One to Turn Four is located within a permanent race area, part of a long-term plan after the city signed a 10-year agreement to stage the race. F1’s owners Liberty Media have invested an estimated $500million to make the event happen.

With part of The Strip being entirely taken over by F1 for the weekend, the Venetian Resort, Harrah’s, The Mirage, Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas and Bellagio will all be passed by the drivers, who are expected to post average speeds of 237 kilometres per hour, potentially reaching 342 km/h down the sweeping main straight.

Some have even suggested the circuit could see speeds rivalling those at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza – the fastest on the schedule.

WHAT HAS BEEN SAID?

Hamilton on the decision to stage a race in Las Vegas: “The sport continues to grow and is a business ultimately. I think you will still see good racing here.

“Maybe the track will be good, maybe it will be bad. It was so-so on the simulator! It’s definitely not Silverstone but don’t knock it until you try it.”

Reigning world champion Verstappen: “A street circuit is not very exciting, especially with these new cars. They’re just too heavy, especially also when you have low grip, that doesn’t help.

“Of course, it will be great driving through The Strip, but then the layout itself is not the most exciting, I think. An F1 car is a lot more fun with a lot of high-speed corners.”

WHEN?

The drivers take to the track at 20:30 local time on Thursday for first practice, returning at 00:00 and 20:30 on Friday. Qualifying starts at 00:00 Vegas time on Saturday, with the race beginning at 22:00.

Harry Carr
Harry Carr
Harry is a freelance sports journalist with experience of working for the Racing Post, Stats Perform, Opta Analyst and more, covering major events across all sports but holding a particular love for the beautiful game.
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