Formula One: what do the drivers think of the 2023 Las Vegas GP?
Here's what Russell, Hamilton, Ocon, Leclerc and Verstappen make of F1's newest addition
George Russell is glowing, and it’s not because he’s sitting under a neon sign. Vegas, of course, pulses at night and even the names above the teams’ hospitality suites are shimmering. It’s nicely done, never mind the Elvis impersonators who are wandering about enhancing – if that’s the word – a generally surreal atmosphere.
“I’ve been on the road for seven weeks prior to this race, so I had a small stop-over in the Caribbean,” he tells TopGear.com. “December and January are busy too so I thought I’d have a breather.”
Good call. Although anticipation for the Vegas GP is sky high, this is another nocturnal race and everyone is battling jet-lag and the lingering temporal disruption of the recent triple-header. Says Russell: “4000 people travel in this circus and it’s a lot of time away from family. And with the time zone shifts, too, it’s pretty brutal on the body, especially with back-to-back races in Singapore and Japan, and here and Abu Dhabi.
“Australia used to be the craziest in terms of jetlag and you’d try to prepare a week in advance by moving one hour per night even before you travel. You’re not operating at your peak performance but it’s part of the job and everyone’s in the same boat. So the way I see it is it offers an opportunity to do something better than the competitors.”
So there you have it. George is seeking a competitive advantage even while he’s sleeping. Alpine F1 driver Esteban Ocon, meanwhile, tells me he has a physio who also doubles as a jet-lag expert. “It’s about how much effort you put in. If you want to live with your family and the people around you, you can’t make the switch to strange hours that you need to make, because you’re not going to see them during the day.”
The innately odd nature of the Vegas GP was deepened when the first practice session was suspended after less than nine minutes, following an incident which saw Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari hit a loose manhole cover. Esteban Ocon’s Alpine was also badly damaged. Something similar happened in Baku in 2019, when George Russell’s Williams was damaged.
It was a situation that prompted more grumbling from some quarters about the validity of the race, and the preparedness of the organisers – F1’s owner Liberty, in this instance. Ferrari Team Principal Fred Vasseur described the situation as “unacceptable”, and added, “I am very happy with what Liberty did around the race but we have to separate the show and the sporting side".
But Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff let rip at a journalist in a news conference when the dodgy optics were broached. “How can you even dare try to talk bad about an event that sets new standards to everything? And then you’re speaking about a f***ing drain cover that’s been undone. That has happened before… Liberty has done an awesome job and just because in FP1 a drain cover has become undone we shouldn’t be moaning. For Carlos it could have been dangerous, so between the FIA and the track everybody needs to analyse how we can make sure this is not happening again. But talking about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening? Nobody watches that in European time anyway. Come on.”
Perhaps tetchy with tiredness, Wolff nonetheless has a point. There were always going to be teething problems with this race, as there are with any new event. Of course, we should all be grateful that neither Sainz nor Ocon were hurt. But even without the glitzy opening ceremony, the work done on the all-new paddock complex is astounding, and the track itself is fast, dramatic and seems to have impressed the drivers.
Well, most of them. Charles Leclerc topped the second session – which started at 2.30am local time, a novel event even in Sin City – with a time of 1m 35.265, ahead of team-mate Sainz, who owes his mechanics a few drinks for repairing his car so swiftly. “It looks good for now,” Leclerc noted. “I like the track, it’s fun to drive. I always liked street tracks but this is a good one. We look quite strong for now.” Ferrari has serious pace on the straights here: Leclerc was 0.7secs faster than anyone in sector three.
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter. Look out for your regular round-up of news, reviews and offers in your inbox.
Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.
Added Hamilton: “We’re travelling at some serious speeds out there. It’s incredibly fast and it’s a lot of fun.”
World Champion Max Verstappen remains sniffy about the race, and wound up P6 in the late-running session. Needless to say, only a fool would count him or Red Bull out at this stage. “I think the soft tyre over one lap is good,” Verstappen said. “The long run was a bit more difficult. We have to look to see how we can improve our deg[radation] on the long.”
TopGear.com is here all weekend, albeit addled senseless with jet-lag. More to come as we get it, but this is a rapid, intriguing track in a nuts city. We predict action aplenty.