Just as any Formula 1 fan would have predicted, Max Verstappen won the long-awaited Las Vegas Grand Prix. Unlike just about every other Verstappen win in this dominant season, though, this one will be hard to forget.
Verstappen took the lead from second on the start, but he went wide while trying to hold off Charles Leclerc for the position and forced his opponent off track. Spins behind the leaders brought out the virtual safety car, giving the stewards enough time to determine that Verstappen could keep the position but would have to take a five-second time penalty on his next stop. That seemed like a small penalty for the Red Bull that has effortlessly pulled away from the Ferrari so often this year, but Leclerc actually caught and passed Verstappen on track before the end of their tire stint.
That put Verstappen on his back foot for the following stint. Contact between Verstappen and George Russell as he pushed his way back up to Leclerc created a field of debris, which in turn brought out a safety car. It did not take Verstappen out of the race. With a now slightly damaged car, Verstappen roared to third, then passed teammate Sergio Perez for second, then caught and passed Leclerc for the race lead once again. This move was clean, so Verstappen sailed off into the distance to take his 18th win of the season and extend what is looking more and more like an untouchable record for individual wins in a single season.
While Verstappen's day was the most eventful, just about every car on track was involved in a tight battle at one point or another. The track was greasy, cold, and about as poorly designed for keeping heat in tires as possible, but that made for a stellar show as drivers struggled to get up to speed with the event's unique challenges. The most spectacular point on the track, the long back straight along the Las Vegas Strip, was also the spot where so many set up passes into the track's hardest braking zone. It may not be the sort of track drivers like, but the race itself was the most memorable show of a season that has lacked tension in most races. In other words, a far cry from a grand prix in the Caesars Palace parking lot.
Whether or not the event is a success is another story for another day. After a rocky month of questions about hotel prices, drainage covers, and even a lawsuit in the lead-up to the race, the actual grand prix was stellar. That counts for something with racing fans, and it bodes well for the many, many years this race is set to run.
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