Formula 1’s Saturday night spectacular in Las Vegas is probably the most-hyped Grand Prix of all time but Red Bull’s triple world champion Max Verstappen has a job to do and he will not be distracted and begging the question: New venue, same old story?
Even if the casinos and hotels of Sin City and its famed Strip grab most of the limelight, the Dutch 26-year-old still has milestones to pass and records to break in the most dominant of seasons.
Victory in Nevada would be the 53rd of his career, equalling the tally of four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel and lifting Verstappen to joint third in the all-time win lists. Only Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.
It would also be a record-extending 18th from a single campaign, with one more race to come in Abu Dhabi the following weekend. Season records for podiums, points and laps led will have to be adjusted.
A 20th win of the season for Red Bull would also be a record, with the team currently tied with Mercedes who won 19 races in 2016.
Verstappen, who clinched his third F1 Title in Qatar last month, will be the favourite again even if many questions remain to be answered about the track layout, low temperatures, surface conditions and timetable.
Qualifying for the race starts at midnight on Friday with the race at 10pm on Saturday – the latest start in F1 history and one designed to show off the neon-lit city skyline to maximum effect.
The 17-corner anti-clockwise track is the second longest on the current calendar, a 6.2km blast past local landmarks with a 1.9km flat-out straight and a mix of old and new asphalt.
Verstappen: I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again
“First of all,” ventured Verstappen. “I think we are there more for the show than the racing itself if you look at the layout of the track, but you know, I’m actually not that into it. I’m more like ‘I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again’.”
Teammate Sergio Perez can finally clinch second place in the championship, which would be the first time Red Bull have finished a season with their drivers one-two in the standings.
The Mexican is 32 points clear of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, with 26 remaining to be won after Las Vegas. If another Verstappen victory comes as no surprise, it cannot be considered a given.
Any new event on the calendar has a strong element of the unpredictable, and all teams will be in the same position of entering the unknown.
“We have prepared the best we can, using the limited information we have, and there are some unique characteristics we can anticipate,” said Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, whose team are still battling Ferrari for second overall.
“We’ll be running at night, where ambient and track temperatures will likely be in the single digits. Plus, the track layout itself is unusual with many slow corners but long straights. It’s going to be a big challenge for us all and we’re looking forward to taking it on,” added Wolff.
The coldest race on record in Formula One world championship history was the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal where temperatures that October dropped to five degrees Celsius. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)
Las Vegas Grand Prix Facts & Stats by Reuters
Round 21 of the 22-round championship FIA Formula 1 World Championship
Lap distance: 6.201km. Total distance: 310.050km (50 laps)
No previous race on this circuit
Start time: 0600GMT Sunday/2200 local Saturday
Las Vegas has previously held two championship races, in 1981 and 1982 as the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. Both were season-enders and title-deciders.
Australian Alan Jones won in 1981 with Williams and Italian Michele Alboreto in 1982 with Tyrrell.
The new 6.2km track is the second longest on the current calendar and includes the famed Strip and central landmarks. Mercedes say their simulations suggest top speeds will be second only to Monza.
The race is the third this year in the United States, but the first night race there.
It will be the first time since South Africa in 1985 that a grand prix has been held on a Saturday.
Qualifying starts at midnight on Friday, making it the first grand prix since Japan 2019 where pole is decided on the same day as the race. The start will be the latest in F1 history.
The new Las Vegas circuit will be the 12th to host a U.S. round of the championship and 79th in F1 history.
Sergio Perez can seal second place overall for Red Bull, which would be the first time the team have finished a season with their drivers first and second.
Verstappen can take a record-extending 18th win of the season and record 20th podium.
Red Bull are chasing a record 20th win of the season, one more than Mercedes managed in 2016.
McLaren’s Lando Norris can take an unwanted record of 14 top-three finishes without a win.
Wins, Pole Positions, Podiums & Fastest Laps
Verstappen has won 17 of 20 races and has 52 wins from 182 starts, putting him fourth on the all-time list. One more win will put him joint third with Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull have won 19 races, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz winning in Singapore. Red Bull have also had a team record six one-two finishes in 2023.
Hamilton has a record 103 victories from 330 starts but has not won since Saudi Arabia in December 2021. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso has 32 wins, most recently in Spain in 2013 with Ferrari, from a record 375 starts.
Hamilton has a record 104 poles.
Red Bull have been on pole 13 times this season.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took the top slot in Azerbaijan, Belgium, Austin and Mexico.
Hamilton in Hungary and Sainz in Italy and Singapore.
Verstappen has 11 poles for 2023.
Six teams and 11 drivers have made a podium appearance this season: Red Bull, Alpine, Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Verstappen has been off the podium only once since Brazil last November.
Verstappen holds the record for most podiums in a season — 19 this year.
Nine different drivers have taken fastest laps this season – Alonso, Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou, Verstappen (8), Perez (2), Hamilton (4), Russell, McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.