Charles Leclerc topped the second practice session for the 2023 Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix, with Carlos Sainz second fastest, as Ferrari are off to a strong start in Sin City.
Finally it can be said that the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend has kicked off, with the extended second practice session completed without any drama, but sadly in front of empty stands, as the fans were asked to leave, the organizers unable to field enough staff to maintain safety and order.
Ferrari looked in good shape from the start, both its drivers featuring at the top of time screens, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – sixth fastest – didn’t seem to be in the zone yet.
But Leclerc looked formidable, over half a second clear of his teammate in second, and also seemed to be in decent form on the long runs.
That also applied for Verstappen who showed strong pace on his race simulations, which is no surprise given the RB19’s superior performance on race days, the trend for this season.
Fernando Alonso completed the top three in the Aston Martin, while Mercedes and McLaren did not seem to be in good shape on the Strip.
Buildup towards FP2
The Las Vegas Grand Prix did not have the best of starts to say the least, as FP1 was cut short, to only ten minutes of running after a failed drain cover hit the bottom of Sainz’s Ferrari.
The #55 SF-23 was damaged beyond repair, requiring a new survival cell, and a fully new power unit with all it’s related accessories, while Alpine’s Esteban Ocon who also suffered damage in FP1 will require a new chassis.
To make matters worse, Sainz was not given any exemption by the stewards and normal penalties applied for the new components Ferrari had to install on his car.
With all the fanfare surrounding this weekend’s race in Las Vegas, the incident that blighted its first day of track running does not bode well for Liberty Media, Formula One, and their latest pet-project.
The problem turned out to be more complicated than simply welding the drain covers, as it seemed the concrete ring in which it is fixed is the problem, which means the need to do some concrete work, which is a time consuming process especially in the cold conditions making it more difficult for the concrete to set.
In the end, track repairs meant FP2 was started after a two-and-a-half-hour delay from the originally scheduled time.
That gave Ferrari enough time to get Sainz’s SF-23 ready for FP2.
After initially announced that FP2 will start at 2:00am local time, race control decided to delay it further by thirty minutes as track work continued.
FP2 started with no fans in the grandstands, as they were reportedly cleared for safety reasons, as the organizers couldn’t provide the required staff to keep them safe. A shame for all these people who paid one of the highest prices for F1 tickets in 2023.
The session started under ambient conditions with temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius, the track at 15 degrees. The McLaren boys lead the way on track on Soft tyres, while Verstappen and Ocon soon followed on Medium tyres.
In the meantime, Norris remained in the McLaren garage as the mechanics seemed to be working on the front right side of his car.
McLaren later confirmed they were adjusting the ride height for both their cars.
Perez reported his tyres are going well with the track, both improving with further running. He soon gets a bit wobbly into Turns 14 and 15, but keeps going.
Alonso seemed less happy with his tyres reporting soon after his rear tyres are gone, excessively graining. It seems the drivers have to find a way to raise their tyre temperatures, some going on two warm-up laps before the timed one.
One of the cars to look out for in Vegas is the Williams in the hand of Alex Albon, which should do well this weekend with the long straights, suitable for the slippery FW45. And indeed, 20 minutes into the session, Albon went third fastest time.
25 minutes into the session, Verstappen bolted the Soft tyres on and head out in track. However, he lost his car at Turn 12, ending up in the run-off area. He tried to brake as late as possible, but the track still hasn’t enough grip.
Earlier Verstappen and Leclerc had a mini-race, on their warm up laps, Leclerc joking over the radio: “Max is racing already.”
With the first 30 minutes done and dusted, the top ten order was: Sainz, Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Albon, Valtteri Bottas, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Magnussen, and Stroll.
The drivers kept on banging laps around Las Vegas and getting used to the track, Pierre Gasly being the latest ending up in the run-off area of Turn 12.
Several drivers were shown the black and white flag for getting their pit entries wrong, not keeping it within the lines.
Halfway through this extended second practice session (45/90 mins)
The times kept on tumbling as the track rubbered up, with some drivers going for another set of new Soft tyres, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, and Leclerc to name a few.
Verstappen tops the timings briefly, only for Leclerc to go even faster moments later by a whopping six tenths, before the Dutchman shaves a couple of tenths off the gap. Ferrari are looking good this weekend, as Sainz soon drops Verstappen to third.
Russell misjudged his braking into Turn 5, but gets saved by the run-off area. He just caused a brief Yellow flag. Magnussen has a close moment with a Williams while on flyer, A close call, but no contact.
While the teams seemed to still be working on qualifying runs, Mercedes were already on their race simulations. That was 25 minute from the end.
Alonso, with 23 minutes remaining, started a great lap, posting a purple first sector only to lock up into Turn 12, ending up in the run-off area and losing that lap.
In the final 20 minutes, Verstappen started his race simulations, and soon other drivers followed suit, and that was how things kept going till the end of the session.
In the final five minutes, Logan Sargeant brought up the final Yellow flag messing up his Turn 5.
How they finished
Leclerc posted a 1:35.265 to go fastest of all, 0.517s faster than teammate Sainz, who was second fastest, but will drop ten places on Sunday’s race grid following his penalty.
Alonso was third fastest in the Aston Martin, 0.011s behind Sainz and almost three tenths faster than Perez who was fourth fastest.
Bottas was fifth fastest, 0.044s behind Perez and 0.054s ahead of Verstappen, the triple F1 Champion only sixth in the #1 Red Bull.
Nico Hulkenberg was seventh fastest in the Haas, 1.224s off the pace and 0.007s ahead of Stroll, eighth in the Aston Martin.
Hamilton was ninth fastest in the Mercedes, 1.398s down from Leclerc’s session-topping time and ahead of albon who was tenth.
Norris and Piastri were 11th and 14th respectively on a tough day for the Woking squad.