Charles Leclerc wasn’t expecting the Las Vegas Grand Prix to be an outstanding Formula One race.
The Ferrari driver, who set the fastest time in all the practice sessions and qualifying, said he spent most of the delayed second practice session trailing Mercedes’ George Russell. Leclerc struggled to overtake him and worried it was a sign of how the race was going to run.
Instead, Leclerc found the inaugural Grand Prix surprisingly fun.
“I really enjoyed it,” Leclerc said. “I’m especially happy to see that we finished the weekend on a high note because it was hurting me to see the sport I love so much starting from the wrong foot on Thursday (with damage to the track that delayed practice).
“But the fact that we had an amazing race, I think makes it all up, and I’m happy with that.”
Leclerc finished second late Saturday, and was one of several drivers pleasantly surprised with the race and the track.
Max Verstappen, who claimed the win for Red Bull, said the Las Vegas Street Circuit always had the ingredients for an enjoyable race, despite his reservations surrounding the event.
Verstappen said the long straights, slip-streaming opportunities and low-speed corners made for entertaining racing, along with several opportunities to draft. Low degradation for the hard tires also kept the race enjoyable.
“I always expected it to be a good race today,” Verstappen said. “Like I said before, long straights, low-speed corners, you don’t use a lot of downforce, so that has never been my issue.”
Added Russell, who finished eighth for Mercedes: “The track was actually a lot better to drive than I anticipated. It looked pretty basic on the track map, but it’s actually got quite a bit of character, really challenging circuit to drive.”
While the track provided fun racing, there were aspects of the circuit drivers hope will change in the future. Many drivers complained about the lack of grip the track provided, and low temperatures also made safety car (caution) situations extremely challenging.
Throughout the week, drivers compared the Las Vegas Street Circuit to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which is run on a street course in Baku. AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo, however, compared the race to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Ricciardo said Jeddah has managed to create a good racing surface despite being a street circuit and hopes similar treatments can be done for Las Vegas in the future to increase grip.
“That’s kind of what makes Saudi actually quite a good track to drive,” Ricciardo said. “Yes, it’s fast, it’s a street circuit, but you can really throw the car in. Here, you feel like you’re kind of on top of the surface.”
Ricciardo said he enjoyed the weekend, but he did have other problems. He said the track was a bit bumpy and his car suffered porpoising — bouncing up and down — for the first time this season. Russell added his tires were “rock solid” during the safety car restart because they got so cold, which was dangerous when coupled with the limited grip from the track.
Tire temperatures in general were difficult to maintain because of the cold weather, with Ricciardo and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly calling safety car situations “sketchy.” Red Bull’s Sergio Perez suggested hosting other events — so-called support-class races — during the weekend to help the track evolve quicker.
One solution all the drivers seem interested in is moving the time of the race earlier than Saturday’s 10 p.m. start.
This issue will intensify next year, as the Las Vegas Grand Prix kicks off three consecutive weeks of racing, immediately followed by the Qatar and Abu Dhabi races. The quick travel through multiple time zones with races at all hours of the day leaves drivers drained, they said.
“I don’t know what they can do with track opening times, but if they do have flexibility, yes I think for everyone’s health and safety, bring it forward,” Ricciardo said. “Maybe a bit of temperature, but everybody would be operating with a little more juice in the tank.”