Max Verstappen’s greatness will be on display at the Las Vegas Grand Prix

Before we dive into the major on-track storylines for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, we need to start with the biggest storyline of the entire race.

The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix itself.

The race marks the latest move by Formula 1 into the emerging United States market. With the addition of the race, the United States now sees three races, most for any nation. Only Italy was slated to have two races this year, the Italian Grand Prix and the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. However, the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix was canceled earlier this year due to flooding in the region.

Last year F1 added the Miami Grand Prix to the calendar, and the second edition of that race was held this past May. But Las Vegas offers something different. It offers the potential of a US version of the Monaco Grand Prix, with the glitz, glamour, and celebrity that Las Vegas can provide.

It also offers the potential for some of the most stunning visuals of the F1 season. After all, this is going to be a night race along the Las Vegas strip, with F1 cars rocketing past some of Sin City’s most iconic images: The Fountains at the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, and the all-new Sphere:

If the Las Vegas Grand Prix delivers on all that it promises, it may become a destination event each F1 season.

Having that in the United States will give a massive boost to the sport’s ongoing efforts to break through in America.

The fight between Mercedes and Ferrari

With both Red Bull and Max Verstappen having clinched the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, respectively, Las Vegas will not witness a team or a driver clinch a title.

But it may play a huge role in deciding a few different battles on the grid, including the critical fight between Mercedes and Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship.

Following the São Paulo Grand Prix, just 20 points separate the two teams, with Mercedes currently holding the advantage. Ferrari inched closer to the Silver Arrows last Sunday, after Carlos Sainz Jr. finished in sixth place, ahead of both Lewis Hamilton — who finished in eight place — and George Russell, who retired with a mechanical failure.

So on a day where Ferrari only had one driver on the track, thanks to Charles Leclerc experiencing a failure on the formation lap, they still moved two points closer to Mercedes.

From Ferrari’s perspective, they might feel Las Vegas is a circuit that will favor them, given how the track in Sin City is expected to be very fast, and full of some long straights, including the longest on the F1 schedule. That should play to the SF-23, as the W14 has struggled with straight-line speed in recent weeks.

For Mercedes fans, if you are looking for comfort you might find it in this fact: The race between these two rivals has been largely static since Singapore in September. Following the Singapore Grand Prix — which saw Sainz secure the first non-Red Bull victory of the season while Russell crashed in the closing stages, ending his podium hopes — Mercedes had a 24-point lead.

Even with the ups and downs of the past few weeks, that lead is still 20 points, as depicted here thanks to Formula1Points:

Can Ferrari catch Mercedes in Sin City, or will they simply run out of time?

The fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Pérez

The battle between Mercedes and Ferrari is not the only second-place fight on the docket for Las Vegas.

Over on the Drivers’ side of things, Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez has a 32-point lead over Hamilton, thanks to his fourth-place finish last Sunday in the São Paulo Grand Prix. That result, coupled with Hamilton’s fourth-place finish, saw Pérez pull 12 points further away from the Mercedes driver in this battle.

It is mathematically possible for Pérez to clinch second in Las Vegas. Under F1’s scoring system, the most a driver can score in a given race is 26 points: 25 for winning the race, and an extra bonus point for finishing with the fastest lap. This means that if Pérez leaves Las Vegas with at least a 27-point lead, it will be impossible for Hamilton to catch him in the final race at Abu Dhabi.

Let’s visit a hypothetical world where Hamilton places second in the Las Vegas Grand Prix, without posting the fastest lap. That result would secure him 18 points, closing to within 14 points of Pérez.

But if Pérez were to finish right behind Hamilton in third place, he would pick up 15 points for his effort, increasing that gap to an insurmountable 29 points.

You can work through various permutations, given that under F1 scoring the race winner secures 25 points, the second-place finisher 18 points, with 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 points for positions P3 through P10, respectively.

Why does this fight matter? Well, beyond bragging rights how much it matters may depend on who you talk to. Pérez’s future with Red Bull has been a constant point of discussion this season, as the driver remains under contract through the 2024 season but as is often the case with the team, the second seat is a lightning rod of discussion. At various points this year his future seemed tied to holding on for second ahead of Hamilton.

Red Bull has consistently brushed those notions aside, but one would believe his future would be less in doubt if he indeed finishes second to Verstappen, an accomplishment Red Bull has never done before.

The fight for seventh

The respective second-place battles will likely grab the bulk of attention ahead of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, but perhaps the most fascinating fight is taking place at the back of the field.

That is where a four-way fight between Williams, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, and Haas is shaping up.

Coming out of the summer shutdown this looked to be a three-team fight, as Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Haas began the second half of the season clustered together. Haas and Williams were tied with 11 points each, and Alfa Romeo was just behind them with 9 points on the year.

That’s when Williams pulled ahead, thanks to Alexander Albon. An eighth-place finish at the Dutch Grand Prix banked four critical points for the team, and he followed that up with a strong seventh-place finish at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix.

Alfa Romeo pulled in behind them, leapfrogging Haas thanks to a double-points result at the Qatar Grand prix, where Valtteri Bottas finished in eighth place while teammate Zhou Guanyu finished right behind him in ninth.

But in recent weeks, AlphaTauri has emerged from the bottom of the table to pull themselves ahead of both Haas and Alfa Romeo, getting themselves back in this fight. The tripleheader was very kind to them, starting with the United States Grand Prix. Yuki Tsunoda added five points in Austin, thanks to an eighth-place finish (plus the bonus point for the fastest lap) and teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s seventh-place finish in Mexico City banked six more points for the team.

Then last weekend in São Paulo, Tsunoda added five more points, three in the F1 Sprint race and two more in the Grand Prix. Now Williams sits on 28 points, followed by AlphaTauri with 21, Alfa Romeo with 16, and Haas with 12.

Here is how this fight has played out over the course of the season, thanks to Formula1Points:

If one were to make a prediction, it would seem that Las Vegas would tend to favor Williams. The FW45 has been strong at high-speed tracks such as Monza, and given that the circuit in Sin City is expected to be on par with Monza — with lots of straights — they may be on the front foot next week.

Logan Sargeant’s last stand?

Speaking of Williams.

Is this rookie driver Logan Sargeant’s last stand?

Sargeant is the only driver yet to lock down a spot for next season, as Williams has not committed to his seat alongside Albon for the 2024 campaign. Sargeant finally broke through with his first F1 point in Austin, when the double disqualification of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc saw him promoted to P10 after finishing in 12th.

That made him the first American driver to score a point in F1 since Michael Andretti in the 1993 Italian Grand Prix.

Sargeant is also coming off a strong performance in São Paulo, as he finished in 11th place, just outside of the points.

Williams Team Principal James Vowles has given Sargeant a vote of confidence in recent weeks, and made it clear that the team has a plan for the young driver. Vowles has also stressed patience in this, his first season in charge at Williams.

But given that the track in Las Vegas may pair very well with the FW45, this may be Sargeant’s last, best chance to lock down a seat for next season, in his third home race of the year.

The greatness of Max Verstappen

We are witnessing absolute brilliance from Max Verstappen this season.

In fact, with his victory last Sunday in the São Paulo Grand Prix Verstappen clinched the most dominant season in F1 history. Even if he does not win in Las Vegas, and in the season finale at Abu Dhabi, Verstappen will have won 17 of 22 grands prix, or 77% of races.

That will break the mark set back in 1952 by Italian driver Alberto Ascari, who won six of eight races that season, for a winning percentage of 75%.

Of course, earlier this season Verstappen won ten-straight races, breaking a mark set by Sebastian Vettel during his dominant 2013 campaign. Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship going away, clinching his third-straight title in the F1 Sprint race ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix, and his 524 points on the year have him ahead of Mercedes and Ferrari.

That’s right. As many pointed out last Sunday, Verstappen in essence clinched a Constructors’ title of his own:

Sure, Verstappen could ease off the throttle a bit down the stretch.

But this is Max Verstappen we are talking about. Something tells me he wants nothing more than to turn in another dominant performance in the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

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