Red Bull’s Max Verstappen sang “Viva Las Vegas” after racing to a record-extending 18th victory of the season and joining Sebastian Vettel in third place on Formula One’s all-time winners’ list.
The triumph on a spectacular Saturday night in Sin City was the 53rd of the triple champion’s career, and sixth in a row, and came after a five-second penalty for forcing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc off track at the start and then a collision with Mercedes’s George Russell.
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Leclerc finished second after starting in pole position, losing and regaining the lead and then losing it again before passing Sergio Perez on the final lap to deny Red Bull a seventh one-two of the season.
The win was Red Bull’s 20th in 21 races, another record for a single season, and delivered the racing that had risked being swamped in a wave of hype as Vegas hosted a Grand Prix for the first time since the 1980s.
It also completed a sweep of three US wins in 2023 for their 26-year-old Dutch driver, who was also dominant in Miami and Austin.
Verstappen – who had been the Las Vegas Grand Prix’s biggest critic before the race – had to admit that it was a success.
“It was a tough one,” said Verstappen, whose race suit paid homage to the signature jumpsuit of the late “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley.
“I tried to go for it at the start, I think we both braked quite late, and then I just ran out of grip, and we ended up a bit wide, so the stewards gave me a penalty for that.
“That put us a little bit on the back foot, and I had to pass quite a few cars … It was definitely a lot of fun.”
Red Bull played the timeless Elvis song over the team radio after pop star Justin Bieber waved the chequered flag, and Verstappen showed he is a far better driver than singer by joining in.
Leclerc, whose team are the only ones to beat Red Bull this season, showed all his fighting spirit after the initial setback.
“I wanted that win so bad, but what a race,” he gasped over the radio after finishing 2.070 seconds behind Verstappen.
It was the second race in a row that Perez had lost out on the last lap, with the Mexican passed by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso at the line in Brazil.
Perez at least had the consolation of securing second in a championship won long ago by his teammate – another first for Red Bull, who have never previously ended a season with their drivers one-two.
Esteban Ocon was fourth for Alpine, with Lance Stroll fifth for Aston Martin and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz sixth.
Mercedes seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh, ahead of a demoted Russell, Alonso and McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri, who took a bonus point for fastest lap.
While Red Bull won both titles long ago, Ferrari closed the gap to second-placed Mercedes to four points with one race remaining in Abu Dhabi.
The announcement of a third US grand prix was initially met with enthusiasm, but the mood began to sour in the days leading up to the event as street closures choked traffic and public interest began to wane.
Making matters worse, a disastrous first practice session on Thursday night lasted just eight minutes before being cancelled for track repairs, leading to a class-action lawsuit by disgruntled fans.
But Hamilton said Saturday’s enthralling Las Vegas Grand Prix had been the perfect answer to critics of the new race.
Verstappen had been the most prominent of those critics of the scene in Vegas this week, arguing that the Grand Prix was over-dominated by the razmataz in the party city.
But the night-time street race with multiple lead changes as the cars powered down the famous Las Vegas Strip showed the event can also deliver sporting thrills.
“For all those people that were so negative about this weekend, saying it’s all about the show and blah blah blah – I think Vegas proved them wrong,” said Hamilton.