Ferrari’s Leclerc takes pole position for Las Vegas Grand Prix
"To be starting from pole is great. However, I'm a bit disappointed about my laps in Q3."
Ferrari’s Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc celebrates after finishing in pole position in the qualifying session for the Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix on November 18, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Picture: ANGELA WEISS / AFP
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will start from pole position in Saturday’s Las Vegas Grand Prix after posting the fastest time in Friday qualifying.
Leclerc finished ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz but with the Spaniard having a ten-place grid penalty imposed after Thursday’s practice, world champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull will start second.
Mercedes’ George Russell will be in third place on the grid alongside Alpine’s French driver Pierre Gasly.
It was a positive session for Williams who will have Alex Albon starting fifth on the grid alongside team-mate Logan Sargeant, the American who is hoping a strong result on a home circuit will boost his chance of keeping his place for next season.
Sargeant’s finish was his best result in qualifying in his rookie season.
There was little to choose between the two Ferrari drivers with Leclerc, who topped all three segments, posting a fastest lap of 1:32.726 and Sainz just 0.044 off the pace.
Three-time world champion Verstappen pulled out of his final lap but will back himself to once again overcome Leclerc on race-day.
The Dutchman has won 17 races in a record-breaking season as he clinched his third straight championship.
“It was enjoyable out there. I think we maximised today. I think the whole weekend so far we have been lacking a bit of one lap performance and that was quite clear,” said the Dutchman.
“I hope tomorrow in the race we are good on the tyres again and can work our way forward,” he added.
Leclerc had mixed feelings after his run in the final qualifying segment.
‘Enough for P1’
“To be starting from pole is great. However, I’m a bit disappointed about my laps in Q3. I didn’t do a good enough job but it was enough for P1 and that’s all we need,” he said.
“Now it’s full focus to try and put everything together for the race. Normally, that’s where we lack most performance so I hope we can put it all together and win here.”
Leclerc has not won from first on the grid since Australia in 2022, having qualified on pole 12 times in that period but he said he was upbeat about his chances.
“The confidence is high because we are starting first, the best place to start from. On the other hand we know that Red Bull is going to be very strong and Max obviously is going to be very strong in race pace.
“But I feel that we have had positive signs this weekend…more than other races so I hope we can convert that pole position into a win,” he said.
After the embarrassing start to the new Vegas event, when Thursday’s opening practice was abandoned after nine minutes due to loose drain covers on the track, fans finally got to see some action on the new street track.
The second practice session had been held in front of empty stands and did not finish until 4am in the morning local time but the crowd were more than happy to see F1’s stars battle for grid position at midnight.
Powering down the famous ‘strip’ past landmark hotels and cornering around the striking new illuminated ‘sphere’, there were no signs of major problems with the surface.
‘Very bad mood’
Both McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, were eliminated after Q1 and they were followed by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes after Q2.
Hamilton will start in tenth place on the grid.
Sainz, who will start in 12th, received his 10-place grid drop after his team were forced to make repairs to his car after the chaotic first practice.
Sainz’s car hit a loose drain cover and suffered damage and the team had to change a host of power unit components in order for the Spaniard to continue.
But with Sainz using his third energy store of the season, one more than is allowed by regulations, he was handed the penalty.
“I am still disappointed with yesterday,” Sainz said of the sanction.
“I’m not going to lie, still on a very bad mood and trying not to show it too much. But it is what it is,” he added.
There was disappointment for Aston Martin’s Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso who fell from fourth down to tenth in the latter stages – he will start ninth on the grid.