Las Vegas, Nevada – In a shocking turn of events during Saturday’s qualifying session for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, Mexican racing driver Sergio “Checo” Perez was eliminated in Q2 after finishing 12th overall.
Perez had shown a strong pace throughout practice, finishing 4th in Friday’s sole practice session. However, Red Bull’s risky strategy of doing only one push lap at the end of Q2 backfired, leaving Perez unable to improve his initial time as other drivers went faster late in the session.
The 32-year-old now faces a difficult task to finish ahead of chief championship rival Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, with the Mercedes driver set to start 10th. A strong result is imperative for Perez if he wants to secure 2nd place in the driver’s championship.
Baffling Strategy Call Leaves Perez Fuming
Perez was clearly frustrated after qualifying, questioning his team’s decision to pit him with over 4 minutes remaining in Q2. The Mexican was heard saying, “We finished very early, no?…It was the decision we made in the end. It’s something we need to review” on his radio after being eliminated.
Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner explained they only had 3 sets of tires for qualifying, so pitted Perez early to avoid traffic on his final lap. However, the strategy backfired, costing Perez the chance to improve as the track conditions improved late in Q2.
With Perez starting 11th, directly behind Hamilton, he will need to produce some trademark overtakes on Sunday to stay ahead in the championship battle.
Championship Fight With Hamilton Takes Center Stage
The close qualifying battle between Perez and Hamilton exemplifies their season-long fight for 2nd in the driver’s standings. Hamilton currently trails Perez by 32 points, meaning Perez likely needs just a 5-point gap to secure the position in Sunday’s race.
If Hamilton can win and Perez finishes lower than 7th, the Mercedes driver would overtake him for 2nd place heading into the final race in Abu Dhabi. This sets up a must-watch duel between two of the grid’s fiercest racers.
Perez has proven capable of charging through the field this season, but Hamilton’s Mercedes car has shown improved race pace lately. An on-track battle between the two rivals seems inevitable at some point during Sunday’s race.
All Eyes on Ferrari vs Red Bull Up Front
While the Perez/Hamilton scrap may provide some of the best entertainment, the fight at the front between Ferrari and Red Bull will have the biggest impact on the race win.
Ferrari locked out the front row with Charles Leclerc taking pole ahead of Carlos Sainz, though Sainz will start 9th due to a grid penalty. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen lines up just behind in 3rd, primed to challenge the Ferraris.
If Verstappen can pull off an early overtake on Leclerc, he could control the race from the front. But the Ferraris have seemed to have the edge around this track all weekend.
Pit strategy and tire management will be crucial, especially with the unknowns of racing on a brand-new street circuit like this one. Expect Ferrari and Red Bull to engage in a strategic chess match all race long.
Rookie Logan Sargeant Stuns with Q3 Appearance
One of the biggest surprises in qualifying was American rookie Logan Sargeant reaching Q3 and qualifying 6th for Williams. The 22-year-old beat his veteran teammate Alexander Albon, who will start 5th.
This was by far Sargeant’s most impressive qualifying effort in his short F1 career so far. Maintaining track position and scoring points on Sunday could go a long way toward helping Sargeant secure his F1 super license for next season.
Along with potential success for Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who starts 9th, Sargeant’s performance provides hope that the growing contingent of American drivers can find success in F1’s newest race in Las Vegas.
Uncertainties Abound Heading Into Race Day
With the Las Vegas circuit never having hosted an F1 race before this weekend, uncertainties still abound regarding tire wear, overtaking opportunities, and pit strategy for the race.
The novelty of racing under the lights on the famous Las Vegas Strip will also provide a one-of-a-kind setting and atmosphere. Packed grandstands and parties galore can be expected in this 24/7 city.
The ingredients are there for a spectacular inaugural Las Vegas GP. All eyes will be on Perez and Hamilton battling for 2nd in the championship, while Verstappen and Ferrari duel for the race win.
Sunday evening can’t come soon enough for the sold-out crowds in Las Vegas and millions watching worldwide. The glitz and glamour of Vegas will finally mesh with the excitement of Formula 1 under the lights on race day.