Many believed that the layout of the Las Vegas Grand Prix would be fertile ground for Alexander Albon, Logan Sargeant, and the entire team at Williams. The FW45 had been strong with straight-line speed throughout the season, and given the multiple straights through the Sin City streets — coupled with the longest straight of the season — it seemed like an opportunity for Williams.
One that they took full advantage of.
The team put both Albon and Sargeant into Q3, and the veteran finished in P6, with the rookie in P7. With the ten-place grid penalty for Carlos Sainz Jr. that will drop him out of the top ten, that means Albon will start fifth, and Sargeant sixth.
A third-row lockout for Williams.
“Really well done Logan, that’s how you build a weekend up. You were on equal footing, and you performed. Good job,” said Williams Team Principal James Vowles to Sargeant the moment the rookie was informed of his result in Q3.
Remember, Sargeant is the only driver yet to lock up his spot for the 2024 season. While Vowles has stressed patience with both Williams as a team, and Sargeant as a rookie, all year long the team boss has also made it clear that the American driver needed to show some consistency down the stretch.
But hearing those words from Vowles leads at least this writer to believe that Las Vegas was going to be a true measuring stick for the rookie. Perform in Sin City on a track that might be ideal for the FW45, and that patience will be rewarded.
On Friday night, Sargeant delivered. A tremendous result for him, and the team, as Williams looks to lock up P7 in the Constructors’ Championship
Loser: Carlos Sainz Jr.
This has less to do with Sainz’s performance in qualifying — which was nearly perfect — and much more to do with the situation regarding where he will start the Grand Prix.
Ferrari has been strong all week in Las Vegas, and that was demonstrated again in qualifying as Charles Leclerc qualified on pole and Sainz was right behind him in P2.
But Sainz will not start second, but will instead start in P12, because of a ten-place grid penalty. A penalty that came as a result of damage to his car caused by a loose manhole cover.
Sainz admitted to being in “disbelief” following the decision, but his boss took things a step further. During Friday’s press conferences Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur blasted the ruling. “Yeah guys, I’m not sure that is the topic for me today. We had a very tough FP1. This will cost us a fortune,” said Vasseur. “We fucked-up the session for Carlos. We won’t be part of the FP2 for sure. We have to change the chassis out of the car, to set-up the car. OK, the show is the show and everything is going well but I think it’s just unacceptable for the F1 today.”
Ferrari was able to get Sainz onto the track for FP2, where he showed again true pace and power. Were it not for his teammate, Sainz would have been on pole.
But that pace will not be rewarded when the lights go out Saturday night in Las Vegas.
When race officials declined to waive the penalty, as Ferrari requested, they noted that their hands were tied:
Having heard from the Team Representative, the Director FIA Single Seater Department, having viewed video evidence and examined the Team’s declaration sheet, the Stewards, determine that notwithstanding the fact that the damage was caused by highly unusual external circumstances, Article 2.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations obliges all officials, including the Stewards, to apply the regulations as they are written.
Accordingly, the mandatory penalty specified under Article 28.3 of the Sporting Regulations must be applied.
In next year’s version of the Sporting Regulations, race officials should have more power to waive the penalty in such situations. “That rulebook needs to be rewritten” said David Coulthard during qualifying.
Winner: Valtteri Bottas
As we will see in a moment, there might be something of a “Schofield Curse” forming. After all, I spoke with Oscar Piastri earlier this week and, well, it was not the best night for McLaren.
However, I also got a chance to chat with Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas, and lo and behold, Bottas put his C43 into Q3, and finished in P8. With Sainz’s penalty, that means he’ll start the Grand Prix in seventh.
Alfa Romeo came out of the summer shutdown with a clear goal: Finishing P7 in the Constructors’ Championship. That might be a tall order given how things stand at the moment, as Williams has pulled 12 points ahead of Alfa Romeo in that fight, and now AlphaTauri has leapt over them as well. And with both Sargeant and Albon starting ahead of Bottas on Saturday night, there is more work to be done for Alfa Romeo.
Still, as Bottas told me during our discussion, for Alfa Romeo to win this fight for seventh they needed one thing: “Perfection.”
They nearly got it from him in qualifying.
Loser: Lance Stroll
One the one hand, Stroll advanced into Q2.
On the other hand, a wave of penalties came his way.
Minutes before qualifying even began, Stroll was hit with a five-place grid penalty for overtaking on a yellow flag near the end of FP3. After he met with race officials before qualifying, they issued their decision and noted the following:
Double yellow flags were waved at Marshal Post 12.9 as Car 18 approached that point along the straight. After passing the flags, which were clearly visible on the onboard video from Car 18, Car 18 overtook Car 55.
The driver of Car 18 stated he had his “head down” looking at his dash and was concentrating on the Ferrari ahead of him and missed the flags. Although there were no yellow light panels displayed, the regulations are clear that the flags and light panels have the same meaning.
Accordingly the standard penalty guidelines have been applied as to penalty.
Then qualifying began, and when the yellow flag came out near the end of Q1 when Yuki Tsunoda slid off the track, something was noted moments later.
Race stewards were going to investigate Stroll for overtaking under the yellow.
If nothing else, he is consistent.
He finished in P14, but will drop to at least P19 given the five-place penalty handed down ahead of qualifying. If another penalty comes, he might start all the way down in P20.
Winner: George Russell
Mercedes needed this.
With Lewis Hamilton eliminated in Q2, and Leclerc well on his way to pole position, Mercedes needed to get something from George Russell in Q3.
They did get something.
Russell put his W14 into P4, and with the penalty coming to Sainz, he will start third, right behind Leclerc when the lights go out Saturday night.
Whether he can make the most of that starting position remains to be seen, as Ferrari seems incredibly strong. But every single point will matter in this fight for second, and Russell being near the front could be critical for the Silver Arrows.
Only Red Bull has been stronger since the Austrian Grand Prix.
But this week has not gotten off to a good start for McLaren.
The team seemed to lack true pace in FP2, and while a strong lap near the end of FP3 from Oscar Piastri offered some hope, it failed to come to fruition in Q1 as both Piastri and Lando Norris were knocked out. Norris finished in P16, with Piastri down in P19.
When I spoke with Piastri ahead of the weekend, he downplayed his expectations for the weekend. While McLaren has been on an incredible run, there were concerns that the track layout might not be the best fit for the MCL60.
“I’m not sure it will be our most competitive weekend as a team,” Piastri told me earlier this week. “I think the slow corners and long straights are still not our strongest areas.”
That certainly played out in Q1, as both drivers were eliminated in Q1 for the first time since the Miami Grand Prix way back in May.
This might leave the door open for Aston Martin as the two teams fight for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship. Heading into the Las Vegas Grand Prix McLaren has a lead of just 21 points over Aston Martin, but with Fernando Alonso set to start ahead of both McLaren drivers — and with McLaren’s lack of pace so far this week — that lead could be at risk.
Winner: Charles Leclerc
Similar to Williams, we thought coming into the Las Vegas Grand Prix that Ferrari was going to be strong. As we discussed last week, given the power Ferrari has shown in recent races, it seemed that they would have true potential given the layout in Las Vegas, and perhaps an advantage in their battle with Ferrari.
So far, so good.
Leclerc and Sainz have been dominant so far, and that showed in qualifying when Leclerc edged out Sainz for pole position. He has been strong all week, and that did not let up on Friday night.
Now comes the tricky part.
Holding off Max Verstappen if he wants to capture his first Grand Prix of the season.