Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, of the Netherlands, drives past the Sphere during the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix auto race, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Max Verstappen despised everything about the Las Vegas Grand Prix from the moment he set foot in Sin City. The three-time Formula One world champion found success and prosperity at the pinnacle but prioritized real racing.

After securing his 18th win of the season, he truly changed his tune.

“Singing in Las Vegas! Singing in Las Vegas!” Verstappen sang under the checkered flag waved by Justin Bieber. Despite criticizing Saturday night’s spectacle at every opportunity, he donned an Elvis-inspired jumpsuit, sprinted through a fireworks display, and clinched victory on the famous Las Vegas Strip.

“I hope everyone enjoyed it; we certainly did. I’m excited to come back next year and try to do something similar,” Verstappen said, flipping his position in the Las Vegas entertainment scene throughout the week.

“It was a fun race. I enjoyed it,” he admitted.

Verstappen initially passed Charles Leclerc, then regained the lead after handling a penalty, passing Leclerc once more with 13 laps to go, maintaining his season-long dominance. Verstappen, Leclerc, and Sergio Perez were chauffeured in a limousine to a stage near the Bellagio. “We’re going straight to the night club,” Verstappen told his podium companions, but instead, they were led to the famous fountain show at the casino.

The Bellagio fountains had been closed all week and were reopened as part of the victory celebration. Standing and conversing, none of them showed much interest. Following the trophy presentations, they were featured in a New Year’s Eve-style fireworks show.

Afterward, Martin Garrix launched an explosive DJ set for the crowd’s entertainment, with celebrities like Brad Pitt, Rihanna, Usain Bolt, and Shaquille O’Neal in attendance. F1 claimed to attract over 315,000 spectators during the weekend, estimating a $1.2 billion economic impact on Las Vegas.

Leclerc said, “I really enjoyed it, and I am especially happy that we ended the weekend on a high note because the sport I love had a rough start on Thursday. The fact that our race was fantastic makes it even better.”

This race marked the third leg of the season in the United States, unmatched by any other country, and was promoted by F1 and Liberty Media. However, criticism has been directed at this event, particularly by Verstappen, for becoming an unnecessary gimmick.

The tickets were expensive, the hotels on the famous strip raised their prices, and the 21st race of the season was a mix of elements, featuring famous personalities, music events, and countless Elvis impersonators. Even a wedding chapel was part of the scene, where former F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve tied the knot earlier in the week.

Liberty had initially hoped to spend $500 million on the first Grand Prix, a figure they had advertised. However, before Saturday night’s race, paddock rumors suggested that Liberty had far exceeded its budget. Thursday night’s first practice session was nearly disrupted when Carlos Sainz Jr. hit a drain cover on the track, causing significant damage to his Ferrari and forcing F1 to close the 3.85-mile (6.2-kilometer) circuit for inspection.

After watching only a nine-minute track activity in the first practice, fans were forced to be there by 1:30 AM on Friday to catch the second practice, which lasted until 4 AM. Instead of apologies, F1 offered only a $200 credit at the LVGP merchandise store to ticket holders who had purchased their access only for Thursday. A class-action lawsuit against the Las Vegas Grand Prix was filed on Friday.

Despite the controversy, Saturday night’s race turned out to be a crucial one for F1, and, although it was Verstappen’s sixth consecutive win, it was one of the most exciting events of the season. Additionally, the track, nicknamed the “Flying Pig” due to its layout, received praise for its uniqueness.

Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished seventh for Mercedes, said, “Where we go, this circuit has provided better racing than those tracks.” The only American driver in F1, Williams’ Logan Sargeant, commented, “I don’t think the music stopped at the paddock all weekend.”

Leclerc and teammate Sainz qualified 1-2 on Friday, but Sainz received a 10-place grid penalty for colliding with a drain cover, forcing Ferrari to change his car. He pushed Verstappen to second at the start, and Verstappen quickly regained the lead.

The Dutchman forced Leclerc to go off the track to take the lead, and although Leclerc demanded that Verstappen be penalized for giving back the position, Verstappen was only handed a five-second penalty. He served it later during a pit stop, but his Red Bull was strong enough to stay in contention throughout the race.

With 17 laps remaining, Leclerc overtook Perez and then, three laps later, Verstappen passed his teammate to secure second place. Afterward, he and Perez worked together to create a gap, allowing Verstappen to catch Leclerc with 13 laps to go.

Perez attempted to pass Leclerc for second, but Leclerc eventually reclaimed the position, denying Red Bull a season-ending 1-2 finish.

“I wanted that win so badly,” Leclerc said. “I’m very happy with it. A lot of fights for second. There’s no better race for the first race in Vegas.”

With Hamilton finishing seventh, Perez’s second-place finish brought him to second in the season driver standings behind Verstappen.

Leclerc’s finish narrowed the gap for Ferrari to just four points behind Mercedes in the constructor championship, setting the stage for the final in Abu Dhabi next week.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was involved in an early incident and was taken to a local hospital for precautionary reasons. He was released immediately after the fireworks show.

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