It’s a sad fact that no matter how good today’s race – and it certainly has the potential – it will forever bear the stigma of the seemingly endless barrage of hype we have been subjected to in recent weeks and months.
As is so often the case these days, the media has been bought and happily follows the narrative, even the likes of Martin Brundle forgetting those windswept tracks where he first fell in love with the sport, as he now spins the spin for a city that proudly boasts the epithet ‘Sin City’.
City races are rapidly becoming the norm, as are night races, but the likes of Singapore have a certain class, something sadly lacking in this garish, neon hell-hole.
Watching the opening ceremony on fast forward (x30) we were still left open-mouthed, and like the Netflix Cup golf tournament, it appears Max is right, the drivers are being treated like clowns.
But hey-ho, if that’s what the new breed of fan wants and the teams and drivers are happy to go along with it, who are we to argue, for at least we have our memories of ‘the good old days’.
Even without the cruel penalty meted out to Carlos Sainz we have a nicely mixed up grid what with Charles and Max starting side-by-side ahead of Russell.
Then it gets a little crazy, what with Gasly, the Williams pair, Bottas, Magnussen and Alonso, not forgetting Hamilton and Perez.
We are promised plenty of overtaking opportunities but we’ll believe it when we see it, then again a few more cat-and-mouse battles as witnessed at Interlagos courtesy of Alonso and Perez wouldn’t go amiss.
Though, for one reason and another, there have been precious few practice starts, Helmut Marko believes that drivers on the left-hand side of the grid will struggle for grip and therefore expects Verstappen to lose positions – the downside of inheriting second from Sainz.
While Max has the title safely sewn up there remains the battle for runner-up, not only in terms of drivers but teams also, while the multi-million scrap for seventh between Williams, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo should be fun.
As with the opening ceremony we’ll fast forward the pre-race nonsense as it has all the prospects of making Miami look like a class act… and as for Donny Osmond signing the anthem… any chance of another class action las suit?
According to Pirelli the hard and medium are the compounds best suited today. There are various options on the table, both in terms of which sets the teams will choose to give back at the end of the day, and based on the impact of graining, which was significant yesterday because of the condition of the track.
If the track rubbers in as it should, a one-stop should be quickest, otherwise a two-stop could prove to be competitive. However, the choice of which compound to use the most will also depend on choices made yesterday and could yet open a window for the softs for the final part of the race.
Doing our best to avoid the pre-race shenanigans which involved shouty introductions of the drivers by Bruce Buffer – brother of Michael Buffer, remember him – it’s worth noting that an issue with the car taking Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris around the track in order that they could wave to the crowds developed an oil leak which has left residue on the grid and which, despite the best efforts of the marshals, has not pleased a number of drivers, most notably Verstappen for the resulting cement dust is just in front of his grid slot. Indeed, it’s understood that another of the cars – thought to be the one carrying Charles Leclerc – also developed a leak.
The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out. Worryingly, with 50 minutes to go before the start, the timing screens insist that the race is 6 laps in and Norris leads, Leclerc and Hamilton. Indeed, we’re in Las Vegas but the data being shown is from the recent United States Grand Prix at COTA.
“It felt terrible on the way to the grid,” admits Norris. “The grip should come back towards us, the track should improve throughout the race. Starting down the back, not much is going for us.”
Ahead of the start, the air temperature is 19 degrees, while the track temperature is 20 degrees.
They head off on the formation lap but sadly the live timing isn’t available.
All are on mediums bar Hamilton, Zhou and Piastri who are on hards, while Stroll and Tsunoda are on softs.
The grid forms.
They’re away! As they head into Turn 1 Leclerc and Verstappen are side-by-side with the Dutchman on the inside. However, as they round the corner the Dutchman forces the Ferrari wide and off track and actually does well to get back ahead of a charging Russell who is looking to take advantage.
Further back, despite a great start, as he struggles for grip Alonso spins right across the track, clipping the rear of Albon’s Williams and spinning 180 before being hit by Bottas… twice, who in turn was hit by Perez as he and Hamilton are among those trying to take avoiding action. Just behind, Sainz also spins as he struggles for grip, clouting Hamilton in the process .
Leclerc complains that Verstappen forced him off the road. Alonso, who has dropped to 19th reports that he has damage.
As the VSC is deployed Perez pits for a new front wing, as does Alonso.
Verstappen is assured that he was ahead of Leclerc, however the Ferrari driver insists he was ahead at the apex and demands the position be handed back.
Verstappen, leads Leclerc, Russell, Gasly, Albon and Sargeant as the VSC is withdrawn.
Norris is off and in the barrier at Turn 12, the Safety Car is deployed.
The McLaren driver appears to lock-up under braking for the corner which has caused issues all weekend. Indeed, reply shows he lost the car long before the corner and was virtually a passenger.
After 4 laps, and still under the Safety Car, Verstappen leads Leclerc, Russell, Gasly, Albon, Sargeant, Ocon, Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Tsunoda. Perez is 16th, Sainz 17th and Alonso 18th.
The Safety Car is withdrawn at the end of Lap 6.
However, at a time drivers were already struggling for grip, these laps under the Safety Car will not help the situation.
Verstappen is advised that though the first corner move on Leclerc is currently with the stewards he should hold on to the lead for the time being.
The race resumes. Piastri makes a great move on Tsunoda to claim tenth. Hamilton subsequently goes around the outside of the Japanese to claim 11th. Piastri passes Hulkenberg for ninth.
Verstappen is given a 5s time penalty for forcing another driver off track, but doesn’t have to hand the position back.
“You’re already 2s ahead so you just have to eek out that lead,” the Dutchman is told.
“Yeh, that’s fine, give them my regards,” says the world champion.
Piastri passes Magnussen for 8th but the Dane promptly reclaims the position.
In quick succession Piastri passes Magnussen and Hamilton passes Hulkenberg.
Sainz makes a great move on Alonso for 16th.
“That was dangerous,” says the Ferrari driver, “he stopped and went again.”
Gasly is all over the back of Russell. “I can’t do this management and keep Gasly behind,” says the Briton.
“We need to cool the car,” Sainz is urgently warned, the Spaniard advised that otherwise he will be forced to retire.
Alonso passes Ricciardo for 16th and sets off after his Spanish countryman.
Sargeant is under intense pressure from Piastri.