Step into unknown made Las Vegas GP best race of the year
Gary Anderson Former Jordan and Jaguar F1 technical director
The Las Vegas Grand Prix came in for some heavy criticism from Max Verstappen for having too much glitz and glamour and not enough focus on the actual racing. That is fair enough, “the show” that Formula One puts on should not detract from the cars on track. Yet we witnessed an excellent race. Red Bull were challenged for the win by Ferrari, there was action and controversy throughout the pack and the Las Vegas Strip Circuit – and the conditions – helped provide a spectacle worthy of all the pre-race attention. There is always a big element of the unknown for teams and drivers on a new track. This would have been even truer at a brand new street circuit, racing at an unusual time of the day. That strangeness helped contribute to one of the best races of 2023 – if not the best. The lesson F1 can learn should be all about variety. This was another grand prix in a different part of the world that produced a different set of circumstances. Increasing the unknown and variables often leads to exciting races. Vegas is like a very fast Monaco. I do not think you would want to try to incorporate the fast “esses” at Suzuka as part of the Vegas track, but neither would you want to take any part of the Vegas track and put it in Suzuka. Sure, Suzuka, Spa and Silverstone are great race tracks that the drivers love but if you raced on similar circuits every grand prix, it would soon become dull. Every track is unique in its own right. Variety is good for F1 and the sport clearly wants to take the event to the people in big cities across the world. There is nothing wrong with that as long as the track is up to the job and the success of the grand prix shows that the Strip Circuit is. Every track has its own requirements. F1 should encourage those differences. Digging deeper into what made the race such a success, peculiar conditions – as well as a melee at the first corner – helped massively. For once, Verstappen did not just run away with it. Usually, when conditions affect F1 races, it is because of rain, but the frigid temperatures on the Strip played a huge part in how the race panned out. At some points, the track temperatures were as low as 17C, which is well out of the usual and optimal operating window for F1 cars. It is something the drivers and teams have to manage and some teams did better than others. The new track surface, which looked incredibly smooth and low-grip, also made it difficult for the drivers. It is easier to make a mistake, miss your braking point and lock a front tyre. The most significant issue was “graining” on the tyres. The result is that a driver can easily lose a second or more per lap. Whenever a tyre is cold, a very thin layer of rubber on the surface gets hot when it is loaded up through the corners. The entire tyre is not compliant in cold conditions, which means these little pieces of rubber (grains) tear off because the rubber as whole is not compliant. These little bits of rubber stick to the tyre surface, which becomes uneven with ridges. This affects grip hugely. The only thing a driver can do to alleviate this is slow down, which Verstappen did at the end of his first stint with Charles Leclerc – who did not suffer as much – overtaking him for the lead. Verstappen was pushing to extend his lead over Leclerc beyond five seconds, to negate the penalty he received for running the Ferrari off the track. Pushing makes graining more likely. Ultimately, it was a combination of the tyres, the track surface and the temperature all on a circuit that had never been used before and at an unusual time of day that helped create a thrilling race. The biggest thing now is what tyre selections Pirelli makes for the future races in Vegas. Pirelli could destroy the race easily by developing a tyre that would be good in those conditions, rather than having one that struggles with grip, as we saw over the weekend.