The 2023 F1 championship has been decided for more than a month but the sport is determined to put on a stunning show under the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip this weekend.
It is the first F1 race in Sin City since 1982, when the cars tackled a tiny course in the Caesars Palace parking lot, and the modern spectacular takes place on a much longer track alongside the famous casinos.
It's a night race, to make the most of the visual impact, with qualifying starting at midnight local time (3:00 am ET) on Friday and the Las Vegas Grand Prix roaring into life at 10:00 pm local (1:00 am ET) on Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on where you're watching from.
The weekend got off to a stumbling start, as the first practice session was canceled after a handful of laps when a loose drain cover damaged the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. Esteban Ocon's Alpine also sustained damage from the drain cover, and both the Ferrari and the Alpine require extensive repairs.
The second session was then delayed by two and a half hours while track repairs and safety checks were made, which meant the cars did not leave the track until 4:00 AM local time.
In addition to all that, F1 fans in Vegas were kicked out of the grandstands at 1:30 AM (track time) because the delays in the proceedings meant that if the support staff worked any longer, the organizers would violate labor laws.
With the issues hopefully now behind them, world champion Max Verstappen will be targeting an incredible 18th win of the season with teammate Sergio Perez (two) and Sainz the only other drivers to have won in the first 20 races.
The flying Dutchman is again a red-hot -300 favourite to be the first Las Vegas Grand Prix race winner (the 1980s races were called the Caesars Palace Grand Prix).
Verstappen won both the Sprint and the main event in the last race at Sao Paulo, Brazil, but he was given a decent challenge by the McLaren of Lando Norris, who took pole for the Sprint, and organizers should be hopeful of a competitive race to entertain the American audience.
|What||Las Vegas Grand Prix|
|Where||Las Vegas Strip Circuit, Las Vegas, Nevada|
|When||1 AM ET, Sunday, November 19|
|How to watch||ESPN|
|Odds||Max Verstappen -300, Charles Leclerc +550, Lando Norris +1100, Lewis Hamilton +1800, Sergio Perez +1800|
Verstappen stated bluntly after second practice that he is not yet a fan of the Las Vegas track. The street circuit gives his rivals more encouragement than usual that he could be vulnerable.
Perez's second win this season came in the street race in Baku, Azerbaijan, which is probably the track most like this Vegas set-up, with a combination of long straightaways and low-speed tight turns.
Sainz's sole success this season was in Singapore in another street race and that was the only weekend this season when the Red Bull has looked off the pace, with Verstappen finishing only fifth after starting 11th on the grid.
There were signs in practice that Red Bull could face a serious challenge from Ferrari this weekend as Charles Leclerc posted the fastest time with a lap of one minute and 35.265 seconds, ahead of Sainz - whose car evidently was fixed in time for the second practice session - in second.
The team will have to pin their hopes on the man from Monaco, though, as Sainz is facing a 10-place grid penalty after using excess new parts after hitting the drain cover in first practice.
That is why Leclerc's odds to win the race improved from +750 to +550 after practice, while Sainz can be backed at +5000 as he can start no higher than 11th on the grid even if he is the fastest driver in qualifying.
Leclerc is -138 odds to be on the podium, with Sainz +400 to make his way forward in the race to secure a top-three finish. With the likelihood of safety-car incidents bringing the field together due to the narrow track, it's not an impossible situation for him.
While McLaren has been the most improved team this season and has thrown down the strongest challenge to Red Bull in recent races, the papaya-colored cars of Norris and Oscar Piastri did not look to be the best of the rest in practice, finishing only 11th and 14th fastest.
Along with Ferrari, the upper-midfield teams who appear to be in the best shape are Mercedes and Aston Martin. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were only ninth and 12th respectively, but they look to have more pace to come and it's worth noting that Hamilton was on the podium when Sainz won in Singapore.
Veteran Fernando Alonso was right on the tail of the Ferraris in practice and would love to extend his three-point lead over Norris for fourth place in the championship heading into the final race of the year at Abu Dhabi next weekend.
Hamilton has +1800 odds for the race win and is +250 for a podium finish, while Alonso is at +5000 for the race and +350 for a top-three finish.
At longer odds, Alex Albon of Williams is one to watch. His car always impresses at tracks with long straightaways due to its excellent straight-line speed, which also assists with overtaking during races. He should have fun on the 1.2-mile straight that takes the drives through the Las Vegas Strip.
Albon finished in the top 10 at the Circuit of the Americas and in Mexico City, before making an early exit in Brazil, and he could be back in the points again this weekend. He is +100 odds for a top-10 finish and +550 to reach the top six.
There are three drivers from North America on the 2023 F1 grid and Logan Sargeant of the United States would love to give a good account of himself in his third home race of the season after finishing last in Miami before taking his only point of the season in the United States Grand Prix last month.
The Williams driver had reportedly been set "clear targets" by the team of what he needed to achieve over the final five races of the season to retain his seat for 2024 and he has made a solid start, with that 10th place in Austin and 11th in Brazil, either side of retiring from the Mexico City race.
He has the second-longest odds of the field to finish in the points at +550, with only Zhou Guanyu (+700) behind him.
Mexico's Perez remains on course to finish second in the Drivers’ Championship behind teammate Verstappen as he leads third-placed Hamilton by 32 points with only two races left. However, he has gone six races without a podium finish despite driving the same car with which Verstappen has dominated the championship.
Perez has +1800 odds to take his third win of the season (and his first since April) and is +150 odds for a podium finish.
The other driver from North America is Canadian Lance Stroll, of Aston Martin. Stroll is 10th in the standings but his tally of 63 points is less than a third of his teammate Alonso's.
Stroll has enjoyed something of a revival in recent races, finishing seventh in Texas and fifth in the most recent race in Brazil. He is +1800 odds for another top-six finish and -120 to be in the points again.