F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix: 'If I was a fan, I would tear Las Vegas down,' says Max Verstappen

The lights of the circuit and casinos at the Las Vegas GP
The Las Vegas Grand Prix is live across BBC 5 Live and the BBC Sport website

World champion Max Verstappen and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc summed up the contradictions of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, which has so far been both farcical and spectacular at different turns.

Leclerc beat team-mate Carlos Sainz by a tiny margin in qualifying to take pole position, but will start alongside Verstappen's Red Bull on the front row for the race, after Sainz was given a 10-place grid penalty for reasons entirely beyond his or Ferrari's control.

A dramatic qualifying session, on a brand new track which features drivers barrelling down the famous Strip, came a day after scenes Formula 1 could ill afford.

First practice was abandoned after just nine minutes when a drain came loose and Sainz hit it, leaving his car severely damaged and requiring an engine change which led to his penalty.

That caused a two-and-a-half hour delay to second practice, leading to a start at 02:30 local time, and forcing F1 to send the fans home because security workers, unionised in Las Vegas, were at the end of their allotted working time.

And after taking pole, Leclerc summed up the quandary in which F1 finds itself ahead of what owners Liberty Media would doubtless say was its most important race for years - one in which they have so far invested upwards of £500m.

Leclerc described the events of the first day of track action as "not acceptable". He is also not happy about his pre-race preparations being interrupted by a show-bizzy build-up being planned on the grid, including the fanfare of driver introductions. But the Monegasque does recognise the importance of this new race to F1 from a commercial perspective.

"I was sad to see how much criticism there was around the track," Leclerc said. "Of course it wasn't good enough and that was clear to everybody, but we mustn't forget how much effort there has been to make this event work.

"I really hope we have an exciting race to show what F1 is. Yesterday was a pretty bad start, but it is an amazing venue for F1.

"We are a sport, for sure, and we need to keep the DNA of the sport, which is the most important thing for everyone.

"But at the same time I believe opportunities like this need to be taken and a little bit of show to attract people who might not have come to a race is needed.

"You always need to find the right balance between show and sport, and that is why I am not so happy about the show [planned for] before the race, because this is a time when we need to focus on what really matters, which is racing.

"But on the other hand, the venue and event looks amazing. We will look back at the things that did not go well in order for these things not to happen, because it is clear it is not acceptable what happened in FP1."

Sainz said F1 "needs to learn to separate things - there is the sport and the show you can have both in a good combination and harmony".

He said Las Vegas was "a good opportunity for F1" but said the sport had "started on a very bad foot yesterday".

Sainz was also "extremely disappointed and very upset" that the FIA had rejected Ferrari's plea to waive his penalty for exceeding the permitted number of engine parts because it had been caused by the problems with the circuit.

Officials rejected Ferrari's argument in the face of a threatened protest from Mercedes, who are fighting them for second in the constructors' championship with just two races to go, with approximately $10m in prize money on the line.

"I expected more from the sport in this situation," Sainz said, "but for sure there will be rival teams pushing for me to get a penalty. On one level it surprises me but I have been in the sport too long [not] to understand there is too much money involved in the constructors' finishing position for a team not to threaten to apply for a penalty for me."

'Monaco is like Champions League and this is National League'

Verstappen has been the loudest voice against Las Vegas so far.

On Wednesday, he described the race as "99% show and 1% sporting event", and after his first experience of the track said he didn't like it.

After qualifying he had softened a bit - admitting that he had enjoyed the session - but only to a small extent.

The drivers were asked to describe a lap of the track and compare it to Monaco.

Leclerc and Sainz likened it more to the Baku track in Azerbaijan, with its long straights and right-angled corners and said Monaco was very different.

"Monaco is so intense," Leclerc said. "The walls are extremely close, no way out and no time to think. Here you have ways out and the grip is so low that if you go off line you can recover, because the grip is low everywhere."

Verstappen was less polite. "Monaco is like Champions League and this is National League."

Verstappen, who does not like street tracks, said: "I feel like a show element is important, but I lack emotion."

He said classic tracks such as Spa and Monza "have a lot of emotion and passion".

Of Las Vegas, he said: "Of course I understand fans need something to do around the track, but it is more important we make them understand what we do about the sport.

"I love Vegas, but not to drive a F1 car; to go out, throw everything on red, whatever. But the emotion and passion is not there compared to some old-school tracks."

When Verstappen was told by Dutch television that fans who were sent home before second practice were offered $200 in vouchers for the race merchandise store as compensation, he said: "If I was a fan, I would tear the whole place down."

Can Leclerc hold off Verstappen?

Little would be better for F1's appeal than an alternative winner to Verstappen this weekend, the Dutchman having dominated the season, winning all but three races.

Given the pace demonstrated by the Ferraris in the first two days of running, they appear to be the most likely candidates to beat the triple world champion to the chequered flag. With Sainz's controversial demotion rendering a challenge from him unlikely, all eyes are on Leclerc.

On the normal run of form, there would be little hope of Leclerc holding off Verstappen in the race.

But Leclerc's tone was a little different from normal here. All year, even when starting ahead of Verstappen, Leclerc has focussed on holding off other cars further behind him and accepted the inevitability of a Verstappen overtake.

But now he seems to believed he might have at least a chink of hope.

Mercedes driver George Russell, who starts fourth, said Ferrari "look in a league of their own", that they had been "super-strong on long runs", and had not been suffering from tyre 'graining', a phenomenon that is caused by low grip leading to a tearing of the tyre surface, reducing grip further.

The only time a Red Bull has lost a race this year was on another street circuit - Singapore - to the Ferrari belonging to Sainz.

Leclerc said: "In Singapore, you can drive 1.5secs off the pace and the cars behind cannot overtake. Here it will be very different, and pace will play a much more important role in the race.

"But for now we have looked quite good on that. We are stronger than other races. Not to say we are stronger than Max, but we are closer than in other races. So if there is one race to win since Singapore it is this one and I will give it all."

Verstappen said: "For whatever reason, our car over one lap is not always great - it is very track specific. And we know in low grip, low speed, low temperatures, we are not at out best. That is a big strength of the Ferrari and we knew that for pole position we would have a lot of competition.

"It is just how a car works and it is not something you can adjust but hopefully when tyres are running hot in the race, it will come back to us a little bit.

"It is a little bit more like Baku but in the race it will be depend on who can keep the tyres alive or whoever grains the tyres more - we will have to wait and see."