In an eventful first day at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz showcased exceptional performance on the Strip Circuit. The day was marked by unexpected delays and tire strategy adjustments, bringing a new challenge to the teams and drivers. Now, with normal road traffic allowed to drive the track, Pirelli has warned of a “significant reset.”
As the Las Vegas Strip Circuit roared to life, the Ferrari team emerged as the clear frontrunner. Charles Leclerc, with his blistering pace, topped the charts in both practice sessions, setting a remarkable time of 1.35.265 in FP2. His teammate, Carlos Sainz, wasn’t far behind, displaying the team’s strength on this new and challenging circuit. Fernando Alonso, another seasoned driver, also showed impressive speed, trailing just a fraction behind Sainz.
However, the day was not without its challenges. A significant incident occurred when a manhole cover became dislodged, damaging the cars of Sainz and Esteban Ocon. This incident caused a red flag and a lengthy delay, leading to the second session starting at the unconventional hour of 2.30 am. The delay, while causing logistical issues, offered an unexpected advantage: teams were permitted to postpone the return of two sets of tires, allowing them more freedom to adapt to the extended running time.
Simone Berra, Chief Engineer at Pirelli, provided valuable insights into the day’s events, highlighting the significant track evolution and the impact of the circuit reopening to road traffic, which could lead to a substantial change in conditions.
“As was entirely predictable, lap times tumbled down pretty quickly with every passing lap, even if we are still quite a long way off our simulation times, by around three to four second,” he said.
“Furthermore, we were able to check the speed of track evolution over a time period reasonably similar to a race distance, which highlights how conditions might change during the race itself, thus informing strategy and compound choices.
He went on to say:
“Looking at the split of laps completed between the Soft, Medium and Hard, it seems the last of these is being saved by several teams specifically for Saturday night, with the Medium also being very much in the running.
“Having said that, the Soft cannot be ruled out completely, precisely because of my earlier comment about track evolution. When assessing this, we must also take into account that much of the track is now open again to road traffic which is bound to lead to a quite significant reset in terms of the rubber laid down on the track surface.
“In terms of tire usage, the soft compound was the preferred choice, with over half the laps completed on it. Interestingly, the hard compound saw limited use, indicating teams might be reserving it for the race’s latter stages.