Charles Leclerc participates during qualifying at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

LAS VEGAS — Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari absolutely dominated qualifying during the second day of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Leclerc finished qualifying with the fastest time. He will start Saturday night’s race at the first spot, in pole position. Meanwhile Sainz finished second. However, Sainz suffered a ten-place penalty because he is racing in a backup car due to damage sustained by running over a drainage valve cover during Thursday night’s practice.

“Yeah, well, first of all, an outstanding job by the whole team,” said Sainz. “We’ve dominated the qualifying together, you know, after a tough Friday yesterday, to put together the whole car. Again, to get a front-row lock-out, I think it’s incredible. Obviously, I would love to be on pole because it would mean I would start 11th instead of 12th. But I think yeah, we did the maximum that we could today. I’m still disappointed to yesterday. I’m not going to lie. I’m still in a very bad mood. I’m trying not to show it too much. But it is what it is.”

Reigning, defending world champion Max Verstappen will start the race from the third spot. Verstappen was buoyant and confident after qualifying because he felt the track exceeded his expectations.

“It felt good yesterday,” Verstappen explained. “Of course, I would have liked to have a little bit more pace today. But of course, we know that the points are tomorrow and it’s going to be a tough one. First one here. You never know that might be Safety Cars. And it’s a very long straight. A lot of racing will happen there. And then, of course, I hope we are good on the tires.”

The overall theme of this race is the marriage between sports and entertainment. In America, those two genres are ubiquitous like peanut butter and jelly. You attend any NBA game, an actor, actress, comedian or musical artist’s presence is acknowledged. F1 and Liberty Media, the mass media company that owned the Atlanta Braves from 2007 through July 2023, spent more than $500 million in converting portions of The Strip and Vegas’s famous attractions into a suitable street course.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing races past The Sphere during qualifying at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Verstappen expresses concerns over F1’s embrace celebrity culture

With that comes America’s celebrity culture.

With all of the marketing, the glitz, glamour, celebrity culture and high-rolling behavior within certain jetsetters, it would seem F1 and Las Vegas would be a match made in heaven. However, some of the European-based drivers, teams, and fans are having a tough time with the whole idea. Many see the growth opportunity in the United States, a country that hosts more races (three) than any other municipality on the F1 calendar.

Verstappen laid out his concerns during the post-qualifying press conference.

“When you go to Spa, Monza, these kind of places, they have a lot of emotion and passion,” explained Verstappen. “And for me, seeing the fans there is incredible. And for us, as well, when I jump in the car there, I’m fired up and I love driving around these kinds of places. And, of course, I understand that fans, they need maybe something to do as well around the track.

But I think it’s more important that you actually make them understand what we do as a sport because most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ play or a performance act. I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely sh**faced and have a good time. But that’s what happens and actually people … they come and they become fan of what?

If the sport put more focus on to these kinds of things and also explain more what the team is doing, try to see them, what they are achieving, what they’re working for. These kinds of things I find way more important to look at than just having all these random shows all over the place.”

Rounding out the top five was George Russell of Mercedes and Pierre Gasly of Alpine. Logan Sargent will start Saturday night’s race in sixth. The Williams driver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. is feeling optimistic.

“I think today’s been a huge success in terms of the grand prix,” said Sargent. “I think those things happen. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but clearly there’s been a good reaction. We’ve had three very good sessions now, and I personally think there’s going to be great racing on this track.”

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...