Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The 2023 F1 season concludes a week after the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
In any American-based professional sport, even including more niche and auto racing ones like NASCAR, Las Vegas’ late-season placement on the schedule would inherently mean significant drama in the championship race.
But that’s not how F1 works. The racing series is more set up like international soccer leagues in that there are no playoffs or postseason. At the beginning of each year, there’s a schedule and a points system—headlined by the winner of each individual race earning the highest 25 points with descending totals all the way down to 10th place.
If someone accumulates enough points before the end of the season, he clinches the Drivers Championship. Dutch phenom Max Verstappen wrapped up his third consecutive title more than a month ago this year, in “round” 17 of 23, by winning the Qatar Grand Prix on October 8 and reaching a 500-point mark no other driver could possibly match.
In addition to winning 17 of 20 races so far this season, Verstappen has now prevailed in 15 of the last 16 events. He’s already secured his spot as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport, and now the only remaining debate is how highly he ranks and how much of his dominance is due to his driving ability.
Detractors may suggest that the commitment of Verstappen’s team, Red Bull, to hiring the top developers and engineers is the single biggest factor to his success. There’s still work to be done either way as the best-ever drivers, including Verstappen’s rival Lewis Hamilton, have transcended eras and won titles under different states of F1’s ever-evolving rules.
There’s little doubt Verstappen is already near the top, but only time will determine if he has a claim to the description as the greatest of all-time. He’s downplayed the value of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, telling motorsport.com that the drivers “are there more for show than the racing itself, if you look at the track.”
The tone of his comments would be more interesting if the race was going to factor into the crowning of this year’s Drivers Championship. With a 10-year contract to stage the Las Vegas Grand Prix, perhaps that will happen in a future edition.
In the meantime, the only stakes for Verstappen in Las Vegas are adding to his already-sterling legacy.
5 Other Drivers to Watch
Fernando Alonso – Aston Martin
The 42-year-old Spaniard is motorsports royalty, having won a pair of F1 Driver’s Championship in 2005 and 2006 with Renault in addition to back-to-back victories at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 2018 and 2019.
Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
The 38-year-old, seven-time F1 champion from England had won at least one race in every season for 15 consecutive years until last year when his longtime Mercedes team slipped far below Verstappen’s Red Bull. He’s banked a second place this year, at the Australian Grand Prix, but is still looking for his first win since 2021.
Lando Norris – McLaren
The 23-year-old Englishman hasn’t yet won an F1 race but he’s emerged as the biggest impending threat to Verstappen, especially after finishing second in the Brazilian Grand Prix earlier this month. He’s the second favorite in the Las Vegas Grand Prix betting odds—at 9-to-1 to Verstappen’s -300 (i.e. risking $300 to win $100)—with Verstappen predicting “many battles” in the future.
Sergio Perez – Red Bull
Just as Verstappen has clinched the Drivers Championship, his teammate Perez has secured second-place on the podium with a pair of wins this season—in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The 33-year-old from Mexico has put together the best season of his 13-year F1 career.
Carlos Sainz Jr. – Ferrari
The 29-year-old from Spain was the last man to beat Verstappen, as he took the checkered flag in September at the Singapore Grand Prix for the second win of his career. Long considered one of the best drivers in the world, Sainz shifted the landscape of F1 three years ago by leaving McLaren for Ferrari and is now rumored to be considering another move when his contract expires in 2024.