Charles Leclerc after winning the F-1 pole at Las Vegas. (Ferrari Photo)

Leclerc, Sainz Flex Muscles To 1-2 Ferrari Qualifying Effort

LAS VEGAS — Charles Leclerc continued his blistering pace around the Strip Circuit to claim pole for Sunday’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

 The Ferrari driver bested the Formula 1 field with a fastest time of 1:32.726, narrowly topping teammate Carlos Sainz for a Prancing Horse sweep of the front row.

“I’m of course happy,” Leclerc said. “First in Las Vegas, obviously it’s an incredible event, and to be starting from pole tomorrow is great.

“However, I’m a bit disappointed with my laps in Q3, I didn’t do a good enough job, but it was enough for P1, so that’s all we need. Now it’s full focus on tomorrow to try and put everything together in the race.

“Normally that’s where we lack most performance, so I hope we can put it all together and win here.”

Sainz, however, was dealt a 10-place grid penalty after Friday’s water valve cover debacle in which the Ferrari driver damaged his race car after driving over the piece.

The team was penalized for changing power unit components. 

Thus, reigning F-1 champion Max Verstappen starts alongside Leclerc after qualifying his Red Bull Racing machine in third.

“I think we maximized what we could today,” Verstappen said. “I’m not a massive fan of street circuits, I prefer the high speed tracks where you can really push the car to the limit. So far this weekend we’ve been lacking pace with the one lap performance but the long runs looked good yesterday.

“Starting second tomorrow will be interesting, the lead up to turn one isn’t too bad but we definitely need a good start. The race will be all about keeping the tires alive, there will be a lot of graining. I’ll ease myself in to it tomorrow and if I see an opportunity I will go for it.”

George Russell headed the Mercedes stable in fourth with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly rounding out the top-five positions.

Williams Racing continued their successful weekend with Alexander Albon and American rookie Logan Sargeant qualifying seventh and eighth, respectively. h

Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas had an impressive qualifying effort in eighth, while Kevin Magnussen gave Haas F-1 a stellar run in ninth. 

The final driver to make Q3 was Fernando Alonso in 10th.

It was a struggle for some of F-1’s powerhouse teams, including Mercedes and Red Bull.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was eliminated in Q2 where he’ll start 11th. It was a session in which he felt he couldn’t exert anymore speed out of his race car.

“That wasn’t a great qualifying session, but it is what it is,” Hamilton said following his run. “I really struggled for grip out there and we didn’t manage to get the tires working throughout the whole session. It’s not ideal but it’s an issue I’ve been dealing with for a while. We saw a decent amount of track evolution. Not a crazy amount, but it was still enough to knock me out as I failed to improve on my final lap in Q2.

“We’ve seen a lot of graining on the tyres up and down the field in practice, so it will be interesting to see if that continues in the grand prix. I think tire management, how you bring the tires in and how you progress in addition to where you push and don’t push will be key tomorrow,” Hamilton continued.

“We made a few changes to the car ahead of FP3 and we’re hoping that they will help us in the race.”

Sergio Perez landed 12th, nine spots behind world champion teammate Verstappen.

Haas F-1’s Nico Hulkenberg starts 13th.