Las Vegas Speed Trap: Who was the fastest of them all?

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Two complete practice sessions enlightened F1 teams on Las Vegas’ environment and on the core qualities that are required to perform well around the venue’s 6.2km layout.

But that’s hardly enough mileage to commit with any degree of certainty to a specific set-up. So, compromise was likely the main action plan followed by most teams before settings were frozen and everyone entered parc fermé.

Teams worked for months in the virtual world to try and define the best base package for this weekend’s round of racing. But unknowns were plentiful before the action kicked off, and they likely still are to a certain degree.

The circuit suggested beforehand that everyone would run Monza-type downforce levels and this has since been validated along with the track’s grip level.

However, the layout’s mix of long straights and low-speed corners requires a good aero balance to ensure maximum velocity down the straights – something crucial in terms of overtaking – but also enough downforce load on the car to get the tyres to switch on amid cooler than average temperatures.

The top speed qualities of Williams’ car have been on show all year, so it was no surprise to see Logan Sargeant’s FW45 clock in among the top-3 in the speed trap readings, a fact that also applies to Red Bull, with Sergio Perez topping the speed trap readings.

However, after Mercedes’ debacle in Brazil – where drag and tyre degradation conspired to undermine the Brackley squad’s weekend – things looked much better for the team’s W14 in Las Vegas, where Russell qualified fourth and set the second fastest top speed.

This appears to indicate that Mercedes was able to reduce its car’s drag significantly without losing too much downforce. Again, it’s a good compromise.

Unfortunately, despite the introduction of a skinny rear wing – with a single beam wing à la Red Bull – McLaren’s MCL60 is once again a draggy proposition this weekend, with Piastri and Norris’ car among the slowest on the straights but also in terms of overall lap times.

The pair qualified respectively P16 and P18 in a session that was poorly executed by team papaya, according to team boss Andrea Stella.

So who can we expect to come out on top and win the jackpot in Sin City?

As usual, regardless of the strategy, it will all start and end with the tyres.

If Ferrari can keep their rubber energized and free of graining, Charles Leclerc will have a strong chance of delivering to the Scuderia its second win of the year. But the same prerequisite applies to Mercedes, and something tells us that Russell, and perhaps even Hamilton, will be a force to be reckoned with under the neon glow on Saturday night.

And then there’s Max, aggressive, confident, and never afraid to take risks. And with an outstanding car to boot.

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