Max Verstappen took the lead of the Las Vegas GP at the first corner and shrugged off a five-second penalty for doing so while off-track to claim victory for Red Bull, but Sergio Perez narrowly failed to make it a Red Bull 1-2.
Charles Leclerc pulled off a great move to regain the lead mid-race but his one stop strategy was ultimately no match for Verstappen. Perez also re-passed him only to lose out to a second brilliant lunge from the Ferrari on the last lap.
The start of the race saw a number of minor collisions, followed by a major accident for McLaren's Lando Norris who was dispatched to the nearby hospital for evaluation after crashing out in turn 13 on lap 4.
After all the build-up, all the glitz and glamour, all the drama and controversy of the water valve cover, it was time to clear the grid and go racing on the Las Vegas Strip. Charles Leclerc was on pole and Max Verstappen inherited second place alongside him after Carlos Sainz' penalty for new engine components. Both the Red Bull and the Ferrari had opted to start the race on medium tyres, as had George Russell starting right behind them. But Lewis Hamilton opted for a scrubbed set of hards after a disappointing qualifying left him starting in tenth.
The big question was who would get into turn 1 first. Both Leclerc and Verstappen ran wide but it was the Red Bull that recovered first and made the most of the opportunity. He took control of the race and immediately pulled away, but the stewards didn't like him going off-track to pull him off the pass and handed him a five second penalty - although such was the superior race pace of the RB19 that this was seen as no more than a minor irritation for Verstappen. "Yeah that's fine, send them my regards," he replied over the team radio when informed.
Russell held on to third from Pierre Gasly, and Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant were still fifth and sixth for Williams ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon. Valtteri Bottas had been involved in a first corner incident that saw him, Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez heading to pit lane for repairs with a brief Virtual Safety Car declared for a clean up on aisle 2. The big winner was Lance Stroll, who had jumped up from the back row all the way into the top ten.
The VSC was quickly over, but the restart saw Lando Norris thump into the barrier at turn 13 after bottoming out and spinning off into the run-off area. The impact was hard enough to send Norris to the nearly medical facility for evaluation, and the damage was certainly terminal to the McLaren. Hamilton got showered with carbon fibre, having already clashed with Sainz at the start and was lucky that his own car was still on one piece.
There was an inevitable full safety car. Hamilton was able to stay out but Stroll and Sainz took the opportunity to come in before the restart on lap 7. Verstappen had the perfect launch and immediately blasted away from Leclerc. There were no changes among the front-runners, but Oscar Piastri pulled off a pass on Yuki Tsunoda with the AlphaTauri then also passed by Hamilton who was keen to make up for his lost places.
Once the tyres were fully up to race temperature, Leclerc managed to find the pace to catch Verstappen, while Russell was able to keep control over a feisty Gasly. Albon was still in fifth but his Alpine team mate Ocon was able to pick off Sargeant on lap 14. Piastri and Hamilton had made quick work of passing the two Haas drivers and now hustled their way past Sargeant in pursuit of Ocon.
Russell was the first of the leaders to pit, but it was Verstappen who was really suffering from waning tyres. He gave up the lead on lap 16 to get a new set and serve his five second penalty. Piastri was also in after making contact with Hamilton at turn 14, and this time the Mercedes had not come out of the clash unharmed and limped back with a puncture.
A flurry of cars including Gasly also decided to pit. Leclerc stayed out with Perez now in second having made that opportunistic pit stop for hard tyres under the initial VSC. Russell's stop dropped him to seventh but that was still ahead of Verstappen because of the Red Bull's penalty. Both Russell and Verstappen made quick work of passing Alonso who had also made a very early stop and now seeing the life drain from his hard tyres.
Leclerc pitted on lap 22, but he got a slow service while still managing to come out in third ahead of the heated battle between Russell and Verstappen with the pair going side-by-side. There was contact between them and some damage to both cars, although both continued.
It was enough to trigger a new safety car to allow track workers to clear up the debris which allowed both of them to pit as well as a number of other cars. Perez got the best of it, able to pit and still come back out to second, while Leclerc stayed out. Russell dropped behind Stroll and was given a five-second post-race penalty for causing the collision with Verstappen.
Leclerc nearly lost it on cold tyres at the restart on lap 29, but managed to hang on to the lead. However it allowed Perez to jump within DRS range and he used it to wrest the lead from Leclerc on lap 33, while Verstappen brushed off his front wing damage to take care of business with Gasly and then Piastri and move into fifth.
Leclerc was not taking things lying down and on lap 35 he sent it into turn 14 and retook the lead from a surprised Perez, who wasn't able to counter-strike and then quickly succumbed to Verstappen. It was no time at all before Verstappen sailed past Perez and into the lead again using DRS through turn 14 on lap 36. The team promised Perez they would now "work together" to achieve a Red Bull 1-2.
Anyone who hadn't pitted under the most recent safety car was now struggling with tyres, as proven by Albon offering no resistance to a stream of cars as he plummeted out of the points. Then on lap 43 it was Leclerc's turn to suffer, locking up at turn 12 and running wide to cede second to Perez. On lap 44 it was Piastri's turn to drop out of contention by taking to pit lane, while Gasly was also in full reverse. Ocon fared better: despite being passed by Russell on the last lap, he held on to fourth after Russell's post-race penalty dropped him to P9 behind Stroll, Sainz and Hamilton. Alonso and Piastri took the final points ahead of Gasly, Albon, Magnussen and Ricciardo.
But there was a genuine late surprise at the front. Leclerc had managed to keep enough life in his tyres to launch a final lap surprise attack on Perez and snatch second, despite Verstappen doing what he could to hang back and try to give his team mate a helping hand. Having been lukewarm about Vegas as a venue, Verstappen sounded like a convert as he belted out "Viva Las Vegas" on the cool down lap.