Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc are cautiously optimistic they can upset the almost unbeatable Max Verstappen in the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix by pinching an unexpected victory.
Las Vegas is a race run in unusual conditions — quite apart from the neon-lit backdrop quite unlike any other in Formula 1.
The street circuit is deceptively simple, comprising mostly long straights joined by slow corners.
The newly resurfaced circuit is also very low on grip, with a layer of slick bitumen still coating the aggregate. Allied with expected night-time temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius, traction will be extremely low.
In combination these are characteristics that will hurt the otherwise dominant Red Bull Racing RB19, which is slow to warm up its tyres.
But that could be good news for Ferrari, which has been strong in straight lines all year and has suffered from tyre overheating.
Having snatched pole at the high-speed Monza and Baku and then becoming the only other team to win a race this season on the streets of Singapore, the team spying a genuine chance to score a very good result.
“Better hopes than recently, mainly because the track looks probably a bit more suited to us than recent tracks,” Carlos Sainz said. “Long straights like in Monza. Tight corners like in Monza or Singapore.
“Maybe there's the combination of turns 1 and 2 where we will not be very quick, but then the rest of the track I think our cars should be better suited than recent events.
“Hopefully that gives us a better opportunity.”
Leclerc said he was impressed with his first trial of the circuit in the simulator and was hopeful it would deliver a good race.
“I love street tracks, first of all, so I cannot wait to be out on track tomorrow and to try this street track,” he said. “Honestly, it’s nicer than what I thought when I looked the first time at the layout. It looks like a big turnaround.
“When you drive it, it's actually quite interesting. The way the corners are made is nice. There is lots of combined braking, which will make it quite difficult for front lockups, but it’s going to be interesting.”
But he cautioned the lack of data Ferrari and all other teams had on the brand-new circuit meant it was too early to make predictions.
“I’ve had quite a few laps on the simulator, but the amount of data is limited for now because we haven’t done any real laps yet,” he said.
“But the ones I did virtually I enjoyed, so I hope that it will fit our car as well, which on paper should fit a bit more than the last few races, which I hope will give us a great result coming Sunday.”
Let’s go bold for the final time this year. There’s genuine optimism that this track has all the ingredients for a good weekend for Ferrari, and Charles Leclerc has been in fine Saturday form lately. The race will come towards Max Verstappen, but not by enough for him to claim victory.
Pole position: Charles Leclerc
Podium: Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz
Winning margin: Five seconds
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.