Verstappen heads for hyped-up Vegas
Bright lights of gambling mecca not likely to distract champion from job at hand
Formula One’s Saturday night spectacular in Las Vegas may be the most-hyped Grand Prix of all time, but Red Bull’s triple world champion Max Verstappen has a job to do and he will not be distracted.
Even if the casinos and hotels of Sin City and its famed Strip grab most of the limelight, the Dutch 26-year-old still has milestones to pass and records to break in the most dominant of seasons.
Victory in Nevada would be the 53rd of his career, equalling the tally of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and lifting Verstappen to joint third in the all-time win lists.
Only Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.
It would also be a record-extending 18th from a single campaign, with one more race to come in Abu Dhabi the next weekend.
Season records for podiums, points and laps led will have to be adjusted.
A 20th win of the season for Red Bull would also be a record, with the team tied with Mercedes, who won 19 races in 2016.
Verstappen, who clinched his third title in Qatar in October, will be the favourite again even if many questions remain to be answered about the track layout, low temperatures, surface conditions and timetable.
Qualifying for the race starts at midnight on Friday with the race at 10pm on Saturday — the latest start in Formula One history and one designed to show off the neon-lit city skyline to maximum effect.
The 17-corner anticlockwise track is the second-longest on the current calendar, a 6.2km blast past local landmarks with a 1.9km flat-out straight and a mix of old and new asphalt.
“First of all, I think we are there more for the show than the racing itself if you look at the layout of the track,” Verstappen said.
“But you know, I’m actually not that into it. I’m more like I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again.”
Teammate Sergio Perez can finally clinch second place in the championship, which would be the first time Red Bull have finished a season with their drivers one-two in the standings.
The Mexican is 32 points clear of Mercedes’s Hamilton, with 26 remaining to be won after Las Vegas.
If another Verstappen victory comes as no surprise, it cannot be considered a given.
Any new event on the calendar has a strong element of the unpredictable and all teams will be in the same position of entering the unknown.
“We have prepared the best we can, using the limited information we have, and there are some unique characteristics we can anticipate,” said Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, whose team are still battling Ferrari for second overall.
“We’ll be running at night, where ambient and track temperatures will probably be in the single digits.
“Plus, the track layout itself is unusual, with many slow corners but long straights.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us all and we’re looking forward to taking it on.”
The coldest race on record in Formula One world championship history was the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal where temperatures that October dropped to 5°C.
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