The session got underway 2.5 hours later than planned following repairs to the track surface along the city’s famous Strip following Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon suffering big damage in an FP1.
FP2 took place in front of no fans after the police, on behalf of the race organiser, F1 itself, had to clear all fan areas including grandstands due to security staff shift patterns changing.
In the opening phase of what was an extended 90-minute session to make up for the earlier lost running, the pack was split across using the soft and medium tyres as they examined how many laps were needed to prepare the tyres for a flying lap while completing lengthy opening stints.
Several drivers had stints at the head of the times as the track evolution factor kicked in with more rubber being laid down and the tyres finally heating up on the smooth new surface.
That meant the times tumbled from Oscar Piastri’s first timed lap of 1m43.832s to Verstappen’s 1m38.209s by the end of the opening 15 minutes, with Leclerc sitting 0.116s adrift of the world champion at this stage, but having run the softs.
After a lull in action up to the 25-minute mark, Leclerc headed back out on the softs, with Verstappen soon joining him on the same compound.
Neither driver improved on their first attempts on new softs, the pair having a bizarre incident heading down the Strip at the end of preparation tours when Verstappen was “racing already”, per Leclerc, as he moved past the Ferrari into Turn 14.
This left Sergio Perez and then Sainz to nip ahead on the timing boards, with Perez posting a 1m37.807s before Sainz beat him with a 1m36.984s – after the Spaniard had shot to the top, briefly, during the initial running with his first lap in his repaired SF-23.
Verstappen’s second attempt at a softs flier went wrong when he locked up into Turn 12 and had to bail into the escape road, while Leclerc demoted Perez of second.
As the drivers continued to circulate for lengthy stints, Verstappen eventually beat his medium-shod initial person best to run adrift of the Ferrari drivers, which by the 35-minute mark was Leclerc ahead with a 1m36.660s at the top of the times.
Five minutes later, Hamilton moved into second place – just 0.003s down on Leclerc’s top time – with Sainz and the two Red Bull cars back in the pits again.
Before he also came in ahead of the halfway…