The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino sits in the heart of Las Vegas is just a mile away from the world famous strip.
Long after Formula 1 left behind the ugly, unpopular Ceasars Palace circuit, Las Vegas would, decades later, again see some major names in international motorsport all racing in Sin City.
For many years, the Rio hotel was host of the SuperNationals karting festival – a major event on the karting calendar in the United States of America that brought some of the best young talent from Europe and beyond to compete. And in 2012, SuperNationals two prodigious young drivers were among the hundreds who rocked up to the Rio – Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
While racing in different categories, both left quite an impression when they left Las Vegas. Both secured pole position in their respective categories – Leclerc in the TaG Senior class, Verstappen in the KZ2. Neither would go on to win their respective main events. Leclerc finished fourth after a recovery drive, Verstappen suffered a kart problem that dropped him from the lead.
Now, 11 years later, both drivers are eager to right the wrongs of history and leave as the winner of the biggest motorsport event ever held in the city of Las Vegas.
It’s only fitting that these two lifelong rivals will occupy the front row of the grid for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. Arguably the two most successful drivers of F1’s ground effect era to date, both Leclerc and Verstappen are the perfect representation of Formula 1’s present. A blockbuster blow-for-blow battle between them would be the perfect way for F1’s biggest ever grand prix to play out in front of the US and the world watching on – particularly after Thursday’s shaky start to the newest grand prix on the calendar.
Leclerc did not nab pole from the world champion against the run of play. He was the consistent pace-setter through the weekend and converted his potential into pole. The Ferrari was ahead of the Red Bull on their respective quickest Q3 laps from the moment Verstappen hit the brake pedal for the first corner – mere metres before Leclerc did. But while beating Verstappen over 50 laps is much more difficult than doing it over just six kilometres, Leclerc seems genuinely boosted by his pole.
“The confidence is high because we are starting first,” he said. “It’s the best position to start from.
“On the other hand, we know that Red Bull is going to be very strong, and Max…