Formula 1’s Las Vegas venture might’ve been unashamedly all about creating a spectacle off the track. But despite Thursday’s false start, it was the on-track action that proved to be the main event.
Max Verstappen took his 18th win of the season, but it was far from his easiest, with no less than five on-track lead changes.
Here’s the key takeaways from F1’s first race in Vegas in four decades.
This is F1’s ‘big game’
When Formula 1, a business that doesn’t usually run its own events, sinks half a billion dollars into a race in the middle of the world’s entertainment capital, you know they are going to try and put on the biggest show they can.
The weekend started with an “opening ceremony”, drawing many comparisons to a Super Bowl halftime show.
A group of Elvis impersonators greeted the drivers at the paddock entrance. Special liveries and race suits were adopted by most teams.
Bright neon lights and fireworks were everywhere. Bruce Buffer was on hand to introduce the drivers, and the grid was heaving with celebrities.
The top three drivers after the race were whisked into the back seat of a limousine and taken to see the Bellagio fountains, instantly creating fodder for the internet.
Most drivers were excited simply at the prospect of racing in Vegas, but not everyone was convinced.
Max Verstappen made plenty of headlines over the weekend, calling the event a number of things including “99 per cent show and one per cent sport”, although his language did soften somewhat after he won the race.
F1 went to a lot of effort to move the needle in America with their third race in the country, and there’s certainly value in that.
But ultimately, what matters to fans of motor racing is what happens on the track.
Secure the drain covers before debuting a street track
After all the hype, this was just about the worst possible start.
Carlos Sainz dislodged a water valve cover on the back straight just eight minutes into opening practice on Thursday night, which ripped through the floor, engine and battery of his Ferrari.
He was hit with a 10-place grid penalty for changing components, with no force-majeure or, as Martin Brundle said, “common sense” clause in the regulations.
To compound the situation for Sainz, this was the weekend that Ferrari were on the pace. He finished second in qualifying.
FP1 was cancelled and FP2 delayed while a solution was devised, and by the time the cars hit the track again, it was 2:30am and the grandstands were empty.
Fans were told to leave the track an hour earlier as staff shifts came to an end, meaning they saw just eight minutes of running for the night.
F1 released an unapologetic statement and only went as far as to give a $200 merchandise voucher to Thursday-only ticket holders.
Predictably that didn’t go down well, with a lawsuit quickly filed against the promoter on behalf of 35,000 fans.
F1 didn’t do its due diligence in properly checking the circuit before cars rolled out for the first time, and it proved to be majorly embarrassing.
The most disappointing part of the spectator situation is that it comes so soon after the 2021 Spa non-race. With the highest admission prices for any grand prix, surely the paying customers deserve much better treatment.
The track itself is actually good, but very slippery
More often than not, when the racing isn’t the highest priority for organisers, the racing will suffer (related note: we’re off to Yas Marina next week).
But once the drains were filled in, what Hermann and Carsten Tilke served up on the Strip was a decent street circuit.
Second only to Monza in terms of average speed, with concrete walls closely lining the circuit, it provides a real challenge to the drivers.
Unusually, the roads were reopened to general traffic after each race night, significantly lowering the amount of grip that F1 cars had when they next hit the track.
Combine this with the low temperature under the night sky, the freshly laid surface, and the lack of support categories, and you had a slip-and-slide for drivers to contend with. We saw the best drivers in the world make mistakes, and it created terrific action.
Safety cars and graining tyres changed the strategy game multiple times, and Ferrari couldn’t keep up.
There was plenty of overtaking into turn 14 at the end of the longest straight, while turns one and five were also popular spots to get past. The DRS effect was less pronounced with skinnier rear wings in play, meaning drivers had to genuinely complete moves under braking.
One good race doesn’t make a classic track, but with a 10 year contract in mind, it looks like we’ve got ourselves an interesting and unique circuit.
Better than a casino carpark, that’s for sure.
Late night F1 has a toll on the teams
“I think everybody’s leaving Vegas slightly f——d,” Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner said after Saturday’s race.
It might be a Vegas tradition to depart the city as such, but the nocturnal nature of the weekend was not kind to the thousands of people who travel with the F1 circus.
In an attempt to accomodate European viewers, sessions were scheduled to end as late as 1am. It put everyone on-site in a strange timezone that was more like being in Australia than America.
That’s even before the delay to FP2, which forced team personnel to endure a 22-hour day.
The unusual schedule also put the race out of reach for many fans in the US, starting at 1am for viewers on the east coast. This is especially baffling, as attracting an American audience is one of the key motivations behind running the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
In the interest of the teams, this may be one of many areas tweaked in 2024.
Some things will likely change next year
Ticket prices plummeted from their initial value in the days leading up to the race, as F1 came to terms with lower than expected ticket sales. The exorbitant prices we saw when the race was announced are unlikely to return.
The new track surface will set in over the course of the year, and should be much grippier next November.
But F1 is in this for the long-haul, having built a permanent pit building on a US$240 million block of land, and will no doubt work to develop this race into a new Monaco.
One thing that probably won’t change, however, is the number of casino puns we are all going to be subjected to every time we come to Las Vegas.
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