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Las Vegas: How the race saved F1’s half a billion dollar gamble from spectacular failure

A weekend in Las Vegas beset by logistical issues, delays, emergency repairs and impending lawsuits leaves F1 resembling fools

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Events at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix became an embarrassment, showcasing failure on every level.

Max Verstappen battles Charles Leclerc at the start of the Las Vegas Grand Prix (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen battles Charles Leclerc at the start of the Las Vegas Grand Prix (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

F1 chose to play a sky-high game of roulette in Las Vegas. The last time F1 raced in the world’s self-titled entertainment capital is notorious. The ill-fated Caesars Palace Grand Prix lasted just two seasons. The setting of the hotel’s car park in searing heat should give an idea of why it failed so spectacularly.

Liberty Media has thrown the kitchen sink at the revival, with F1’s return to Las Vegas after forty years showcasing a slew of high-profile events building up to the weekend. The race itself became one of the highlights of the season, not because of its location, but because of the track layout. Its setting in Las Vegas was incidental.

But, almost from the moment F1 rocked up to Sin City, issues began to materialise. From complaints regarding the treatment of fans to concerns the show element held far more importance than the racing, Saturday’s blockbuster race successfully covered over the cracks of a problematic event. However, be under no illusion; the fallout of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix has just begun.

A start we all want to forget

Can we please agree that Wednesday night’s “opening ceremony” was cringe-inducing? Yes, the fireworks were spectacular, as was the strip, lit up in all its glory, but what about the reason F1 came to Las Vegas? The drivers did indeed get highlighted, but only in the closing seconds. Standing for thirty minutes on raised platforms, they must have questioned what in blazes they were there for.

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez wave to the crowds during the Las Vegas grand prix opening ceremony (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez wave to the crowds during the Las Vegas Grand Prix opening ceremony (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

The headline music acts were great, but the drivers seemed an afterthought. At the end of the ceremony, it was as if the organisers realised, “Oh, best show the drivers; they haven’t had anything to do for the last thirty minutes”. A comparable scenario is footballers arriving at Wembley Stadium to find a huge concert had taken over the pitch, but no thought given to an actual game being played. Don McLean, how’s that for American Pie?

Drivers were divided on the success of the ceremony. Carlos Sainz raised scheduling concerns, while Max Verstappen described it as “99% show and 1% sporting event”. His two-minute passionate plea in a press conference referring to needing more races with emotion is a speech every Liberty Media Executive has to hear. I, along with many fans, wholeheartedly agree.

Free Practice farce

When track action began on Thursday night, on-site fans saw cars on the circuit for all of nine minutes. The loose water valve cover wrecked the underside of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and more and Esteban Ocon had to have a new safety cell fitted to his Alpine. The ten-place grid penalty for Sainz was utterly ridiculous. It perfectly demonstrated F1 once again being stuck in its own rules. Ferrari is justifiably looking at compensation for this. Who can blame them?

It is now plainly evident that little thought had been given to the difference between a Mercedes 4X4 using the tarmac versus a ground-effect Mercedes W14 F1 car with massive downforce. That the session was called off indefinitely, with a ninety-minute second session delayed until 2:30 am, showed the level of the cock up.

Carlos Sainz inspects his damaged Ferrari after hitting a water valve cover in Free Practice (Image Credit: @ForTheWin on X)
Carlos Sainz inspects his damaged Ferrari after hitting a water valve cover in Free Practice (Image Credit: @ForTheWin on X)

“Flagging” then became the word of the night when the action did resume, as TV viewers witnessed a poor Martin Brundle clearly wanting to be in bed, trying hard to stay awake while out on circuit. The drivers, too, looked visibly to be struggling. These are pro athletes and have to earn their handsome wages, but driving at 200mph after a 21-hour day seems downright dangerous. I have never witnessed such a farcical situation in my thirty years of watching motorsport.

However, Martin was among the few who could see the second Free Practice session from the track. Fans had been ordered to leave the circuit just before the delayed session began, leading to the ridiculous situation of cars powering around a track, with no fans in the grandstand. Some had paid $6000 for their tickets. The apology from F1 was $200 in F1’s online store – but only for Thursday-only ticket holders. Those with a full weekend pass were expected to just grin and bear it.

Fans and drivers a secondary consideration?

I do not need to say that this far from adequate compensation for witnessing nine minutes instead of two hours of F1 cars live. Neither, it seems, did the fans, as reports of class action lawsuits were announced as soon as dawn broke.

The entire situation was barmy and beyond comprehension, brought about by Las Vegas’s need to reopen its roads. Except, the decision was made to delay this by several hours. One of my closest friends, who works in British Touring Cars, was texting me throughout the delays, stating he could not believe what we were seeing at F1’s flagship event. It almost seemed like one big joke.

Health and safety concerns were at the centre of the decision to close the fan zones and evacuate the circuit of spectators. Max Verstappen doubled down on his critique of the circuit organisers. His comments that fans would “tear down” the venue while emotional were highly relevant. Oscar Piastri also voiced his displeasure, stating the fans should have been told earlier that they needed to vacate the circuit.

During the build-up to the race, it seems that everyone was under orders to praise the event. Drivers, as we know, very quickly broke ranks. But when anything is praised too hard, you can almost hear the PR gears grinding away. It’s like an under-pressure reality TV show contestant praising the show when asked if they feel at risk. We know it’s fake.

Fans show their dismay at being ejected from the Las Vegas circuit (Image Credit: Planet F1)
Fans show their dismay at being ejected from the Las Vegas circuit (Image Credit: Planet F1)

The hype led to fans and the drivers becoming a secondary consideration. At least, that is how it seemed. So much focus was placed on the entertainment factor that the drivers and fans genuinely were an afterthought.

Why else would an opening ceremony to a race only show the drivers with thirty seconds remaining? Why else would fans be treated with such contempt when on-track action began – charging thousands of dollars for tickets and ejecting them from the circuit with nothing more than a $200 goodwill gesture?

FIA and F1 caught out?

But the crucial question is this. Why did the FIA homologate (signed off as safe to race on to you and me) the track so late? The delays in getting the track ready are well documented, but most tracks are inspected and homologated with a healthy margin before the race.

This track did not receive final sign-off until after F1 arrived in Nevada. This was because, shockingly, the track had, in some places, yet to be completed. The final track sign-off, as reported by Sportskeeda, did not happen until Thursday morning, just hours before the first session.

The delays explain the water valve cover incident, the temperature issues not being fully factored in and the logistical problems that led to the delays between the practice sessions while repairs were carried out. This is not acceptable in other categories of sport, so why F1? Once again, entertainment had been prioritised over why F1 was in town. To race.

After Thursday’s debacle, the rest of the weekend went off without a hitch. Frankly, it needed to. As bad as the Caesars Palace circuit was (and it truly was terrible), both races proceeded without incident. The track became the joke, not the location or organisers.

F1’s lucky break

A street circuit’s first year is a baptism of fire. Nothing is quite right the first time, and things can always be improved. The brilliant race on Saturday night protected the circuit from more fallout after a highly embarrassing opening couple of days.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix is aimed squarely at the American market but needs to reconsider its approach for next year. To have fans, drivers, pundits and journalists galore all raising the concerns cancels all the self-praise in the world.

F1 gambled half a billion dollars on F1’s return to Las Vegas. The house did indeed win in the end. But only after it got a miracle lucky break. F1 nearly got caught out and lost everything.

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images 

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