The racing was epic, but was the first-ever F1-organized race successful on all fronts?
The Las Vegas Grand Prix is done, the results are in, and the organizers already announced that reservations for next year will open soon. In a somewhat surprising twist ending, the infamous race was quite good despite Las Vegas' best attempts to mess it up.
Then again, what were we expecting? Formula 1 always absorbs the culture of whatever city it visits. In Italy, it's all about Ferrari and the Tifosi. The same is true for Red Bull's stomping ground in Austria. Max Verstappen even wore a sombrero on the podium at Checo's home Grand Prix. Why wouldn't it absorb the culture of Las Vegas, brash, flamboyant, beautiful, glorious, and scandalous all rolled into one?
Of course, Max Verstappen raced in an Elvis outfit. Of course, F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve got married in the paddock at a makeshift chapel. Of course, there was a small casino in the paddock right next to the chapel, and of course, there were 75 pages worth of celebrities at the race. The only thing more bountiful than the celebrities were the fake breasts.
Still, having spent the entire weekend in Las Vegas, I'd urge everyone to give it a go at least once. The best way I can explain it is by saying it was like a Wimbledon match produced by the WWE. It's American sports entertainment at its very best, despite all the moaners who still say that the race sucked.
Now that it's done and I've had time to process the event, here's the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Okay, Verstappen did his normal SuperMax thing and won, but the Ferraris turned out to be equally potent, and this is the closest we've seen another team get to Verstappen's gearbox by the end of the race; Australia's safety car finish notwithstanding.
And let's not forget about that stellar final lap overtake and the rush to the finish line from Leclerc, who stayed with Sergio Perez, ready to pounce as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Say what you want about Perez; he can still duke it out with the best.
He battled all the way from 17th to third, giving us another close race to the end. It wasn't as close as the battle between him and Fernando Alonso at Interlagos, but highly entertaining.
The track, criticized by many as ordinary, seemed to work for racing. The massive straight down the Las Vegas Strip meant that lap after lap, someone was at risk of being overtaken, with many positions swapping back and forth. Outside of a rain-soaked Dutch GP, Vegas had more overtakes than any other race this season.
And even outside the straights, there were overtaking opportunities for those who dared. Cold tires hampering grip aside, the racing action was top-drawer stuff.
There were so many events around the race that it was constantly overshadowed. At any one time, there was a celebrity-infested party with racing in the background. I saw thousands of people with ticket lanyards dancing to the tunes of *insert random band I don't know because good music died in the 90s* while FP1, 2, 3, and the qualifying was taking place.
The tickets were not cheap, so why buy one if you're not going to watch the race? Why would you get blackout drunk before the race? Am I gatekeeping Formula 1?
The sideshows were annoying, as were the dumb questions about whether qualifying was done after 10 minutes. While explaining the concept of qualifying to a noob, I realized that I was a bitter old man gatekeeping a sport that's now something it never used to agree. While I agree with Max Verstappen and his views about the race, Las Vegas is a bit too much show and not enough go.
That being said, I hate gatekeeping. I hate the idea that people who got into Formula 1 because of Drive to Survive are somehow lesser than those of us who grew up watching it with our dads. If it weren't for Drive to Survive, F1 would have remained a Euro-centric sport, and Andretti-Cadillac wouldn't have cared. Now, there are three US Grands Prix (yes, that's the plural of Grand Prix), each event folding billions of dollars into the local economy.
And besides, it's pretty easy to tune all that out and just enjoy the racing. Your experience of an event is not dictated by those around you. Once I accepted the Las Vegas Grand Prix for what it was, it was fun. It was lovely watching a new batch of people get blown away by the speed, the noise, and the pitstops. Formula 1 is engineering at its finest, and watching it in person for the first time may have resulted in thousands of new fans.
One final bad thing, however. If you own a muscle car like a Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger, please don't rev it incessantly while driving down the street. We've just seen 20 drivers clip an apex at 120 mph. After watching that, every muscle car out there is an insignificant ant.
It's hard to get F1 supporters to agree about anything, but it was difficult to find a person who agreed with what the FIA did to Carlos Sainz.
In case you missed it, Sainz's Ferrari sucked up a drain cover during FP1, and the floor and battery pack had to be replaced. The FIA had the audacity to give him a 10-place grid penalty because the track it certified as safe was not good enough. It admitted as much when it paved over every other drain cover at midnight while delaying the second practice session.
Suppose Sainz had put it into a wall like Alex Albon and then had to replace power unit components - fine. But he was simply trying to learn a brand-new track, and the track attacked him. I'm aware that rules are rules, but surely there must be room for exceptions? The stewards admitted they felt it was unfair, but within the wording of the rules, had they not penalized him, other teams would have objected and the black-and-white of it all would've meant penalizing Sainz retrospectively.
Allowance must be made for force majeure, and beyond even the in-race repercussions, Ferrari has now had to foot the bill, putting them at risk of breaching the cost cap, too.
What makes it even worse is that the FIA should have identified this problem. The people who built the track are not to blame. But the FIA must have sent several inspectors at great expense to verify that the track is good enough for F1. How did they miss such an obvious problem? It's not like Vegas is the first street circuit ever…
I've never been big on speculation, but giving Sainz a 10-place grid penalty had massive repercussions for the race. Instead of locking Verstappen out of the front row, he was handed a spot right next to Leclerc. He then nailed him into the first corner; the rest is history.
With the battle for second in the Constructors' Championship being so close, that penalty may cost Ferrari millions of dollars if things don't go the team's way in Abu Dhabi. We'll never know, but that doesn't mean we can't be angry about it.
F1 is a sport first and foremost, which is why we dealt with the sporting aspect above and the ramifications on the athletes. But the same incident that ruined Sainz's weekend also hurt the fans. We only had nine minutes of Free Practice 1 before Sainz had a negative encounter with a drain cover, and the session was red flagged thereafter for repairs. FP2 was delayed by hours, and when it eventually started at 2:30 AM, there was no one in the stands.
That wasn't the fault of the spectators. They tried to watch. But F1 decided to close all the grandstands due to logistical problems, with police called in to remove spectators from the stands. People paid to watch FP1 and FP2, and all they got to watch was nine minutes of FP1 and hours worth of roadworks. The fans weren't refunded, either. Instead, F1 gave them a $200 merchandise voucher.
What's the point of putting on an event touted as the biggest spectator value event in Vegas only to not let spectators in and then not refund them for your stuff up?
A more pertinent question is whether you can afford to go. Several taxi drivers reliably informed me that Vegas has a history of overpricing events until the free market eventually sets the price. We know ticket and hotel prices took a considerable dip a week before the event, but all the seats were full on race day. Hopefully, Liberty Media learned something and will make the Vegas Grand Prix a bit more affordable next year.
If you're a die-hard Formula 1 fan, an old-school race like Silverstone, Spa, and Monza will always be better. They're the tracks you grow up with, and it's a rush to see them in person after watching them on a square box for 30 years.
But if you like clubbing, drinking, gambling, and Formula 1, Vegas is the place to be.