It was big, it was brash, it was brilliant at times and it was bewildering at others. The Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend was a contradiction at pretty much every turn.
The hype leading into the first event was massive, from a Formula 1 perspective at least. Once on the ground and outside the paddock bubble, those contradictions were quickly obvious.
Across three different Uber drivers — the stock barometer of a street event that disrupts driving routes — there was the full spread. The first I had on Tuesday evening was hugely excited about the event, the chance to see F1 cars on the Strip and the smooth road surface he’d been left with as a result of the track preparation work.
While that positive opening suggested a warm welcome, the driver also claimed that those who are complaining will complain about anything and not look at the benefits. That experience was followed by a more critical driver who was frustrated by the road closures and fell asleep watching the race on television. While driver number two thought it was a cool event, they weren’t a fan of the disruption (or all that impressed by Lando Norris’ crash…).
The third opinion sat right in the middle. Not overly bothered, pleased for the extra business that the race had brought, but admitting the impact on traffic was a little annoying.
It’s a theme that extended to bar staff in the casinos (I know, tough job but I had to do my research), who were excited to have a new influx of fans to Vegas.
Don’t let Max Verstappen’s comments this week fool you. Sin City might not be for everyone — and different races should cater to different tastes — but there were fans learning about F1 in town.
First, I was stunned at the amount of merchandise that was being worn as you walked around. In a claimed attendance of 315,000 over the weekend — and claimed is the word there — you’d expect to see a lot of fans, but it still stood out as they moved through the different resorts before heading trackside.
It sparked up plenty of conversations, where you’d overhear those who were just in Vegas for more traditional Vegas reasons asking questions about the race and the sport, or fellow fans giving each other advice.
At an event for a team sponsor I attended on Saturday morning, a couple of guests who were just planning on partying and leaving before the race started were hooked on the idea of taking in the whole grand prix — and trying to make watching on TV with their kids a family tradition in future — within half an hour of chatting with others who were watching.
Little boosts like that don’t excuse some of the failings, though.
There was definitely increased focus simply because it was Vegas. F1 was invested as a promoter and the race had given itself such a billing that it was almost dealing with self-made expectations that it simply could not match. That also meant it perhaps came in for greater criticism than other venues would.
I think back to the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix and George Russell seeing his Williams attacked by a drain cover — before the recovery vehicle then also hit a start light gantry on its return to the pit straight — and I’ll admit I don’t remember the same clamor for refunds for spectators based on the lost practice time.
Teams and drivers in Baku were frustrated but able to make up for it in FP2 and the rest of the weekend continued without issue, and the speed of the repair (admittedly not leading to a delay to F1’s schedule) is deemed impressive in hindsight.
The problem for F1 and LVGP was that if you tell everyone something’s going to be amazing and setting a new standard, and then you cause huge disruption to do that, a track safety failing within 10 minutes of the running starting is not acceptable.
A bit of humility and an apology — even in a city where a lawsuit was coming within 36 hours regardless — would have gone far further than doubling down with “it happens” and a $200 voucher for the store rather than reimbursement.
Fortunately, that was to prove the low point, much to the relief of the organizing team. As you moved further away from the embarrassing situation of Thursday, more the good things came to the fore.
The track looked spectacular, movement was relatively simple and it was unashamedly Vegas in a way that it really had to be given the location.
But a big part of what any grand prix boils down to is the sporting event, and despite Verstappen’s earlier quotes, that was definitely more than one percent.
It might have been 99 percent show compared to some other events, but it was 100 percent a race in the same way any other round of the championship is, and the track delivered a thriller.
“I’m really, really happy to have had a positive race,” Lewis Hamilton told Sky Sports as Saturday night became Sunday morning. “I’m really grateful that the race was so good. I don’t know how it was as a spectacle for people to watch, but there was so much overtaking. It was like Baku, but better.
“I really wasn’t expecting the track to be so great, but the more and more laps you did, I just really loved racing. Lots of great overtaking opportunities.
“I think for all those that were so negative about the weekend, saying it’s all about show, blah, blah, blah.. I think Vegas proved them wrong.”
It did this time, but there’s no guarantee the race will deliver every year. The great on-track action doesn’t mean the whole week was perfect, so plenty of lessons need to be learned for 2024. The schedule, for one, really needs to change, with drivers and team members exhausted by the extreme change in working hours from both their usual headquarters and compared to the following round.
Earlier starts wouldn’t just be better for those working in the paddock, though, with the U.S. audience benefiting on the East Coast, and fans in attendance likely to face more comfortable temperatures.
Track opening and closing definitely needs to be quicker in future, too, but more importantly it will need to be able to be constructed later in the year and removed rapidly to minimize disruption.
Ticket and hotel prices definitely need to be revisited. The high-end options looked impressive but the brilliant race will have even more fans who can only afford GA keen to attend for the sporting spectacle. Vegas can certainly accommodate for them, and has plenty of other ways to try and tempt them to part with their money.
Clear areas for improvement do exist, and the race organizers would do well to explain how they will be focused on them as soon as realistically possible.
After boasting it was going to win big before it even sat at the table, and then losing chips early on, it feels like the race ended up for the night.