The morning after the night before in Las Vegas could so easily have been guilt and remorse for Formula 1. Instead, as the circuit was being dismantled and the Strip returned to what passes for normality in Sin City on Sunday, F1 could reflect over being one of the lucky few who would be leaving for the weekend. At least in terms of perceived success, if not cold, hard cash.
The race itself was a cracker, a contender for best of the season. Any fears that the circuit would turn out to be another street-based procession proved unfounded. Instead, there was real racing and passing, and the drivers admitted that their expectations had been confounded. The upside-down pig that the track resembles – turns 14, 15 and 16, where many passes were made, would be where a curled tail would stick out – had proved capable of delivering a veritable purse of silk.
Still, it had been a difficult journey to the flag. Thursday night’s debacle, which saw first practice abandoned after a drain cover hit Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and then fans locked out of the second session, was a terrible start. As is the rather insulting offer of $200 (£160) to spend at the Las Vegas GP shop as compensation, given the ticket price. A lawsuit has since been filed seeking compensation for the 35,000 spectators, who were left feeling it was a poor response.
The local discontent also grumbled throughout the weekend. Small businesses and workers were put out of business by the disruption imposed on the city. Some mentioned that commutes increased by over two hours, while others complained that the circuit restrictions had driven customers away from their businesses.
Then there were the session times: qualifying at midnight and the race at 10 p.m. They were decided in a compromise with the city to minimize disruption when the roads were closed, but were brutal on the teams. In the paddock, bleary-eyed staff spoke volumes and concerns were raised by a number of team managers and drivers.
All this can be solved before next year and can be improved. In the meantime, the city will assess whether the deal worked for it as well as F1. An increase in revenue of between $1 billion. and $1.7 billion. have been predicted, and if the race reaches those numbers, Vegas and the sport will likely continue for at least the 10 years of their current deal.
There should also be some pride in having pulled it all off in a relatively short time since the race ended in March 2022. The logistics were huge and a lot of effort and money went into making it work. Illustrated on a practical level, on a walk from one part of the track to the other, the number of workers directing traffic and marshaling people was staggering. Barely 50 feet would pass without a (usually) friendly face waving players on or back with a glowstick.
Likewise, in the fan areas, many staff were on hand – not four grumpy teenagers wearing hi-vis and moodily sucking on Gauloises, as at some European races, but staff by the hundreds holding up signs that lit up to read: “Can I help? “
Alongside the garish and cliché that is part of the city – a wedding chapel in the paddock and endless Elvis impersonators – there were also small details. At the teams’ hospitality units, their logos had been rendered in glorious retro-Vegas-style neon signs.
None of this came cheap, of course, with F1 expected to be out as much as $700m. afterwards. Still, it is a one-off and included investment in rebuilding the track and buying the land to build a pit and paddock complex that will now be reused for the rest of the year as F1’s US headquarters and with an additional feature that will be announced later this week.
Which partly explains the other major point of contention, ticket prices. The average price for a three-day ticket was $1,667. Perhaps a factor in it not reaching a sell-out of 105,000. This can also be solved with a tripod at a more reasonable price with no frills.
Imagine the equivalent of the great Rivazza corner at Imola, a raucous pyramid of fans in the heart of Vegas. Unfortunately, it’s probably a pipe dream, but the problematic prices were demonstrated by the number of people desperately trying to see from outside the barriers erected to prevent illegal viewing.
Some brilliant souls discovered that there were outdoor escalators that they could ride up and down and that provided a view of the track. With the entrepreneurial spirit a “beer here!” the guy arrived at the base soon after and did a roaring trade before being moved on.
Before the race, world champion Max Verstappen had dismissively described it as “99% show, 1% sporting event”. Although it was indeed something of an extravaganza across the week, which is not to many people’s taste, the meeting also delivered a lot on the sporting front in the end. There’s plenty to iron out, but F1 should have room for at least one meeting of absurd, over-the-top entertainment, and Las Vegas made the case to let it roll here.