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LAS VEGAS — Midway through his post-race interview, Oscar Piastri paused as the enormous fireworks display on the Las Vegas Strip interrupted his train of thought.
“Jesus Christ…” he said, as the noise made everyone’s heads turn towards the sky. I deadpanned: “Welcome to Las Vegas.”
Even though F1 ended its weekend in Las Vegas on a high note with one of the most exciting races of the season, a three-way fight for victory that went all the way to the final stages, there was no escaping the significance of the off-track spectacle.
It had been a source of controversy for many. Max Verstappen, the eventual winner of the race, had railed against the Las Vegas F1 race being “99% spectacle, 1% sporting event” already on Wednesday. Even though some drivers understood the need to embrace the spectacle, they still had a job to do, a race to win, 25 points to fight for. This was their goal.
This has always been the dichotomy of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. F1 had long planned for this to be much more than just one more race, turning it into one of the biggest spectacles in global sport. Ironically, this in reality era one of the most exciting races of the 2023 season, thanks to the thrilling late fight and action all over the field. Getting exciting competitive action, something largely outside of F1’s control, was a nice to have, not a must.
It wasn’t a simple race weekend at all. There are no new roots. But for no new race has half a billion dollars been spent to create it. In true Las Vegas style, the stakes have been raised.
Arriving on the gridiron Saturday night, there was a sense of excitement and nervousness typically reserved for title deciders. After 18 months of preparations and building hype, it was time for F1 to go all out. The cards were down on the table.
What followed gave rise to all the makings of a major F1 event. The neon signs along the illuminated Strip created a spectacular view. The race itself was characterized by a close fight for victory and numerous overtakings, a rarity on a city track. Fears that the low temperatures would make the tires unmanageable were largely unfounded, although the route into Turn 1 and restarts after safety car periods when the tires had cooled were complicated.
The track pleasantly surprised the riders. The layout seemed simple enough and could have been compared to an upside-down pig. But the profile of the corners and in particular the long DRS zones meant there were plenty of overtaking opportunities.
“I didn’t expect to have so much fun in the race,” admitted Charles Leclerc, whose successful lunge on Sergio Pérez lit up the final lap. “I’m sure it was great to watch. “I’ll make sure to watch it back.” George Russell said it was “surreal” to be in Las Vegas, but that the track was “much better to drive than expected” and had “lots of character”.
This does not mean that changes are not needed in the future. Because there are big things that need to be addressed.
Changes are needed
Although it offered good racing, the circuit needs work. Grip levels were still incredibly low, as tends to be the case on road tracks. “You have to fight with the car, but it’s not a feeling you get a lot of feedback from,” explained Daniel Ricciardo. “I think if the grip was higher, it would be more fun.” Carlos Sainz also indicated turn 12, the one that leads onto the Strip, as “a little too dangerous” due to the position of the wall. You can take steps to try to help on both accounts.
The biggest calls for change, ironically, concerned off-track issues, particularly race scheduling. The 10pm lights out was the last in F1 history and the result of many commitments, but the F1 paddock was undoubtedly the biggest loser. Rarely did a conversation go by without someone mentioning how little they had slept or how confused their body clock was. The delays that led to FP2 finishing at 4am on Friday didn’t help. Ricciardo said people were “delusional”, while Leclerc thought the delays were “a bit borderline”. Piastri said he wished this was the last race of the season so he could go straight home, as he already felt like it was Australian time.
It’s difficult to find the right time to start the race. The push to minimize disruption from the closure of one of the world’s most famous roads means it’s not as simple as bringing forward the start time. But it must be something F1 explores because few in the paddock have appreciated such late starts. It would be more appropriate to turn off the lights at 8pm, as we have done in Singapore, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The other factor that made Las Vegas so punishing is what you get to now: the trip to Abu Dhabi for the season finale. It’s a 16-hour journey with a 12-hour time difference, something everyone will have to be ready for by Wednesday at the latest. “It’s a big change in time, especially at the end of a season when everyone is already a bit tired,” Verstappen said. “I think it’s a bit much. So perhaps the ideal would be to find a different date.”
Next year, things will only get worse: Las Vegas will begin a tripleheader with Qatar and Abu Dhabi to close out the year. Ricciardo was shocked to discover this fact on Sunday. “They have to get ahead of it because we will be destroyed, especially at the end of the season,” he said. Unfortunately, that’s not something that’s feasible for next year, and Las Vegas intends to keep this pre-Thanksgiving date long-term. This only increases the need to try and bring forward the race start time to make the whole weekend a little easier for the entire paddock.
There are also obvious lessons that Las Vegas organizers need to learn. The water valve cover issue should be easily fixed in the future, as it was learned the hard way. Then there’s the tone-deaf treatment of fans in the early hours of Friday morning, forcing them to leave and then offering neither a refund nor an apology but a $200 merchandise voucher for an event where they saw eight full minutes of action in track. Announcing on Saturday that ticket deposits would be accepted for 2024 – itself a sign of how expensive it is to attend the race – was a bad look.
“Today was fun”
One thing that’s unlikely to change is the extravagant nature of Las Vegas entertainment. The city’s identity and reputation will remain at the heart of the race, from the wedding chapel in the paddock to the number of Elvis impersonators – I’ve actually lost count – to the slot machine lever on the timing decks at either end of the race. pit lane. It will be authentically Las Vegas, for better or for worse.
Verstappen also got into the spirit a little after the win, singing “Viva Las Vegas” on the radio as part of a new tradition agreed with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
But Verstappen denied the race had changed its tone in Las Vegas. “I always expected it to be a good race today,” he said. “As I said before, on long straights and low-speed corners you don’t lose much downforce. It’s never been my problem. Today was fun. I hope everyone had fun.”
Lewis Hamilton on Wednesday urged people to give Las Vegas a chance and not judge before the race. After the race, he admitted he was surprised by how good the track was, adding: “For everyone who was so negative about the weekend, saying it’s all about the show, blah, blah, blah… I think Vegas proved them wrong. “It’s not difficult to understand who that comment was aimed at.
The race may not have turned Verstappen into a Las Vegas convert, but it proved that what happens on the track can live up to all the hype that is built off the track.
For this reason, F1 will certainly consider the start of its residency in Las Vegas a success. There is room for improvement, yes, but after how things started, it was a huge turning point for the sport.
According to Verstappen’s measurements, 1% of the sporting event exceeded the 99% spectacle. Few would have imagined those odds Thursday night.
More from AtleticoLas Vegas Grand Prix Coverage:
Why the first F1 Grand Prix in Las Vegas was a total failure and a ‘lesson learned’
Our detailed analysis of the Las Vegas Strip circuit
F1’s ‘unacceptable’ night in Las Vegas: How a water valve cover interrupted practice
(Main photo by Max Verstappen: ANP via Getty Images)