Was the Formula 1 event in Vegas a photo finish or a flaming wreck? Depends on who you ask. The race was projected to have (and likely will have) a $1.2 billion economic impact, and overall, it was a success.
In fact, said driver Lewis Hamilton, in speaking to AutoWeek reporters, “The race was very good, one of the best races.”
The race was every bit the spectacle that Vegas was hoping for, with cars whipping down the Strip and into turns. The track was also a pleasant surprise; AutoWeek noted, “It is always difficult to know how a design on paper will convert in reality and after some initial skepticism from the drivers after practice, it transpired that the Las Vegas Strip Circuit proved entertaining for racing.”
But the race experience was not without its share of problems. Many of those hiccups are typical of a first-time event but have left a sour taste in some fans’ mouths.
We already know, for example, that F1 was forced to pump the brakes on its demands on Las Vegas in exchange for hosting an event there.
F1 fan site, The Judge, notes, “F1 had been demanding $1,500 per seat from non-partners such as Planet Hollywood, among others, to ensure the view of the race track was not obscured by lighting … For a venue with around 2,000 seats, this would have resulted in a bill of around $3 million.”
Venues went on the warpath, accusing race owners of a “gangster-style shakedown” and took to social media to express their displeasure. F1, seeing the writing on the wall, backed off and agreed to a one-time $50,000 fee for each of the non-partner venues.
The prep did not go smoothly, either, according to CNN, whose reporters stated, “With bigger events come bigger challenges. Construction and preparation for the F1 race snarled traffic, agitating locals in the process. Also drawing the ire of longtime residents and visitors were the (initially) exorbitant prices and the potentially blocked views of everything from the Bellagio fountains to the Mirage volcano, due to the temporary grandstands and signage.”
The local ABC affiliate said drivers had taken note of this: "I've heard there's been a lot of complaints about the event being here from the locals. I think we have to be respectful of the locals here. So many people are working so hard. We've got to make sure people are taken care of," Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS driver Lewis Hamilton told Sky Sports during a media interview day. "We can't be a circus that shows up that's all glitz and glamour and people are affected negatively by it, in my opinion. Hopefully, it's just something short-term. Maybe in the future, we'll be able to do things better so people aren't disrupted as much."
Many rideshare drivers, seeing the problems ahead, refused to take fares while the race was in town, citing a no-win situation: too many roads closed, too little access to hotels and casinos, too many detours and too many delays that would have likely landed them in hot water with passengers.
Ultimately, many U.S. residents who are motorsports fans gravitate to NASCAR; F1 simply does not enjoy the same following here that it does in Europe. And while F1 events are held successfully throughout the USA, that’s not an across-the-board guarantee. In Baltimore, a Grand Prix race was held for three years before officials pulled the plug, having failed to garner the expected support and being unable to schedule the race around several other large events. A few other failed events from around the USA are detailed here. (Interestingly enough, two races listed as unsuccessful were held in Vegas in 1981 and 1982; it would be a long four decades before F1 made its resurgence.)
The Vegas Fox affiliate noted that Renee Wilm, CEO of the grand prix, had vowed “we will be sold out by the time of the event” on a Nov. 3 earnings call by Formula One Group.
Unfortunately for F1, said reporters, that was not the case, even by race day:
“Well, the big race has finally arrived and tickets are still available, both directly and on a dramatically reduced secondary market. Hotel prices along the Strip have plummeted and all signs suggest first-time F1 race promoter Liberty appears to have grossly overshot the price point for drawing in new fans and spenders. Ticket prices slashed as much as 60 percent for some of the days ahead of Saturday night’s race are only a small part of the behind-the-scenes heartburn. Locals were infuriated by the daily disruptions caused by construction of the 3.85-mile (6.2 kilometer) street circuit that utilizes a large portion of the Strip while highlighting several Las Vegas landmarks with a 17-turn layout that’s been likened to a flying pig.”
Unfortunately, the headaches didn’t stop, said KTNV:
“Las Vegas was arguably the most anticipated (and hyped) F1 race of the year. But things got off to a rocky start, and at least one class-action lawsuit would be filed before weekend's end. As has now been widely reported, the first round of qualifying ended after just nine minutes on Thursday when a loose drain cover caused damage to a driver’s car. Then, scores of fans were disappointed by the organization's decision to remove them from the circuit before the second round began. (Channel 13 has written a separate report detailing F1's explanation, which you can read here.) F1 now faces a lawsuit over the decision — and it's worth noting, Thursday was the day the organization offered Nevada residents $200, single-day tickets. Race officials did attempt to make up for the disappointment with a $200 voucher for F1 merchandise.”
It did not help that F1 champion Max Verstappen had nothing good to say about the event, calling it “99 percent show and one percent sporting event (side note: ouch) and said he felt like “a clown” standing on the stage during an opening ceremony that featured multiple musical acts.
There were other snafus; however, they were likely aspects that will be corrected by next year. For example, F1 planners (who largely were headquartered outside the Vegas area) were not aware of how cold a desert area becomes at night, nor of the hazards this could present to drivers. Expect the timing to be tinkered with and perfected by next year.
But the race went off, Verstappen took the victory, money was made (in great quantities) and a 2024 version of the race will return to the Strip next November, according to an announcement from F1.
And, AutoWeek concluded, “After some initial skepticism the city became increasingly warm to Formula 1’s presence. There was a healthy and passionate crowd, as seen by the volume of merchandise being worn by people as they traipsed around the Strip and the casinos/hotels. There were some inevitable teething troubles but after Thursday night’s debacle, Formula 1 got more right than wrong in how it integrated itself within Las Vegas.”