The Las Vegas Grand Prix has promised to “light up the sports and entertainment capital of the world”, claiming the “stakes have never been higher” than for the first street race in the casino dominated city on Saturday night.
But while F1’s American owners Liberty Media have invested millions in the glitzy event, their hype machine has been unable to win over the man who has utterly dominated the sport this year.
Triple world champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull, who has 17 wins this season, began the week by criticizing the event as “99 percent show and one percent sporting event”. In his final comments before the race, he showed he hadn’t been won over.
Asked to compare the Vegas event with the classic street race in Monaco, he chose a football analogy: “Monaco is Champions League and this is National League,” he said, referring scathingly to the fifth-tier of English football.
But it isn’t the usual driver moan about course lay-out or other competitive factors that lies behind the Dutchman’s hostility towards the Vegas event, rather the whole idea of putting on a race as part of a long weekend of partying.
“I feel like the show is important, but I like emotion. When I was a little kid it was all about the emotion of the sport that I fell in love with and not the show. As a real racer the show shouldn’t matter,” he said.
“An F1 car does not come alive on a street circuit. It is not that exciting. It is about proper race tracks. And when you go to Monza and Spa, these kinds of places have a lot of emotion and passion, and for me seeing the fans there is incredible. When I jump in the car, I am fired up. I love driving at these kind of places,” he said.
What will surely annoy the American promoters is Verstappen’s suggestion that the new wave of F1 fans partying in Vegas as the cars speed past iconic landmarks on the famous ‘strip’ don’t appreciated what they are paying hundreds of dollars to see.
“I understand fans need things to do around the track, but it is more important that they understand what we do as a sport. Most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ, or a performance act.
“I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely (drunk) and have a good time. People come here, but they become a fan of what? They want to see maybe their favourite artist and have a few drinks with their mates, and then go out and have a crazy night.
“But they don’t understand what we are doing, and they don’t understand what we are putting on the line to perform,” he said.
“The sport should explain what the team has done throughout the season, and what they are working for. That’s way more important than having these random shows all over the place,” he added.
Those fans who turned up for the opening night of practice on Thursday would certainly have been wondering what they had invested their time and money in when the first session was abandoned after just nine minutes as loose drain covers caused damage to Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.
The spectators were then forced to leave the venue before the delayed second session at 2.30 am local time, leading to a storm of criticism that upset Verstappen’s rival Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who starts the race in pole position.
“I was sad to see how much criticism there was around the track. Of course, it wasn’t good enough and that is clear to everybody. But obviously, we must not forget also how much work there has been for many, many people in order to make this event work, and I think it looks amazing,” he said.
“really hope we have an exciting race in order to really show what Formula 1 is,” he said, adding that Thursday “was obviously a pretty bad start. But I think it’s an amazing venue for Formula 1.”
Unlike his Red Bull rival, Leclerc believes it is possible to retain the soul of F1 while embracing the spirit of Vegas.
“I think the venue and the event looks amazing and there’s been a lot of hard work in order to get there which has to be appreciated”.