Abnormally low temperatures, poorly secured manhole cover, spectators deprived of the second free practice session… the Las Vegas Grand Prix, the flagship event and showcase of Formula 1 in the United States, attracted criticism as well pilots and spectators. The American group Liberty Media, owner of the discipline, nevertheless used great resources in the city of games and excess, on the occasion of the return of this race, absent from the calendar since 1982.
To illuminate the nighttime route, a little over six kilometers long and crisscrossing some of the most prestigious casino hotels in the city of Nevada – including the Las Vegas Strip boulevard –, 54,000 square meters of LED screens were required. On Wednesday, the opening ceremony, featuring the twenty drivers emerging from giant boxes to be presented to the public on the pit straight, was an American-style show in excess. Some artists, including Will.i.am, Kylie Minogue and Cirque du Soleil, added their touch to this show launched by Formula One – the entity which manages F1 on behalf of Liberty Media and is attached to the dust.
A preamble that the three-time reigning world champion, Max Verstappen, could have done without: “I’m not talking about the singers, it’s just that you’re here and you look like a clown. » The Dutchman also skipped the VIP evening organized in Sin City. “99% spectacle and 1% sport”, this is the definition of the third American meeting of the season according to the Red Bull driver. But not everyone thinks like him: thus, the dean of the grid, Fernando Alonso, estimates that the enormous investment of F1 – some 500 million dollars – in this Grand Prix of excess “deserves different treatment and more spectacle”.
Unsealed manhole cover and accidents
Apart from these excesses, several drivers, including Max Verstappen, wondered, beforehand, about the characteristics of this new urban circuit, made up of long straight lines interspersed with a few slow turns. Another subject had been talked about in the weeks preceding the Grand Prix: the weather conditions, which the organizers had not taken into account when placing the race on the calendar, admitted Ross Brawn, former Formula 1 sports manager. During all the sessions, temperatures hovered around 10°C, a major challenge for the operation of the single-seaters, particularly when it came time to heat up the tire rubber.
Extreme conditions made worse by an unprecedented situation. Eight minutes after the start of the first free practice session, Thursday November 16, driver Carlos Sainz destroyed his Ferrari on a loose manhole cover, which came loose as he passed. The damage to his car led to a red flag and the cancellation of the rest of the session. The Spaniard also received a penalty of 10 places on the grid for having reached the quota of batteries authorized for one season (two). “It’s a bit of a shame”commented the Frenchman Esteban Ocon, also a victim of the unsealed plate and forced to change the chassis of his Alpine.
Postponed by more than two hours, the second practice session took place in front of stands evacuated due to a lack of personnel to ensure security, transport of fans or even reception. “We have all attended events […] canceled due to factors such as weather conditions or technical problems. It happens and we hope people understand.”, said Stefano Domenicali, president of Formula One, in a press release. In addition to these apologies, the injured spectators had to settle for a $200 voucher to spend in the official Grand Prix store.
Record number of spectators in the United States
This incident, at the heart of the discussions during the team directors’ press conference, was not called into question. Certainly not by Toto Wolff, boss of Mercedes, annoyed by the journalists’ questions. “It’s happened in the past. It’s nothing. Congratulate the people who organized this Grand Prix, who made this sport bigger than evercriticized the Austrian leader. Liberty did a brilliant job, and just because a manhole came loose in free practice doesn’t mean we should complain. »
Because the success of the series Drive to Survive, broadcast on Netflix since 2018, allowed the other two United States Grand Prix (in Austin and Miami) to attract a record number of spectators – in 2021, 400,000 spectators were present over the three days of the Circuit of the Americas. Therefore, the Las Vegas Grand Prix, showcase of Formula 1 and entertainment, must find the recipe. Saturday, at around 10 p.m. (Sunday, 7 a.m. Paris time), Charles Leclerc, qualified in pole position, will try to contain the attacks of Max Verstappen, already crowned world champion and positioned in second place on the grid . For once, Formula 1 will hope very much that what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas, but has as much impact as possible.