The reigning three-time Formula One champion called Saturday night’s race “99% show, and 1% sporting event” while complaining he felt like “a clown” standing on the stage during Wednesday night’s opening ceremony that featured multiple musical acts.
The driver expected to win his 18th win of the season — sixth in a row — then skipped a VIP party at The Wynn in which F1 president Stefano Domenicali asked all drivers to attend.
“I just like to always focus on the performance side of things. I don’t like all the things around it, anyway. I know, of course, in some places they are part of it, but let’s say it’s not in my interest,” the Red Bull driver said. “I’m looking forward to try to do the best I can, but I’m not looking forward to (the show).”
Verstappen, who won his third consecutive title in early October with six races remaining in the season, is one of the few drivers aggravated by the $500 million spectacle concocted by F1 and its owner, Liberty Media, in F1’s first attempt to promote its own grand prix.
F1 is determined for the race down the Las Vegas Strip to be a success and has invested heavily into what it hopes is a long-term destination for the global series on its annual calendar. The entire buildup to Saturday night is filled with expensive fan experiences — both at the track and in the casinos and restaurants — and celebrities should be arriving anytime before Thursday night’s first two practice sessions.
The Las Vegas Grand Prix is the third F1 stop this year in the United States, more than any other country, and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton argued the market demand is strong enough to sustain the series and make Saturday night a success.
“The sport continues to grow. It is a business ultimately, and I think you’ll still see good racing here,” said Hamilton, who copped to seeing the movie “‘Casino’ a thousand times.”
“This is one of the most iconic cities there is amongst the other amazing cities they have in America. All the lights, the show, it is a big show, for sure,” he continued. “And it’s never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe over time, the people in the community here will grow to love the sport. Maybe the track will be good, maybe it’ll be bad. I think don’t knock it until you try it.”
And he defended F1 and Liberty’s direction. The United States Grand Prix was the lone F1 stop in America from 2012 through 2021. The Miami Grand Prix was added in 2022 and now Las Vegas makes its debut down the Strip after two races in 1981 and 1982 that utilized a parking lot at Caesars Palace.
“I hear there’s a lot of people complaining about the direction that Stefano and Liberty have been going, but I think they’ve been doing an amazing job,” Hamilton added. “This sport is growing massively. We’ve just got to think about the impact that we have in these different places. It’s not just a circus that comes here and then we leave. We should look at how we can positively impact the community here and particularly like the kids.”
Verstappen conceded he’s aware of what Liberty Media is trying to do with F1, even if he prefers the focus to be on racing.
“You can look at it two ways, business side or sport side, so I of course understand their side of it as well, but I’m just voicing my opinion on the performance side of things,” he said. “We are not stakeholders, so we just go with it. I mean, they decide what they do, right? If someone really wants to go into this direction, that you want a lot more show attached to the kind of program, I guess we have to deal with that. Let’s see how long fans also like this.”
Ticket prices and hotel rates had plummeted for the event last week, and although tickets still remain directly from the Las Vegas Grand Prix site, brokers are now reporting there’s been a last-minute uptick in interest. Gametime said the top-priced seats are listed at $7,109 for the weekend, up from $4,613 one week ago.
Stubhub, meanwhile, said the Las Vegas Grand Prix is the best-selling F1 race of the year and ranks among the top 10 highest-selling sporting events of the entire year globally on the secondary site. Stubhub said half of the tickets sold have been since F1’s Nov. 5 race in Brazil, and that 30% of tickets purchased are from California-based buyers.
It’s the most expensive race to attend on this year’s 24-event calendar.
Mercedes head Toto Wolff said he’s viewing this week from two different lenses. He said “the team principal in me dreads the race” because of so many unknowns of the track and the expected temperatures don’t suit the Mercedes’ performance.
“The team principal, that kind of narrow-minded racing person, says it is going to be very difficult,” Wolff said.
But as a stakeholder in F1’s success, he appreciates the attempt to race in Las Vegas.
“If we provide great racing, it’s going to be entertaining,” Wolff said. “And being able to do this in the middle of Las Vegas, on the Strip, was unthinkable many, many years ago. I hope we become a fixture among the big events that happen every year in Las Vegas and we provide great racing.”
Race for second
Mercedes has all but given up on Hamilton’s chance to catch Sergio Perez for second in the final drivers’ standings.
With two races remaining, Hamilton trails Perez by 32 points in the standings. A race winner receives 25 points, and only the top 10 finishers are awarded points.
Hamilton acknowledged its a longshot at this point, especially considering beating Verstappen for a race win seems impossible right now.
“He would have to have two disasters and I would have to be second, basically,” Hamilton said of Perez. “But for me, honestly it really doesn’t make any difference if I’m second or third. I think we still had an amazing year given the car that we’ve had. We never thought that we would be fighting for second in the constructors’ and knocking on the door of the most dominant car, probably, of our era.”
Wolff also said it would take Perez failing to finish both Saturday night and in next week’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“It is very difficult. If Perez DNF’s, then we have a shot,” Wolff said. He instead said the team is fighting hard to maintain its 20-point lead over Ferrari for second in the constructors’ championship.
“I think it would be a testament considering we had an uncompetitive car that will still be able to finish second,” Wolff said. “We’ve been always there, not where we wish to be, but second in the world championship is not something to be ashamed of.”
F1 is in a brutal final stretch of the season that saw the series race three consecutive weeks in Texas, Mexico City and Brazil, with one week off before Las Vegas. F1 then goes directly to Abu Dhabi for next Sunday’s season finale.
Compounding the issue is that all on-track activity in Las Vegas is late at night, with qualifying scheduled for midnight local time on Friday and the race itself goes off at 10 p.m.
“It feels like I’ve been jet-lagged for a month and a half,” said Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, who said he’d been awake for 24 consecutive hours as he’s adapting to Las Vegas times and preparing for a late race.
Added Perez of Red Bull: “I’m finding it a bit crazy to stay awake so long at night. It’s quite a challenge, actually, to stay awake for so long.”
It was another one of Verstappen’s complaints, as well.
“It doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” he said of leaving Las Vegas for Abu Dhabi, where there is a 12-hour time change. “I don’t really get that. This is very tiring. Also the end of the season that, we have to do this.”
The Sphere will not be dimmed while drivers are on track, but F1 and the FIA asked that yellow, red and blue not be used on the massive LED screen in an effort to not distract the drivers.
Verstappen didn’t think the Sphere would be a problem, anyway, and hoped that the images shown during the race would be entertaining. But he balked when told that driver images would be projected, including his.
“No, that definitely is a distraction for me,” he said. “I might shunt in the wall, so let’s not do that.”
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