What’s wrong with the Las Vegas GP?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 18: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-23 at turn one during the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202311190050 // Usage for editorial use only //

The Las Vegas Grand Prix in hindsight:

I recently penned an editorial defending the Vegas GP so any of the points I am about to make are just talking or consideration points from my perspective. Realize I am an old school F1 fan and you know I don’t like constructs in the sport to level the playing field so nor would I like constructs to artificially pump the race up. Having said that, here are my thoughts after one of the more controversial races in recent memory and that’s even before it actually ran.

Water Valve cover: Toto is right, we’ve had this before but isn’t that the point? Wouldn’t that mean that we should have already learned the lessons and applied them here. Not that Vegas should be added to a long list of “learning moments” regarding road furniture and how to secure it. Anything can happen and I do have some grace here but I’m a little surprised we haven’t solved for these basic street circuit issues yet.

Frog-marched fans: I understand what LVGP group said as the reason for marching fans out before FP2—safety and security—but what does that mean? I read that it was a case of union hours worked, staffing issues, public access to roads at 4am and other elements. Elements that were largely outside of your average fans view that resulted in the move to vacate the stands. Again, with deference, I’m a little surprised and I know they would have factored delays in but perhaps not a 4-hour delay. That would have been hard to envisage even in the best planning meetings.

To be fair, how you react to adversity can often times be more important Than the adversity itself. If they were going to make the track right, and they did, then make the fans right too. Legally the LVGP group may feel they have legal standing for not refunding all fans for FP1 and FP2 and they very well may, but surely they knew a law suit would materialize and it did less than 24 hours later.

I’ve found that often times it is better to do the good thing rather than the right thing. In 2005, a race was run at Indy and technically they probably could have anchored on that fact. But here is the point, you’ve hyped this event as the one event to provide ticket-holders an experience like no other and then they only see 8 minutes of it. This issue isn’t over by a long shot but I think LVGP group may have given this thought in worst case scenario discussions during their planning meetings. I have a lot of deference and understanding of the LVGP group’s legal standing and thoughts around this but I’ve tried to convince myself that had I attended, I would be ok with it. I wouldn’t, I would want my money back. Just being honest here.

Track: On paper, it looked like a dead pig on its back and didn’t seem to offer anything to get excited about but as Paul and I discussed on the podcast, there are a few elements that could make this a very interesting track and as it turns out, it did.

I think the track delivered a mixed up grid and some fun passing and interesting action on track for the first race. Could they re-profile a few places? Sure. But overall, I think the track worked. Christian Horner put it best. You have long straight, big braking zones and low grip…what’s not to like?

There are things I would change but for a first outing, I think it presented itself well. Having said that, I was watching and having flashback to Valencia or what I called the Jersey Barrier grand prix with fencing. On TV, you had no idea where they were or if there even was a Strip. Much of the famed Vegas backdrop was lost in a sea of jersey barriers and fencing. Singapore does a better job of it and looks terrific on TV. This leads me to the other element with is the broadcast.

Broadcast: The high fencing is one thing but the light rigging was constantly in the line of sight for on-track action on TV. The black sight covers didn’t help much for that sense of depth and view to key landmarks either.

Do you remember the first Abu Dhabi where every camera shot was a wide angle from a distance and it zoomed in to each car giving viewers vertigo? Vegas was a bit of that as well. Wide angle shots were one feature but also none of the cameras were very close to the circuit so everything was a long shot zoomed in. No real sense of getting up close in the action. Maybe more drones. :)

Donny Osmond was clutch! Great performance!

I did like how team bosses, most drivers and the Sky Sport crew were over the top with their full—throated endorsement of what the LVGP group had done and how amazing this race was/is. I don’t recall them being as effusive about Saudi Arabia, Baku, or Qatar. I get it, you don’t bite the hand that feeds and in the face of a major issue like a water valve cover and fans escorted out, they have to keep the narrative positive. Crisis PR is not just the responsibility of the LVGP group it seems, the teams and certainly Sky Sports were right there ready to help them.

Podium and finish: I know the Bellagio is impressive and maybe they paid for the right or demanded it but doing post-race interviews there took too long and drained the energy from the moment. They need to put that feature at the location of the podium. Also, not a big fan of the huge plinths they stood on because that put them a long way away from the camera and fans but if the fans can’t come on to the track, then lifting them high is understandable. I can see where the podium would have been a challenge when designing it given crowd distance and flow etc.

Time: As F1 grows in America, Liberty was determined to get more races here and that’s great. We now have three of them and America is loving F1 again (yes, again, they loved it in the halcyon days when America fell in love with the European sports car in the late 60’s).

When Bobby at Cota or the Miami ownership group paid for the right of F1, they clearly were going to make it at a time that best suited their attending fans. Logically. So why was Vegas at midnight (for me)? This is F1’s race, not a race promoter and they are going to schedule it to target their largest audiences which is the rest of the world. Catering to American fans is one thing but making it viewable at humane times for the rest of the world is key. Unfortunately, it isn’t a humane time for American F1 fans and that’s unfortunate.

As an American fan for decades, I’ve had to rise at ungodly hours or watch recorded races. That is life as an American F1 fan. We were happy to do it as we love the sport. I’m confused as to why Europeans wouldn’t do it. They love the sport too.

Perhaps the justification is that they have the viewer numbers and Miami as well as Austin are lower viewed than other races so the change was needed to be more palatable and get more eyeballs around the world. I’m not a fan but I’m sure they’ve done the math(s).

Hype: I understand that some are put off by the hype but recall that Liberty said they wanted each race to feel like the Super Bowl. Remember what I said back then? I said be careful what you wish for. You got it now, you like it?

As I said, I don’t like artificial hype in any sport. I hate when marketing makes athletes into god status like they are some sort of Marvel super hero. It’s sophomoric and unneeded. Hyping something to oblivion makes the person or event a pantomime of itself. It sets unrealistic expectations and leads to unwanted outcomes such as the law suit they are now facing.

My personal opinion is that our culture could do with a little less “over the top” these days and a little more common sense and reality. Miami toned it down after their big push and Austin is in the pocket with the right amount of hype and realism. Austin benefits from a circuit that does all the talking and hype generation for them. Miami and Vegas perhaps felt they needed the overblown hype to cover for elements of their race they felt may be lacking. Who knows?

In Summation: The LVGP crew did a great job of building their permanent structure and creating a fun race to watch. If you consider that F1 doesn’t have a very race-centric hub in US, now it does. A facility and track and a deal for 10 years. As I said in my editorial, give it time. Things will balance out and equalize. Hype will ebb or flow depending on the interest and fan engagement. Prices will rise or fall depending on fan attendance.

I do think the fans need to be taken care and it is difficult to know the best way to do that other than a 1-day refund. That has its own issues too. The LCGP group needs to tread lightly here. They have a 10-year deal and don’t want this albatross around their neck for the remainder of their tenure in Las Vegas.

To Toto’s point, and I think it was a ham-fisted performance from him in the press conference, Liberty have done an amazing job with the Vegas race and they should be congratulated. I’m talking about the race and facilities here, not the marketing. We can argue about the gift wrapping but the race and facilities were very well done.

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