The morning after the night before in Las Vegas might so easily have been one of guilt and remorse for Formula One. Instead, as the circuit was being dismantled and the Strip returned to what passes for normality in Sin City on Sunday, F1 could reflect on being one of the lucky few who would leave up on the weekend. At least in terms of perceived success, if not cold, hard cash.
The race itself was a cracker, a contender for best of the season. Any fear of the circuit proving to be another street-based procession proved unfounded. Instead there was real racing and passing, the drivers admitting their expectations had been confounded. The upside down pig that the track resembles – turns 14, 15 and 16, where many passes were made, would be where a curly tail would protrude – had proved capable of delivering a veritable silk purse.
Yet it had been a difficult journey to the flag. Thursday night’s debacle, with first practice being abandoned after a drain cover struck Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, and then fans being locked out of the second session, was a terrible start. As was the rather insulting offer of $200 (£160) to spend in the Las Vegas GP shop as compensation, given the cost of tickets. A lawsuit has since been filed seeking damages for the 35,000 spectators who were left feeling it was scant response.
Local discontent also grumbled on throughout the weekend. Small businesses and workers were put out by the disruption imposed on the city. Some cited commutes increasing by over two hours, while others complained that the circuit restraints had funnelled customers away from their businesses.
Then there were the session times: qualifying at midnight and the race at 10pm. They were decided in a compromise with the city to minimise disruption when the roads were closed but were brutal on the teams. In the paddock, bleary-eyed personnel spoke volumes and concerns were raised by a slew of team principals and drivers.
All of which can be addressed before next year and could be improved. In the meantime, the city will assess whether the deal worked for it as well as F1. An increase in revenue of between $1bn and $1.7bn has been predicted and, if the race makes those numbers, Vegas and the sport will likely continue for at least the 10 years of their current deal.
There should also be some pride in having pulled it all off in a relatively short time since the race was finalised in March 2022. The logistics were immense and a lot of effort and money was spent on making it work. Illustrated at a practical level, on a walk from one part of the track to another, the number of workers directing traffic and marshalling people was staggering. Barely 50 feet would pass without a (usually) friendly face waving punters on, or back, with a glowstick.
Equally in the fan areas there were many staff on hand – not four surly teenagers wearing hi-vis and moodily sucking on Gauloises, as at some European races, but employees in the hundreds holding up signs that lit up to read: “Can I help?”
Alongside the garish and the cliched which is part and parcel of the city – a wedding chapel in the paddock and endless Elvis impersonators – there were little touches too. On the teams’ hospitality units their logos had been rendered in glorious retro-Vegas style neon signs.
None of this came cheap, of course, and F1 is expected to be out by as much as $700m afterwards. Yet that is a one-off and included investment in resurfacing the track and buying the land on which to build a pit and paddock complex that will now be repurposed for the rest of the year as F1’s US headquarters and with a further function to be announced later this week.
Which partly explains the other major bone of contention, that of ticket prices. The average price for a three-day ticket was $1,667. A factor, perhaps, in it not reaching a sellout of 105,000. This, too, might be addressed with a stand at a more reasonable cost with no frills.
Imagine the equivalent of the great Rivazza corner at Imola, a heaving pyramid of fans in the heart of Vegas. Sadly that is likely a pipe dream, but the problematic prices were demonstrated by the number of people who were desperately trying to watch from beyond the barriers erected to prevent illicit viewing.
Some ingenious souls discovered there were outdoor escalators they could ride up and down that afforded a view of the track. With the spirit of enterprise a “Beer here!” guy arrived shortly afterwards at the base and was doing a roaring trade before being moved on.
Before the race the world champion, Max Verstappen, had dismissively described it as “99% show, 1% sporting event”. While it was indeed something of an extravaganza across the week, which will not be to the taste of many, in the end the meeting very much delivered on the sporting front too. There is plenty to iron out but F1 should have room for at least one meeting of absurd, over-the-top entertainment and Las Vegas made the case to let it roll here.