The Las Vegas Grand Prix is proving to be divisive in Formula One land. Liberty Media have invested over half a billion dollars in the event, the first promoted fully by an F1 commercial rights owner and they are demanding their pound of flesh from all concerned.
Businesses and local residents in sin city have complained about the almost four month long disruption caused by the construction work required to turn the famous venue into a huge motor speedway. Formula One will argue much of this was one off and won’t be required over the next nine years the sport visits Las Vegas.
F1 drivers are “show ponies”
Yet being a ‘destination’ Formula One event, the activities surrounding the on track action have been ramped up to provide spectator entertainment.
The weekend began with an ‘opening ceremony’ set in the all new Formula One facilities including the pit lane, garages and start/finish straight. Kylie Minogue who has been performing a limited run of shows starred along with the F1 drivers who were introduced to the crowd.
Max Verstappen was scathing over the ‘show pony’ event telling reporters it made him feel “like a clown.”
The world champion also described the weekend as “99% show and 1% sporting event” as the whirlwind of engagements and media events came thick and fast for the stars of Formula One.
Carlos Sainz demands review of commitments
However, whilst Max is known for complaining about anything other than a traditional F1 weekend with three practice sessions, qualifying and a Grand Prix, other drivers are now wading in claiming certain F1 weekend schedules need to be re-examined.
Carlos Sainz now claims the demands of an F1 weekend in general are becoming too onerous on the drivers.
“Looking into the future, sure we’re going to need to reconsider a bit the way we go racing at the weekends because our schedules are getting busier and busier every year,” said the Spaniard in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
“The weekends are almost starting earlier, rather than starting later. We are adding races to the calendar and it’s getting to a point where I think, sometimes, everything feels a bit repetitive, and everything feels a bit overpacked and we’re trying maybe to overdo it a bit.
Norris “not the biggest fan” of media events
“There are things that I actually think they do a lot for the sport and it’s good to put on a show and to make the sport better. Then, on the other hand, there are other things that feel very repetitive and almost don’t add any more for the weekend.”
Lando Norris was in agreement with his former team mate and the world champion’s observation that the show is becoming bigger and bigger each year.
“It’s definitely more of a show now than what it was a few years ago,” said Norris.
“To be honest, I just want to come here and drive. I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing these types of things like we did earlier [opening ceremony]. It’s not what I enjoy doing.
Russell questions on track action in Vegas
“I know a lot of this stuff is just part of it and I’m not saying anything against it… It’s a business and all those things and that’s how it has to run at the end of the day.”
George Russell has questioned whether the circuit in sin city will deliver the thrills most people are hoping for. With the three straights each over 800m long, the teams are opting to use a Monza style low downforce package for the weekend.
This will mitigate the effect of the DRS and so despite the 1.9km back straight it may be difficult for drivers to make overtaking moves.
“For the 20 drivers it’s not going to be the most enjoyable circuit we’ve driven in the whole season,” the Mercedes driver explained.
Hamilton disagrees with team mate
“But this is a sport that millions of people tune in every single week to watch and probably the majority of people understand what a great race is and overtaking and battles.
“But only probably the diehard fans can really appreciate the greatness of a circuit like Silverstone or Suzuka or Monaco. So times are definitely changing and I think we just have to embrace it, really.”
Russell’s team mate disagrees and Lewis Hamilton hopes the track configuration provides chaotic races like the recent Grand Prix held in Azerbaijan.
“From a racer’s perspective, you want to have the best show,” Hamilton stated.
Bottas believes Vegas racing will be good
“If the race track provides races like, for example, Baku – which is in terms of racing is one of the best races, lots of overtaking – that would be amazing. Rather than just one car disappearing and cars not overtaking.”
Of course Baku is significantly different with its 20 corners a significant part of the 6km track requires a much higher downforce package. This makes the overtaking possible along the front straight.
Hamilton’s ex-team mate and Valterri Bottas agrees the racing should be pretty good on Saturday night
“I’ve seen most of it and it looks pretty similar to the simulator,” the current Alfa Romeo driver assessed. “In places it visually looks more narrow than I thought but that’s mainly some straight parts.
Cold tyres to mix it all up
“It looks pretty much like I expected so, hopefully, already from the first lap on the simulator I knew it was going to be a pretty good track for racing, the straights are so long that there’s going to be a lot of slipstreaming.
“It’s a low downforce track as well, so in terms of comparing it to some tracks, I would say that it’s similar to some parts of Baku, you’ve got quite a few 90º corners, long straights. Probably not the most exciting one in terms of track layout, but if Saturday night is exciting, everyone is happy.”
Within hours the drivers will have their first practice session and the guessing game will be over. The big unknown is how the various teams’ cars will react to the coldest temperatures faced by the F1 drivers for many years.
Getting the tyres up to temperature and keeping them there will be more of a challenge for some than others, and there could be some big surprises as Alex Albon believes.
Williams and AT battle for eight hots up
“The stars should hopefully align,” he told reporters this week. “It’s a track that should suit us in terms of its layout, but it should also suit us in terms of its temperatures.
“Qualifying is going to be a real big interest for everyone to try to get tires to work in that temperature. That really won’t be easy, but that suits us much more,” Albon added.
Williams are in a battle for seventh place with Alpha Tauri worth around $10m in prize money. The Red Bull sister team have had their best results of the season over the last three Grand Prix and closed the points gap to Alpbon’s team which now stands at just 7 points.
Alpha Tauri have languished at the back of the pack for most of the season, but since the return of Daniel Ricciardo from his broken hand, the team have made strides forward climbing above both Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 since the race Mexico.