Both Red Bull Racing and Mercedes AMG F1 in previous years have used one measure of success by tracking how many eyeballs they connected with via social media. The old adage ‘there’s no such thing as bad news’ appears to be one the marketing gurus wheel out whenever the PR is going against them.
Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff even did a Sky pre-show piece during their dominant years where they discussed the internet eyeballs numbers Mercedes were creating and compared it to the value of paid global marketing. The claim was the coverage of their F1 success on social media was worth around $4bn in real marketing spend around the world.
US media attacks Formula One
Well on this basis, Las Vegas is already a huge hit before the first F1 competitive track session has even taken place. The USA media filled a relative large number of column inches as they waded into the chaos that ensued during F1’s FP1 and FP2.
The New York Post attacked the vast cost required to set up Vegas for its first Grand Prix in 41 years, in excess of $500m. They revelled in how it took less than nine minutes for the first catastrophe of the event to occur.
The poor fan experience was the focus of the well distributed Washington Post with criticism of the organisers who failed to refund fans who were evicted from the stands when FP2 finally began at 02:30am on Friday morning – 2 and a half hours late.
CNBC followed the Post’s lead and USA Today led with the story that triple world champion Max Verstappen was underwhelmed by the whole event.
Verstappen in garage for half of FP3
With 30 odd troublesome drain covers removed and the apertures beneath filled in with asphalt, F1 finally managed 90 minutes of practice though with no one watching from the stands.
The almost completely rebuilt Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was second behind his team mate, with the surprising Aston Martin low downforce package placing Fernando Alonso third quickest in the session. Sergio Perez and Valterri Bottas were fourth and fifth with Verstappen just sixth and almost a second slower than the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
The lack of other racing series sharing the track with Formula One this weekend mans each time the cars hit the circuit, the amount of rubber they let down increases quickly and so the lap times fall dramatically the longer the session continues.
Half way through FP3 normal service was resumed as Verstappen hit the top of the timesheets with Sergio Perez close behind. The Ferrari pair which dominated FP2 proceedings were a second a lap slower at this time, but were using the slower medium tyre while Red Bull had delivered their laps on the fast soft tyre.
F1 Grandstands not full
The huge grandstand opposite the pit lane – one of the largest in Formula One – were far from packed as fans appeared to vote on the previous day’s chaos with their feet. Maybe some spectators had found a warm vantage view with way to wall TV coverage the previous day and decided to return there for the last practice session.
With ten minutes remanding, the drivers strapped on the tyres they would use in final qualifying and the lap times immediately started too tumble. Rookie Logan Sargeant was momentarily at the top of the time sheets before being replaced seconds later by George Russell and then another rookie Oscar Piastri.
Somewhat surprisingly during the 158 minutes of practice, no one had put their car into the walls which suggests the drivers have yet to push to the very limit. This sets up qualifying nicely because when its do or die, the cars will get closer to the walls each lap increasing the jeopardy and likelihood of a bog “off”.
The with just over 6 minutes remaining, the TV cameras cut to the picture of an F1 wheel leaning by itself against the barrier at turn five. Replays showed Alex Albon had hit the wall at speed and the wheel then detached itself from the car as the Williams driver pulled slowly away.
Loose wheel on track
Out came the red flag and the stewards decided the session would not be resumed denying the drivers of their final practice of their start procedure.
This left Mercedes’ George Russell top of the time sheets as moments earlier he had collected a slipstream from a McLaren car as he approached the final turn and start/finish line. George finished the session an astonishing 0.4 second quicker than his nearest rival Piastri with his ten mate Lewis Hamilton languishing in P8 – three quarters of a second slower than Russell.
Both Ferraris had just bolted on their qualifying tyres but were thwarted from delivering a fast lap by Albon’s Red Flag. The teams clearly wanted to run their qualifying simulations as late as possible as the track improvement meant the lap times were tumbling.
The jeopardy of qualifying should be exciting as the final moments of FP3 demonstrated. The quickest car may well be the one which completes its final qualifying lap last – yet the risk is another car may hit the wall and the resulting yellow or red flag will prevent any more final runs being completed.
F1 Qualifying jeopardy expected
Further, Russell’s epic time from picking up the tow from the McLaren giving him an extra 6 miles an hour top speed, may well tempt the teams to instruct their drivers to work together – providing each other with a slipstream at the endif their push laps.
If so, this usually leads to tears for some of the drivers, as they fail to judge this exactly with the result being a sub optimum qualifying performance.
Carlos Sainz has had no reprieve from his ten place grid drop penalty for using one too many battery units this year and so the best the Ferrari driver can hope for is starting Saturday’s race in P11.
MORE NEWS – Las Vegas GP: Sky F1 apologises as Horner flips Kravitz middle finger
A light-hearted moment between Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and Sky Sports reporter Ted Kravitz during practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix led to an unexpected on-air apology from Sky commentator David Croft.
Practice for the Las Vegas GP was already an unusual event, with sessions running into the early hours of the morning after a series of delays, including the…READ MORE ON THIS STORY