Formula One has craved the love of the USA for decades believing “if it can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere” to put it in the words of Las Vegas showbiz pioneer and friend of the mobsters, Frank Sinatra. Yet the history of F1 in the United States is hardly one of a dutiful and faithful lover.
Since the FIA Formula One championship was formalised in 1950, racing across the pond indeed has a chequered history. Between 1950 and 1960 the racing series included the iconic Indianapolis 500 race which was bizarre given the different racing regulations and the fact that most teams didn’t bother to enter the ‘greatest spectacle in motor racing.’
F1 relationship with USA a rocky history
The sport moved on to race at the Riverside Raceway and Sebring from 1958-1961 before settling on Watkins Glen as the US home of F1 for some 20 years and latterly the Grand Prix of Long Beach joined the calendar until 1983.
Yet the golden years of F1 in the US were soon to close when Watkins Glen fell from favour in 1980. The following season opened in Long Beach before its inaugural visit to Las Vegas which became one of the most loathed F1 tracks of all time.
F1 and Vegas divorced after just two years and the sport then flirted with Detroit, Phoenix and Dallas which were all brutal for the drivers in their own particular ways, Nigel Mansell famously fainted after pushing his car across the line to win in searing heat of Dallas as just 8 cars finished the challenging 1984 race.
For almost 10 years after the Watkins Glen event was binned, F1 ploughed on at five different five American circuits before quitting the IUS for nigh on a decade.
Farcical 6 car race in Indianaplis
Yet the worst was yet to come in the turbulent relationship between F1 and the US of A. In the year 2000 the sport returned to the United States to a purpose built circuit including the iconic banking and an infield section at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Two years later Michael Schumacher brought the event into disrepute as he slowed drastically approaching the chequered flag as he attempted to contrive a dead heat with his Ferrari team mate Rubens Barichello. This was the second time Ferrari had attempted to fix a race result in 2002 and went down like a lead balloon with the US audience.
A massive crash for Ralph Schumacher alert during the 2005 event saw F1 hit the nadir of its relationship with the USA. Michelin declared their tyres unfit to cope with the final banked corner and advised their drivers to quit after the formation lap leaving just six Bridgestone shod cars to take the race start.
F1 left Indianapolis at the end of their contract with the circuit in 2007 and it was five years before the sport returned to the USA at the purpose built Circuit of the Americas just outside Austin.
Las Vegas praises to heal the wounds
The Texas based event over the years rebuilt the faith between F1 and its American fans who have grown exponentially in recent seasons. Then Miami joined the party in 2022 with a hybrid street/circuit race around the famous Miami Dolphins stadium.
So the return to Las Vegas this year saw the new found love affair between F1 and the United States complete. Now with three races on the ‘land of the free’ and a mega spend by the sport itself in promoting the extravaganza down the world famous ‘strip.’
But the mega hype and wall to wall media coverage prior to the event came to an abrupt half after just 8 minutes on track in practice one. A loose drain cover smashed into Carlos Sainz Ferrari causing the session to be stopped and a 5 hour delay for track repairs before the second practice began at 02:30 local time.
However, despite waiting for hours in the cold for the on track action to resume, fans were then ushered from the stands due to the inability of the organisers to ensure their safety in the middle of the vegas night.
Paltry compensation to disappointed fans
F1 offers some of them a $200 voucher to spend on merchandise, though spectators with a weekend long ticket were to receive nothing at all.
This went down like a lead ballon with both fans and those who front up the sport in the media, criticising the response from F1. a
And now it appears the sport is to experience another of the joys of operating in the US – litigation.
Dimopoulos Law Firm and co-counsel JK Legal & Consulting have no declared they are taking action and filing a class action lawsuit against Formula One in Nevada state court for alleges of breach of contract, negligence, and deceptive trade practices against the defendants.
Class action lawsuit filed against F1
Dimopoulos said: “We will vindicate the rights of the fans that travelled great distances and paid small fortunes to attend, but were deprived of the experience.”
In an interview with Reuters, he explained that it is the costs incurred that by those turned-away supporters which should be addressed by the sport’s chiefs, not merely a token offer of free merchandise.
“There are a number of issues with that [compensation]. Clearly that [$200 merchandise voucher] is not a refund that is sufficient. A lot of fans probably don’t even want that; they want their money back. There are also peripheral issues of what about the people that came in from out of town and paid for substantial airfare and hotels,” claimed Dimopoulos.
Following the news that a class act lawsuit had been filed against Los Vegas Grand Prix, a spokesperson for the company issued the following statement which read:
Huge potential compensation dents F1 big Vegas ambition
“We cannot comment on the litigation. Our focus is on ensuring that our fans have an entertaining experience in a safe and secure environment which is always our top priority.”
It seems Formula One once again soured the relationship with its US fans. It arrived in the US, promised the biggest motor racing spectacle on earth and for many failed to deliver. The amount of compensation applied for is unclear at present, but could run into tens of millions of dollars if the entire costs for 35,000 Thursday spectators are recovered.
The saving grace for F1 was finally, the race on Sunday delivered – and did so in style. Whilst the race was won by Max Verstappen making it the 18th of the season, the action on track was plenty and with a strong showing from Ferrari the result was always I question until the chequered flag fell.