The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix started in inauspicious circumstances on Thursday but finished on Saturday night with one of the standout races of the season taking place in front of a strong crowd.
Autoweek looks at what we learned—and what organizers learned—from the first event on the Strip.
It's a Good Track for Racing
It is always difficult to know how a design on paper will convert in reality and after some initial skepticism from the drivers after practice it transpired that the Las Vegas Strip Circuit proved entertaining for racing.
It was also better for simply driving than many had also first thought. The lengthy section on the Strip provided the highlights while the placement of the DRS zones ensured that moves were not simply undertaken with the flick of a button. But there were battles elsewhere, with drivers dueling into Turn 5, while some were able to complete moves through Turns 2/3 and Turn 12.
“I think the low-speed corners when you're following you don't really lose that much time, because they are that slow, the corners,” explained race winner Max Verstappen. “And then there's a lot of drafting around the track, after Turn 4 to 5, from Turn 9 to 12 and then of course all the way from 12 to 14 and then from 16 to Turn 1 is again, a draft-fest. So that made the racing much better.”
Lewis Hamilton said “the race was very good, one of the best races,” while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz labeled the layout “decent” when it comes to side-by-side action.
The racing was also aided by different strategies playing out—with the grid slightly jumbled up and the order then mixed a little once more following the Turn 1 chaos—while the low tire degradation also enabled drivers to push rather than tootle around to a delta.
It Certainly Was a Spectacle
There were some TV angles that felt a little cold and clinical, while from the onboard angles the trackside furniture and floodlights meant you couldn’t necessarily take in the magnitude of where the drivers were racing.
But from the right angles, the Las Vegas Grand Prix was certainly the spectacle Formula 1 desired.
The sight of the field hurtling down the Strip was impressive while other aspects, such as the newly-constructed pit building, and the usage of the Sphere, also enhanced the broadcast.
“Of course the weekend didn't start the way it had to start, but I'm so happy that it ended that way,” said Charles Leclerc. “It's such an incredible sport. I mean, there was no better race for a first race in Vegas. The energy around the city is incredible.”
Lewis Hamilton added that “there’s been a lot of negativity about having three events in the States and people talking about bringing back old classic races from Europe but this has provided a better race than most of the tracks we go to. So, hats off to the people that planned the show and I can’t wait to come back and hopefully have a better race next year.”
The Schedule Really Doesn’t Work
Las Vegas’ schedule raised eyebrows even before the event and it turned out that fears were realized.
Extenuating circumstances meant practice took place between 2:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. local time early Friday morning, with mechanics not getting to bed until 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.
Everyone in the paddock was struggling with the timetable, accentuated by the lengthy flight and time zone shift from Europe, while those in hotels that faced the track were awoken mid-sleep by security performing daily room sweeps.
Qualifying started at midnight (3 a.m. ET) while the race began at 10 p.m. (1 a.m. ET), which is hardly great for fans in the U.S.
“The running schedule has been brutal for the team,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “I think everybody is leaving Vegas slightly fucked. I think we need to look at how we can improve that for the future. Maybe we need to run it earlier in the evening.”
Daniel Ricciardo joked the paddock “had been delirious” after the extremely late finishes and was shocked to learn that next year Las Vegas is at the start of a triple-header that includes Qatar and Abu Dhabi.
“No way. Alright," Ricciardo said. "That does not have my vote. And now knowing that, they need to bring it [the race time] forward, because we’ll be wrecked, especially at the end of the season.”
The flip side is that Formula 1 personnel do tend to have the attitude of getting on with the job.
“Sleeping has been difficult, it’s the first time adapting here, coming from a busy last six weeks, and it’s a huge time shift,” said Aston Martin performance director Tom McCullough. “The first time we went to Singapore we thought it was a bit odd, but we all got there.”
The Circuit Didn't Have Much Grip
Formula 1 drivers love having as much grip as possible but Las Vegas’ surface didn’t provide much—a situation not aided by the fresh asphalt in cool conditions—and also didn’t improve a whole lot through the weekend.
“Jeddah is the gold standard of track surface,” said Mercedes’ George Russell. “And we've been saying this for many years now. We've been to a number of tracks where they've resurfaced it or new tracks, and the grip has been really poor.”
In a rather unusual twist, Formula 1 was the only championship in action throughout the Las Vegas weekend as there were no support categories present. The only other time that has happened this season has been in Qatar.
“The low grip, I think that was something that really caught us out, how the asphalt, basically, how low it was, how we started with it but really how we finished it was really, I think, on the low side,” said Sergio Perez. “And it's always going to be like that because we didn't have any support events. So maybe it's something that also can be improved, to have more categories in the weekend.”
Off-Track Obligations and Distractions Were a Challenge
The schedule, and the time of season, did not help the mood in certain quarters through the weekend and there was plenty of talk of needing to find the right balance between sport and the show.
Evidently, a night race through the heart of Las Vegas—and one promoted by Formula 1 which means there is an inevitable vested interest—was not going to be a low-key affair.
Drivers had multiple at-event appearances while there was also a plethora of marketing activations through the build-up too, as well as a late-notice request from Formula 1 for drivers one evening to attend a gathering at the Wynn hotel—a major partner in the promotional group.
Drivers are not daft, and know that such events are part of the job, and are fully aware that it is what brings the money and facilitates expansion. But plenty are mindful of striking the right balance to avoid burnout or apathy.
“It was a stretch, it was taken to the limit in terms of the spectacle, entertainment and show,” said McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella. “I think that’s good to some extent, because I’m sure it was enjoyed, we just have to wonder and ask ourselves whether it’s going a little too far, certainly the point of involving drivers, which we support 100% because the drivers are the engine of the popularity of the sport, but for drivers it’s been a very busy weekend.
"We need to see if this is the right tradeoff between keeping the driver focused on racing and supporting the show.”
Race Promotion Isn’t Easy, But It Got Better
Formula 1 learned the hard way on Thursday evening and Friday that organizing a Grand Prix comes with pitfalls. It was not exactly anyone’s fault that a loose drain cover disrupted practice, as these things can happen (even if they shouldn’t), and have happened at other Grand Prix venues.
The problem was the lack of communication in the aftermath, a wishy-washy statement, and the disrespectful manner in which the fans were treated.
It was already an elitist Grand Prix, with ticket prices at a very high level, combined with the initially extortionate hotel prices (which later plummeted) putting off some spectators from even thinking that attending was a possibility. That was a mis-step by Formula 1 and privately it recognized it could have done a better job.
Nevertheless after some initial skepticism the city became increasingly warm to Formula 1’s presence, there was a healthy and passionate crowd, as seen by the volume of merchandise being worn by people as they traipsed around the Strip and the casinos/hotels.
There were some inevitable teething troubles but after Thursday night’s debacle Formula 1 got more right than wrong in how it integrated itself within Las Vegas.
Year 7 Won't Have as Much Disruption
One of the prominent themes through the weekend in Las Vegas was the disruption that the event has caused to local citizens.
The entirety of the 3.8-mile circuit underwent an extensive resurfacing across 2023 and various closures and diversions have led to frustration for those trying to navigate Las Vegas. That will not be taking place prior to 2024’s grand prix, and while the circuit construction and deconstruction will be an annual undertaking, organizers now have insight into how they can streamline the process.
“It's obviously very new for Vegas and for the people in Vegas so I can understand that it's difficult to accept at first,” said Charles Leclerc, who grew up in Monaco, and consequently has first-hand experience of a street event’s disruption. “I really hope that they saw the benefits of having so many people coming to the event. And now I think also that the biggest part of building the new building is done and also it will only get better from now onwards, because people will get up to speed to understand what has to be done and for saving a bit of time.”