“99% show, and 1% sporting event.”
Max Verstappen’s description of the Las Vegas Grand Prix – when asked for the balance – was a striking quote on Wednesday night. The Dutchman said it with a smile but was totally serious, as he’s more than happy giving his personal opinion. But it was delivered with a refreshing lack of ego, as he also admits he wouldn’t listen to himself if he was running Formula 1.
“I think in the U.S. in general it’s always a little bit more busy for us, but I don’t think that is the biggest problem (in Vegas) … There is no problem, but it’s just not really my thing.”
And there’s already been a lot of what is not really Verstappen’s thing this week.
The most obvious offering was the Netflix Cup golf tournament that dominated Tuesday, as Netflix brought some of the big names from Drive to Survive – or at least those who play golf – together with four PGA Tour stars to compete in a live televised event.
Perhaps it was naive to think it would be anything other than massive, but the scale was still surprising as the entire golf course at the Wynn felt like it had been set-up for a major. The quality of the production, the standards of facilities and the involvement of The Sphere in the background all added up to an impressive undertaking with thousands of fans in attendance.
That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, though. Another example was the unveiling of Red Bull’s livery, that really did need me to justify to my wife that the reason I was in a nightclub in the early hours of the morning was for work purposes…
Taking over Omnia – one of the biggest and most iconic clubs in Vegas – Red Bull hid a car in the ceiling, and after 90 minutes of the venue operating as a club (with Red Bull branding dominating, of course) the car was then lowered above the crowd to display the unique design at midnight.
And then stumbling out at 2am, you were greeted by the sight of teams and drivers walking the track at the only time it was closed for them to do so overnight. It’s a bizarre schedule.
Those same drivers then had to make an appearance during the lavish opening ceremony on Wednesday, when multiple music acts played on stages on the pit straight before the grid was introduced – the drivers rising up through a platform to wave at the crowd and then disappear again.
“We are just standing up there, looking like a clown,” was Verstappen’s verdict.
“I guess they still make money if I like it or not, so it’s not up to me! But I’m also not going to fake it, I just always voice my opinion on positive things and negative things. That’s just how I am. Some people like the show a bit more, I don’t like it at all. I grew up just looking at the performance side of things and that’s how I see it as well.
“So for me, I like to be in Vegas, but not so much for racing.”
Lewis Hamilton wants races to be more impactful. Bagnall/Motorsport Images
While F1’s current world champion is not a fan of the extravagance surrounding the race – and he was far from alone – the man whose records he is chasing had a different view of the event.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lewis Hamilton counters. “I’ve seen Casino like a thousand times – the movie obviously – it’s amazing for them to be here. I think it’s something we spoke of dreaming of having a race here many years ago, and it’s very surreal to be here. It’s exciting. It’s such an incredible place. Great energy, great buzz.”
Hamilton was full of praise for the way Liberty Media has managed to expand F1’s reach and footprint to such an extent that a race in Las Vegas can be executed, even if the racing part has not actually had that much focus so far.
“The sport continues to grow. It is a business, ultimately. I think you’ll still see good racing here. It’s just such a big country, to really tap into the market here and really captivate the audience here, we needed to have at least two races. One wasn’t enough.
“This is one of the most iconic cities there is and unique cities that they have here amongst the other amazing cities they have in America. All the lights, the show, it is a big show for sure. It’s never going to be like Silverstone. But maybe over time, the people in the community here will grow to love the sport just as we’ve had the privilege of growing up and experiencing, maybe.
“Maybe the track will be good, maybe it’ll be bad. It was so-so on the sim – it’s definitely not Silverstone.
“I don’t know. Don’t knock it until you try it. I hear there’s a lot of people complaining about the direction that Stefano (Domenicali) and Liberty have been going, but I think they’ve been doing an amazing job.
“The sport is growing massively. It’s going to grow even more once we get this movie out. I’m onto Stefano because I really want to get the race in South Africa or in Africa – if it’s not South Africa, it will be somewhere else there hopefully, because we’re in all the other continents – and then we’ve just got to think about the impact that we have in these different places.
“It’s not just a circus that comes here and then we leave. We should look at how we can positively impact the community here, particularly like the kids. Bringing the kids to Austin, I brought 60 young girls to the circuit from local communities that would never have the opportunity to get to the track. Hopefully now they’re inspired to be engineers, go back to school and tell all their friends. We’ve got to make sure we’re also doing stuff like that.”
Perhaps it’s Hamilton’s final point that needs to be taken most seriously. This is a race that is completely geared up to try and make money – to such an extent the drivers’ attendance at a party with Domenicali and multiple investors at the Wynn was strongly advised on Wednesday night, even though it meant cancelling mandatory media commitments that F1 knows are scheduled – and if it’s going to make money, it would be best if it leads to a positive impact rather than simply lined shareholders’ pockets.
While it remains to be seen if that transpires in a more distant future, for now the balance Verstappen references will start to shift when cars actually hit the track and the sporting element kicks off on Thursday.
But that certainly won’t slow down the show.