Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz both feel Formula 1 needs to get the balance right between the spectacle and sporting event at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, ahead of Sunday’s race.
The two Ferrari drivers finishing first and second in a spectacular qualifying session that came 24 hours after delayed opening practice sessions, with the cause of the delay — a loose water valve cover — leading to Sainz picking up a grid penalty due to the damage he sustained hitting it. With fans also only able to watch eight minutes of track action on the opening day before being forced to leave by local labor laws relating to security workers, the race has been recovering from a tough start as it gets set for the main event on Saturday night.
“I was sad [after FP1] to see how much criticism there was around the track,” Leclerc said. “Of course, it wasn’t good enough and that is clear to everybody, but obviously we must not forget also how much work there has been for many, many people in order to make this event work, and I think it looks amazing.
“I really hope we have an exciting race, in order to really show what Formula 1 is and [Thursday] was obviously a pretty bad start. I think it’s an amazing venue for Formula 1. As I said, we are a sport for sure and we need to keep the DNA of the sport which is the most important thing for everybody.
“At the same time, I believe that opportunities like this need to be taken and a little bit of show around the track to attract people that maybe wouldn’t have come to a Formula 1 race is needed. You always need to find the right balance between show and sports and that’s why I’m not so happy about the show just before the race because I think this is a time where we need to focus on what really matters, which is racing.
“On the other hand, I think the venue and the event looks amazing and there’s been a lot of hard work in order to get there, which has to be appreciated. And then at the end of the weekend, we’ll obviously look back at all the things that didn’t go well in order for these things to not happen because it is clear that it’s not acceptable what happened in FP1.”
While Leclerc is concerned by a major production the drivers will be part of in the buildup to lights out, Sainz is still hurt by being demoted to 12th after a power unit component change, but he says F1 getting the sporting aspect right doesn’t have to come with any reduction of hype in Vegas.
“I think we need to learn to separate things,” Sainz said. “I think there is the sport and there’s the show, and I think you can have both in a good combination and harmony, with the opening ceremony with all the show around the grand prix, in all the hotels, all the VIP access. I see the race as a very good opportunity for F1, and I think it’s a good thing that F1 is coming to Vegas and I’m enjoying the experience of coming to Vegas to do a Formula 1 race here.
“Then there’s the sport, and I feel like [as] a sport we cannot fail, knowing these important events. I felt like we started on [a] very bad foot and I think it was a very good opportunity to make a statement as a sport and to open Vegas with a very good image and with a very good attraction to everyone. In my opinion… I have people that have never come to a race that are still asking me why I’m getting a penalty for what happened and they’ve never been to an F1 race.
“And people… very influential people, people that are important but also all the fans that couldn’t attend yesterday, honestly I think separating the two things… I’m all for the show, all for growing the sport, but the sport has to be there. I feel like [on Thursday] we didn’t start on the right foot. I paid the price, by far the most of it.
“I hope that we have an exciting race [and] that F1 shows the whole world what we’re made of, what kind of racing we can produce, what kind of spectacle and what kind of sport we are. If this goes well, hopefully FP1 will be forgotten. My penalty, not, but FP1 will be forgotten and we will enjoy a good weekend and I think overall it will be a positive weekend for F1.”