Like most lifelong Formula 1 fans, I was skeptical about the inaugural 2023 Las Vegas F1 Grand Prix. The track layout, the infrastructure, and the whole concept was all show and no substance. Things didn't get off to a hot start on Thursday when a poorly installed manhole cover totaled a Ferrari and Alpine, followed by police kicking ticketholders out the grandstands when FP2 was rescheduled to the wee hours of the morning. A fiasco through and through. But hey, Sunday's race, amirite?
Yes, it was another Max Verstappen and Red Bull victory, but to focus on that would be rather silly. The sheer number of passes and wheel-to-wheel fights were among the highest in the season, if not the highest. From the moment the lights went out and Verstappen charged the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, to the top three cars crossing the finish line just 2.2 seconds apart, I believe race day was the palette cleanser needed to wipe away everything that happened up until that moment.
Verstappen, who had spent the weeks leading up to Vegas talking a lot of smack about the event, seemed to change his mind once it was all said and done. Of course, the fact that he won the thing surely influenced his decision, but given how outspoken he is, I believe there is some truth in his post-race comment.
“I hope everyone enjoyed it, we definitely did," said Verstappen after the race, according to the AP. "Excited to come back here next year and try to do something similar. It was a fun race. I enjoyed it."
Despite enduring a weekend to forget, Lewis Hamilton was also positive about the maiden race in the desert and had a message to the critics, adding that Sunday "proved them wrong."
"I don’t know how it was as a spectacle for people to watch, but there was so much overtaking," he told Sky Sports. "It was like Baku, but better. I really wasn’t expecting the track to be so great but the more and more laps you did I just really loved racing it."
I won't downplay how poorly planned and executed the first half of the weekend was. Affected spectators who had likely spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to be there Thursday for the opening stint were given a lame $200 voucher for their troubles. A whole lot of them weren't happy and filed a class-action lawsuit. The fact that teams' own VIP guests and the endless list of celebrities hosted by promoter Liberty Media were treated to a smoother experience than paying fans sheds light on F1's current priorities. Not to mention, the general mayhem the F1 circus caused for locals who saw their work commutes grow by hours and tourists whose vacations were affected were all bad optics for the sport. The teams themselves weren't fans of the overnight schedule, either.
At the end of the day, what new and old F1 fans want are good, exciting races. Whether they happen in Monza and Spa or Singapore and Vegas, we want to see plenty of passing and a healthy dose of competition. Despite its ups and downs, Vegas mostly redeemed itself, and I'm low-key looking forward to next year's race already. Hopefully they'll iron out everything that went wrong in this first run.
Lastly, this makes me think about the Miami F1 Grand Prix. I was there for the inaugural race, and even though the event went fairly smoothly, the racing itself simply didn't deliver. It was a similar case in Miami this year, where the parking lot-turned-race track produced a mediocre race in its second time around. If Vegas can keep delivering racing action of the same caliber as Sunday's, Miami will quickly fall into irrelevance.
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