All right, it's nearly 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, and our bones are still vibrating from a mix of Formula 1 qualifying laps happening mere feet below our viewing spot and the sharp elbows of the fashion models taking selfies next to us during qualifying... but with fingers crossed and rabbit limbs stroked, it seems that the F1 race in Vegas might work out better than expected.
Things seemed dire Thursday night, when practice ended minutes after the green flag due to a loose vent cover on the track (you can read a full analysis of that here). The delay was hard on teams and fans, many of whom hung around for hours only to be kicked out of the stands before the practice they had come to see. Track workers and race teams worked all night to get the pavement and the cars back in fighting form. We overheard a Mercedes crewman telling a friend that many of the teams didn't get out of the track until "8 or 9 in the morning."
By 6 p.m. on Friday evening, though, fans were heading back to try again. At first it was a trickle, but by 10 p.m. the stands were respectably full and the suites were jumping.
The track layout isn't great for strolling and socializing. If you've got pals in a different segment, there's no easy way to meet up, but the view from most of the stands was surprisingly good. At one point we were so close to the cars on the short straight that poorly taped wigs and loose extensions were in danger of blowing away each time a driver passed.
The track itself is incredible: huge and fast—nearly four miles long—with a main straight that just keeps going and allows a driver to gain astonishing speed. We did a ridealong in an Alfa Romeo Giulia and saw 168 mph before Alfa development driver Chris Winkler stood on the brakes. The race cars are hitting speeds of 212 mph and even higher.
Evil vents aside, the track is incredibly smooth, and the drivers seemed happy with its configuration after the close of qualifying. Defending champ Max Verstappen—who, spoiler alert, has already clinched the 2023 title—was uncharacteristically enthusiastic, declaring the track "enjoyable out there." Carlos Sainz, smarting from both the physical hit on track the day before and the patently unfair starting-position penalty that FIA smacked him with afterward, was second-fastest in qualifying. "I'm still disappointed about yesterday," he told the interviewer postrace. "I'm very mad, just hiding it." He was not hiding it very well, but it was a great bit of qualifying all the same.
His Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc claimed pole position and said he was looking forward to racing in Vegas, a town he'd only been to before "to party."
The crowds dispersed quickly after qualifying, and while there was some crush and scrum, it wasn't difficult to find our way out of the track. Vegas residents may be less than thrilled with the race, but there were no angry protesters; the hotels seem busy, but not overwhelmed; and we're tucking in for bed with optimism for a great race on Saturday night.
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