Oh dear. After years of anticipation, Formula One has finally returned to Las Vegas, having last raced in Nevada’s most iconic city in 1982 - and it’s started a bit rough.
To say there’s been scepticism surrounding the race, set to be crammed with more showbiz than any Grand Prix before it, would be an understatement. Unfortunately for the top brass in F1, the critics appear to have been proven right.
Loose manhole covers caused chaos, halted practice and wrote off one car
It took just nine minutes for the first practice session of the Vegas weekend to be cancelled. An improperly fixed manhole cover came up underneath the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, causing a significant amount of damage to the car. Following the throwing of the red flag, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon hit the same manhole which ultimately led to him needing a new chassis.
FP1 wasn’t resumed, and worse still for Carlos Sainz, he was awarded a 10-place grid drop after his car’s energy store needed a new replacement with the previous unit taking serious damage from the manhole cover. Ferrari did submit a request for a ‘derogation of the Sporting Regulations’, but was harshly rejected by the FIA.
FP2 was delayed by two and a half hours, though eventually ran as a 90-minute session. However…
Paying fans were thrown out ahead FP2
Reportedly due to issues with staffing the delayed session, starting at 2:30am local time, fans who had paid to see practice were thrown out of the grandstands and any areas surrounding just as FP2 started. It made viewing eerily reminiscent of the fanless sessions of the 2020 lockdown session, and there’s no word yet on whether those fans will be refunded.
F1 has a negative history with refunds, though. Despite the premature finish to the 2021 Belgian GP following two race laps under safety car conditions and a red flag on lap three, fans were not given their money back.
Ticket prices were insane, and then hastily cut
Even if ticket prices were cheap, fans at the Vegas GP can be rightfully miffed off for being thrown out. However, packages sold months in advance came at eye-watering prices, with a reported average price of around $5,000 (approx. £4,000) for a weekend ticket.
Leaving it until late to get your tickets may have been the right call, though. According to CNN, remaining tickets saw a fall of 35 per cent on average in the month prior.
Nobody was ready for the track surface to be cold
There are some incredibly smart people working in F1. However, nobody at a decision-making level appeared to realise just how cold a city in the middle of a desert can get in the winter.
Air temperatures as low as 11 degrees Celsius are expected for the race on Saturday night, which for a sport used to running in Europe in the summer and in climates as hot as Qatar, is a concern. On a newly laid surface with cold temperatures, it’s expected the Pirelli tyres may struggle to fire up quickly - and if there’s one thing F1 cars desperately need, it’s warm tyres.
Former F1 managing director Ross Brawn said the cold temperatures were “the one thing we hadn’t considered initially” but that Pirelli had “done some work to make sure the tyres can cope with that”. We’ll wait with bated breath to see if that’s true.
The Sphere can’t display certain colours
You’ve likely seen the gigantic ball of LEDs that is the Vegas Sphere by now. It’ll be used exclusively by F1 to support race coverage and more crucially to them, sell ad space over the course of the weekend.
However, don’t expect to see much of the colours red, yellow or blue over the weekend. These have reportedly been banned so as to not distract the drivers, which may confuse them for flags displayed on other LED panels. Maybe not putting an F1 race around a sphere of 1.2 million diodes would’ve been a better idea.
Poster boy Max Verstappen hates the track
If there’s one thing as an organisation you don’t want, it's your star man speaking out against the most anticipated event on your calendar.
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that recently-crowned three-time world champion Max Verstappen is the face of the sport at the moment. It just so happens that not only he is unimpressed with the show business around the Vegas GP, but he hates the track, too.
In the run-up to the GP, he said the circuit was “not very interesting” following some simulator work. It was only this morning following FP2 and some time on the real tarmac that he reaffirmed his stance, saying he had driven “better tracks in my life”.
That follows his comments after the opening ceremony describing the race as “99 per cent show and 1 per cent sporting event”. Hard to argue with that.