After a worrying week for Formula OneAfter days of fear and hate in Las Vegas, the sport finally had such an effect on the city streets that what was a big gamble actually paid off.
The house always wins here, so of course. Max Verstappen took the flag for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, but had to fight hard to achieve it, meaning the races lived up to the spectacle and provided the spectacle that F1 craved.
It was extraordinary. Verstappen had to overcome both a penalty and an on-track collision with George Russell to take the victory. In doing so, the world champion competed passionately with Ferrari’s second-placed Charles Leclerc and his Red Bull his teammate Sergio Pérez, who was third.
The preparations for this meeting, the anticipation, the hype, have been relentless. For Formula One, which spent what is understood to be $700 million to organize the event, acting for the first time as promoter and organizer, this was its showcase, its Super Bowl; a step forward in selling the sport to the United States, the market it wants to break more than any other.
F1 had insisted that there would be no race without it being in the heart of the city and including Las Vegas Boulevard, the iconic Strip, and both were achieved. F1 had the support of the casinos and a backdrop that made this one of the most striking shows in Las Vegas: Caesars, the Bellagio, Paris, the Venetian. They line the Strip and the track and the cars looked magnificent passing these landmarks at speeds of over 200 mph. It also made it one of the greatest stages in Formula One. The failure in this case would have been very, very public.
It wasn’t out of the question either. The weekend began with no little resentment after fans saw just eight minutes of action in Thursday’s first practice and then were unable to watch a second session delayed for five hours and held behind closed doors. They were hugely disappointed and angry, having in many cases paid a small fortune to do so. A class action lawsuit has already been filed.
Even worse, Verstappen had been very critical of the accompanying fuss, repeatedly saying that he felt it was unnecessary and that what mattered was the racing, which he believed the sport was paying little attention to.
Going into the race, then, there was a genuine fear that, when it really mattered, Las Vegas might prove a failure on the track. There were concerns that the 3.8-mile circuit would be a bust, offering few passing opportunities and heralding a procession of cars circling the city while running their tires: a conservative cavalcade for the fans who had paid a lot of money to have it. F1 kept its promise. of being the pinnacle of motor sport.
The tension only increased as the night progressed; The grid was a heaving mass like no other, where movement was barely possible. Usain Bolt could be seen high above the crowd, but even the fastest man in the world could only move at a snail’s pace in the swamp.
When the lights went out, Formula One held its breath, but it quickly became clear that the sport had backed a winner. The track was excellent, the grip was enough to allow for offensive driving and without worrying too much about the tyres, they attacked. Pass after pass followed across the field, three in a row at times, ducking and diving as they weaved through town with abandon, surely calming the nerves of the sport’s hierarchy that had been taut as violin strings all weekend.
Verstappen had taken the lead into Turn One early on, pushing pole-sitter Leclerc in the process, for which the world champion was penalized five seconds, putting him out of the field. He duly returned, as did Perez with a fortuitous pit stop under the safety car, while Leclerc was a warrior for the Scuderia. Twisting the neck of his Ferrari, he regained the lead from Verstappen, lost it to Perez and then regained it.
However, Verstappen, as always, was inexorable and flew towards them both, being hit by Russell’s Mercedes as he passed. By lap 37 he had regained the lead, while Leclerc achieved an outcome worthy of the race of the season. On the final lap, the Monegasque driver launched his car toward the inside of Turn 14, the end of the Strip, in a last-ditch effort to overtake Pérez for second place. It was the impressive and brave move that the race deserved for a finish.
This was largely the case, the early problems of the weekend were erased with a sensational show that for once lived up to expectations. Verstappen may not have enjoyed the whole spectacle, but in the end even he couldn’t resist joining in. As the team broadcast Viva Las Vegas on their radio, he sang along enthusiastically.
Only at the end of the weekend, behind the wheel, did Verstappen finally find time for the city. “It was a lot of fun to be there,” he said. “I hope you enjoyed it, we definitely did. “I’m already excited to come back here next year.”
By their standards this weekend, it was a resounding endorsement and one that F1 will accept wholeheartedly. Fireworks went off all over the city as casinos showed their appreciation for the closure, and they too likely feel like they’re part of something that has legs for the future.
As the King himself noted in Viva Las Vegas: “If you see it once, you will never be the same…” So, for F1, which could have been the catalyst to change the rules of the game in the United States. Live indeed.
Esteban Ocon was fourth with Alpine and Lance Stroll fifth with Aston Martin. Carlos Sainz was sixth with Ferrari. Russell and Lewis Hamilton were seventh and eighth for Mercedes. Fernando Alonso was ninth with Aston Martin and Oscar Piastri tenth with McLaren.