F1’s Las Vegas Grand Prix shaping up to be both a spectacle and an expensive headache


LAS VEGAS — It was a pretty typical weekend in Las Vegas, with Adele performing at Caesars Palace, U2 at the newly opened largest spherical structure in the world, NASCAR in town and the Raiders hosting the Patriots. An exhaustive set of entertainment options.

With it came the traffic snarls — on foot or car — from every road closure, redirection or new fencing erected along the Las Vegas Strip as part of construction preparations for a Formula One race that is still a month away.

The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, if nothing else, will be a sensory overload of neon bright lights, roaring race cars and some of the wealthiest F1 fans in the world in attendance. But the daily disruptions have created a vibe that the ballyhooed event might also be an expensive, logistical headache.

American fans of the global racing series have grumbled since tickets went on sale that they’ve been priced out of this year’s third F1 stop in the United States. The race is being promoted by F1, which acknowledged last year that Las Vegas will be the most expensive spectator event on its 23-race calendar.

The Wynn Grid Club offers a $50,000 package that includes, among other things, race tickets, a helicopter tour and transportation to the circuit. There is also the “opportunity” to purchase a hot lap on the track and “access to five-star accommodations at Wynn Las Vegas.”

All the top hotels, charging pre-pandemic rates, have created F1 experiences that are catered to the very elite. Don’t want to actually go to the track? For $7,000, you can hang out at Sports Illustrated Club SI and watch the action with David Beckham and Shaquille O’Neal.

Several NASCAR drivers played tourist this past weekend and checked out the ongoing build of the 3.853-mile (6.20 kilometers), 17-turn course that starts in a parking lot and passes multiple Las Vegas attractions. It might be the closest they get to the event, which comes Nov. 18 — two weeks after the NASCAR season finale.

“I thought about it, but I’m sure as everyone knows, it is going to be expensive,” said playoff driver Tyler Reddick. “When we landed, we drove right by it, and the amount of construction is insane … how much they’ve already dug in and changed the appearance of the Strip for this event is pretty wild to see.”

It’s going to be a party and that’s evident by the start times all weekend. Qualifying begins at midnight, the race itself is 10 p.m. on Saturday. And the emphasis on everything not including the racing will be important because the race itself has almost nothing on the line. (Do tuck this away: there’s already concern the late track times are going to make it difficult for drivers to warm their tires to suitable temperatures.)

F1 expanded to three races in the US this year, one of the most boring seasons in recent memory. Max Verstappen won the driver championship with six races remaining on the schedule, and Red Bull locked up the constructors title even earlier.

Verstappen and Red Bull have won 16 of 17 races to date, and the outcomes have rarely been close.

It’s made for a disappointing season at a time when F1 had captured new American fans with an assist from the Netflix behind-the-scenes “Drive to Survive” docudrama. The only drama this season has been off the track.

Sergio Perez, despite two wins at the start of the season, has been dominated by teammate Verstappen every session and rumors about his future have swirled for months. There have been reports that Perez has been told if he doesn’t finish second to Verstappen in the standings then he will be fired, as well as speculation the Mexican will announce his F1 retirement during his home race weekend later this month.

Logan Sargeant, the first American in the series since Alexander Rossi in 2015, has failed to create any buzz in his rookie season with Williams and the team has given him clear direction on the benchmarks he must hit to keep his seat in 2024.

Then there’s the entire Michael Andretti mess. He could find out this weekend at the US Grand Prix in Texas if he’s still the most unwelcome visitor in the F1 paddock. He wants an F1 team, applied to the FIA to be added to the grid, and F1’s governing body at the start of the month approved Andretti Global as the only suitable applicant for expansion.

Andretti, with a partnership with General Motors, must still convince Formula One Management to let him launch a team and the F1 response to Andretti Global’s approval was tepid at best.

“We note the FIA’s conclusions in relation to the first and second phases of their process and will now conduct our own assessment of the merits of the remaining application,” F1 said upon Andretti receiving FIA approval.

Just when F1 gets around to conducting its own assessment is anyone’s guess.

The juicy stuff will be happening inside the velvet ropes in Vegas, accessible only to the well-heeled and Netflix camera crews. The race down the Strip is exciting in concept and probably will be a smashing success for the international tourists looking for a good time at an F1 race.

For the Americans? Save your money (if you could even afford it) and your sanity. All the highlights will be in Season 6 of “Drive to Survive,” anyway.

Image credits: AP

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