The headline space was not long enough for what it should be, namely: A loud and long standing ovation for Liberty Media, Formula One Management and Las Vegas Grand Prix Organisers.
Against the odds, they took an audacious idea and turned it into neon-lit reality: friggin’ closing The Strip for three days and having Formula 1 cars power around, past the world’s most famous gambling and casino landmarks! It was bonkers to even contemplate such an idea.
I was in Las Vegas with my family in August and even shopped at the CVS Pharmacy, which for non-Americans is not really a pharmacy but a Seven-11 on steroids. And also got a long look at The Sphere, which was incredible, to say the least. And I am not impressed by a lot.
Watching traffic and hordes of people float past, I sniggered at the time and asked aloud: How the hell are F1 going to run a Grand Prix on these streets? At the time, apart from some merchandise in stores there was little if any sign F1 would be coming to town. My eyebrows raised.
But defying the odds they did it. Stefano Domenicali and his FOM team, the Las Vegas organisers remained anonymous as they tackled and solved pop-up problems, akin to saving a wobbling pile of casino chips ready to collapse. But they didn’t collapse, and the FP1 glitch was not their fault.
FIA messed up by deeming the Las Vegas track safe when it was not
The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is F1’s governing body and rulemaker of the sport. They are tasked with certifying a track is good and safe to practice, qualify and race on, which they did with the Strip Circuit shortly before the red light halted the action for FP1.
From where I sit, open to correction and not privy to insider info on what went on behind the scenes during that period, the FIA messed up and appeared to not do the required due diligence with regards to safety, somehow giving the all clear to the track, missing what was a faulty drain cover that ended FP1 before ten minutes were up, expensively damaging the Alpine of Esteban Ocon and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
What followed was an endless delay and the longest of nights as repairs and strengthening of similar drain covers dotted around the track were properly fastened. Made chaotic with fans being told to leave before FP2.
And then in their attempts to make amends, F1 did themselves no favours with what many perceived to be a feeble offer for compensation. This, of course, triggered a social media hissy fit. With the doomsayers and we-told-you-so-folks out in force.
Unfair that F1 management copped all the flak for something that was not their fault
With the ball thrust in their court, F1 spin doctors tried to diffuse matters while the FIA got a free pass. Why? Because they penalised Carlos Sainz ten grid places for going over a drain cover the FIA track inspectors were blind to, and let’s not forget that Sainz got struck by the cover in the time between the Yellow flag and the Red flag, an inexplicable delay in action by stewards.
The furore and ‘smoke’ caused by the Ferrari driver’s ridiculously unfair penalty – surely an exemption could have been applied considering the circumstances – meant that questions of incompetence by the sport’s ruling body.
Why? Because they say so in the rules: “Once the circuit is built, a very thorough verification of the safety level of the track is performed by an FIA inspector before an FIA licence can be issued.” Am I missing something?
Therefore Domenicali’s team and those in the entire Las Vegas GP organising team are exonerated in my book. The FIA has some questions to answer, and for their failings on this one perhaps even pay the Alpine and Ferrari repair bill? How about the FIA refunding those affected by the delays on Thursday night?
How many big first-time events do not have teething problems?
I have been to many big live events, sports, and concerts, that suffered delays, even cancellations on the occasion of the first show. I am sure many of you have too.
And let’s be honest what we saw on the opening night, on Qualy night and then that mega race of the season is not something the planet has witnessed before. It was a unique occasion in sporting history.
What was bad? Nothing. Especially if you consider the daft boo-brigade and boorishness of F1 ‘fans’ at some tracks or the hooliganism we have witnessed at Europe’s traditional venues when a minority of the Orange Army don’t go to Ibiza to get shitfaced. Even racism has reared its ugly head in F1 at times. Those are real problems our sport contended with and has to on an ongoing basis.
From the day he landed in the Nevada desert, Max Verstappen made it clear he did not want to be there at all and was unimpressed with just about everything. Not shy to peepee on the party, until he won that action-packed Grand Prix on Saturday, a race he was made to work hard to win for a change. No typical cruise for him.
The kind he loves winning, as the “Viva Las Vegas!” rendition on the cool-down lap testified. That Elvis race suit the World Champ did not look so awkward anymore!
Verstappen changed his tune when he won a thrilling Las Vegas GP
He clearly realised in Parc Ferme afterwards it had been one of his more impressive drives and one of the better races of this season, despite the usual winner taking home the spoils. And boy! He was smiling broadly. So Champ, Vegas wasn’t so bad after all?
Sure there were some disgruntled fans during the course of the weekend, maybe all hotel rooms were not sold out. And is it worth a half billion dollars? Yes. If the first one is anything to go by, the race through Sin City’s heart is no Monaco for sure.
And it does not need to be. It’s the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Like nothing we have ever seen in terms of audacity and courage to make it happen. Deserving a Discovery Channel documentary on Amazing Feats of the 21st Century. With the lessons of Las Vegas GP III learnt, I expect the next one to be even better.
In closing this (thank you!) note, a return to the opening paragraph is apt: A loud and long standing ovation for the teams at Liberty Media, Formula One Management and Las Vegas Grand Prix Organisers.