This weekend marks the return of Formula 1 to Las Vegas after a hiatus of more than 40 years, featuring a newly designed street circuit where cars race down the iconic Strip at speeds exceeding 200mph.
It has been hyped as “the biggest sporting event in America” and a reported $500 million has been spent to prepare the city for the weekend but not without annoying the locals and even some of the drivers.
Tourists and taxi drivers have expressed their frustration due to city-wide traffic delays caused by road closures. Scheduling the event during a major fight week, with Shakur Stevenson facing Edwin De Los Santos for the WBC lightweight title on Thursday, made matters worse when it comes to travel.
Drivers have also claimed they’re just a part of the show and that the weekend isn’t about racing, while the incidents that forced FP1 to be cancelled infuriated both racers and team bosses.
The Sporting News takes a look at everything that has gone wrong so far at the Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023.
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After winning Netflix’s inaugural golf tournament earlier in the week, Carlos Sainz took to the Vegas track on Thursday evening in first practice. The session was only eight minutes in when the Ferrari driver ran over a broken manhole, leaving a hefty amount of damage on the underbody of his car.
The session was red-flagged and the FIA stated that the manhole cover failed and that they would need to complete a thorough check of the circuit to ensure its safety. Esteban Ocon also ran over the loose cover on his return to the pits.
Ferrari were forced to put in a new engine and change the chassis of Sainz’s car due to the damage. While acknowledging that Ferrari was not responsible, the race stewards, in a statement, explained that they were obligated to enforce “the regulations as they are written,” leading to a sanction imposed on Sainz that saw him receive a 10-place grid penalty.
The statement said: “Accordingly, the mandatory penalty specified under Article 28.3 of the Sporting Regulations must be applied. The Stewards note that if they had the authority to grant a derogation in what they consider in this case to be mitigating, unusual, and unfortunate circumstances, they would have done so; however, the regulations do not allow such action.”
They then continued the session with a start time of 2 a.m. local and there were no fans in attendance as their areas were closed.
Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur branded the incident “unacceptable”, saying: “We f***** up the session for Carlos and he won’t be part of FP2, that’s for sure, because we have to change the chassis and set up the car. The show is the show and everything is going well but it’s unacceptable for F1 today.”
Another struggle for this race weekend has been to create a timeslot that allows viewers from all over the world to watch live. But the one audience organisers forgot to cater to was their own. The race starts at 10 p.m. local time on Saturday, November 16, making it midnight or later for many viewers in the United States.
Las Vegas Grand Prix CEO Renee Wilm explained the decision. “That was actually a compromise to make sure we are broadcasting at a time when our European fans can get up with a cup of coffee and watch the race [at] six, seven in the morning, very similar to how we [in the US] watch the European races,” she said.
“So that was actually a very important component of planning out our sequencing for the race weekend.”
World champion Max Verstappen made his views clear on the Saturday night race, describing it as “99 percent spectacle and one percent sporting event”.
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Max Verstappen has also complained about the excitement of the circuit and says he has raced on “better tracks” in his life.
“I don’t think it’s that exciting. For me, a street circuit is not that exciting, especially with these new cars, they are just too heavy. When you have low grip, that doesn’t help.”
“The scenery will look great, driving through the strip,” he added. “But the layout itself is not the most exciting.”
There has been extensive construction in anticipation of the grand prix, which has created utter chaos in Las Vegas, leading to lengthy transport delays with reportedly several hours needed for four-mile journeys. Scheduling the race in the week of a major fight night at the T-Mobile Arena, with another stacked card to follow next week in the city, was also questionable.
Even being a pedestrian has become difficult thanks to specific pathways being designed for the street-circuit layout. Numerous locals have voiced their frustration at the inconveniences caused by Formula 1, prompting an apology from the sport’s owners, delivered by Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei.
“I want to apologise to all the Las Vegas residents and we appreciate that they have their forbearance and their willingness to tolerate us,” he said.
“We’re going to bring something like $1.7 billion of revenue to the area. So it’s not just for the benefit of fans who want to view. We hope this is a great economic benefit in Las Vegas.
“We hope this is the most difficult year with all the construction that went on and things will be easier in the future.”
Free practice 3 is from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time on Friday evening.
Qualifying gets under way later on that night, at 12.00 a.m. local time. Here’s how that time translates to places around the world:
The main event takes place on Saturday in Las Vegas, with a start time of 10 p.m. local time. It’s been moved to the Saturday evening so that for the majority of the world’s population, it will still be Sunday.
Here’s how to tune in to the Las Vegas Grand Prix, with major broadcasters in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia all screening the event and many online streams also available around the world.