Max Verstappen has called Formula 1’s Las Vegas Grand Prix “99% show and 1% sporting event” and said drivers looked like ‘clowns’ in Wednesday night’s opening ceremony.
F1’s return to the famous American city is a big-budget investment from the commercial rights holder itself and a huge logistical undertaking as the circuit is built around the casino hotel-lined Strip.
But world champion Verstappen has no enthusiasm for the spectacle that is accompanying this event and said on Wednesday evening: “I don’t like all the things around it.
“I’m looking forward to trying to do the best I can but I’m not looking forward to this.”
Several drivers also had to adjust their media day schedules at the last minute to leave the circuit on Wednesday night, then return later, to attend a red-carpet event at one of the key Vegas hotels that have played a crucial role in making the grand prix happen.
Verstappen, among others, is not attending that event and said he had “zero interest” in doing so.
He and the other 19 drivers were already part of the end of a 30-minute show billed as the grand prix's opening ceremony, in which the 10 team-mate pairings appeared to the watching crowd on the start-finish straight by rising on lifts from inside platforms.
“For me you can all skip these kinds of things,” Verstappen said.
“It’s just standing up there, [you] look like a clown.”
The Vegas race is meant to be a symbol of F1’s growth in the United States and an event with immense commercial potential for the championship long-term.
Verstappen said there’s “no problem” with the Vegas GP but “it’s just not really my thing”, and his intention is not to try to influence how F1 manages such events but to answer questions “in an honest way”.
“I fully understand and you can look at it two ways - business side or sport side,” Verstappen.
“So, of course I understand their side of it.
“I’m just voicing my opinion on the performance side of things.”
RICCIARDO ‘IN AWE’
While Verstappen was the main dissenting voice among the drivers, with most either enthusiastic or ambivalent, his former Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was typically effusive in praise of the Vegas event.
The backdrop to F1’s paddock comprises some of the Vegas skyline’s most well-known landmarks and Ricciardo reckons some people would not have expected a race truly in the heart of the city.
“When they said it was going to happen, probably a lot of people thought it was going to be like Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is a fair way out,” Ricciardo said.
“That would be Vegas, but not properly Vegas. So to pull it off in The Strip, it’s pretty cool.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like the races where you can stay out and probably rent an Airbnb, a bit isolated, whatever – but I’m a sucker for Vegas. So, being here, it’s pretty cool.
“I’m more in awe that they put this together. We drove on the track last night, to have a little bit of a look, because a track walk at 2am is too late for me, but The Strip has that long DRS straight.
“It’s probably going to be the most exciting straight we’ve driven on. I’m excited, yeah.”
He added: “Logistically I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone.
“Navigating through it is a bit of a maze right now, but I think it’s going to be a pretty cool race.”
VERSTAPPEN’S OTHER VEGAS CRITICISMS
Verstappen has also dismissed the 17-turn track with long straights as a “not very interesting” layout.
“I don’t think it’s that exciting,” he said.
“Already for me, a street circuit is not very exciting, especially with these new cars, too heavy. Also when you have low grip, that doesn’t help.
“Of course the scenery will look great, driving on The Strip, but the layout itself is not the most exciting.
“In F1 cars, it’s a lot more fun with a lot of high speed corners and around here, there are not that many high-speed corners.”
He also raised another issue with how Vegas starts an awkward double-header to end the season.
After Saturday night’s race, F1 heads from the western side of the US all the way to the Middle East for the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s already a 12-hour difference but also a completely different timezone because basically we live on a Japanese time schedule [in Vegas] but then almost on a different day,” he said.
“I don’t really get that. That is very tiring.
“It’s the end of the season that we have to do this, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”
‘Don’t knock it until you try it’
Lewis Hamilton was perhaps unsurprisingly the most vocal supporter of the grand prix and urged people to give the race a chance.
“I think you’ll still see good racing here, it’s just such a big country, to really tap into the market here and really captivate the audience, we needed to have at least two races. One wasn’t enough,” Hamilton said.
“This is one of the greatest, most iconic cities and unique cities that they have here among the other amazing cities in America.
“With all the lights, it’s a big show for sure. And it’s never going to be Silverstone, but maybe over time the people in the community here will grow to love the sport as much as we who have had the privilege of growing up and experiencing it.
“Maybe the track will be good, maybe it will be bad. It was so-so on the sim, it’s definitely not Silverstone.
“[But] don’t knock it until you try it, I hear there’s a lot of people complaining about the direction that Stefano and Liberty have been going in. but I think they’ve been doing an amazing job, the sport is growing massively.”
VEGAS ‘DESERVES’ MORE
Other drivers expressed some reservations over what they have been roped into doing in Vegas and the emphasis on the show.
Fernando Alonso, who has often spoken critically of the modern demands on a driver’s time during a grand prix weekend, believes it is fine to prioritise extra commitments at races like this if there is some rebalancing elsewhere.
“Places like this, with the investment that has been done and the place where we are racing, it deserves a little bit of a different treatment and a little bit of an extra show,” Alonso said.
“I’m OK to do extra for this type of event.
“But maybe it could be balanced somehow and our schedule reduced somewhere else.”
Similarly, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc felt “it’s a lot, but I think if you don’t do that here, you don’t do that anywhere”.
He hoped the more showbiz elements would attract new fans.
“What’s most important to me is that the DNA of the sport remains the same,” he added.
“However we also need to take opportunities of this kind of event, such incredible cities, and make something around it that will maybe attract people who are not interested in racing but then once they see the cars in real life than get interested in racing.
“This could be potentially many more fans for the sport in the years to come, so I think what F1 has done until now.”
Lando Norris said F1 is “definitely more of a show now than what it was a few years ago” and admitted his preference is to just “come here and drive”.
But he stopped short of criticising the extracurricular activities around the Vegas weekend because it is part of how this race is run.
“I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing the type of thing like we do earlier,” he said, referencing the appearance to the crowd in the opening ceremony.
“It’s not what I enjoy doing.
“I know a lot of this stuff is just part of it and I’m not saying anything against it.
“But I do this job because I want to come and drive and race cars.
“And I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing these types of events and big shows and things like that.”
Carlos Sainz also referenced the intense schedules that drivers have during what will be a 24-race calendar in 2024.
He said there are “some things you look forward to doing more than others” and argued there’s a broader issue that F1 needs to “reconsider” how race weekends are handled.
“Our schedules are getting busier and busier, every year that goes by,” he said.
“The weekends are almost starting earlier rather than starting later.
“We are adding races to the calendar and it’s getting to a point where sometimes it feels a bit repetitive and everything feels a bit over-packed and we are trying to maybe overdo it a bit.”