While it isn't a surprise that the first-ever Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix was a fiasco, I'm not sure anyone expected it to be as messy as it was. The drama began during the week leading up to the race before drivers even donned helmets for practice sessions and then continued to ramp up until the final car crossed the finish line. But should we have expected anything else when a sport as big as F1 comes to Sin City?
Drivers were complaining about the spectacle, the pre-race activities, and even the track itself all week. Red Bull's star driver Max Verstappen told reporters “I think [the Las Vegas GP] is 99% show, 1% sport.”
Then, only eight minutes into the first practice session, a loose water drain valve cover dislodged itself from the track and tore through Carlos Sainz's Ferrari. The drain cover heavily damaged the car's chassis, hybrid battery pack, and engine. But even more than that, the FIA then slapped Sainz with a 10-place grid penalty, due to Ferrari replacing the car's battery pack, even though the incident was the FIA's fault for not properly securing the track surface. That same drain cover damaged Estaban Ocon's Alpine, too.
That incident only snowballed from there. Since every drain and manhole cover on the entire 3.85-mile street circuit needed to be inspected, the practice session was delayed for more than two hours. Practice didn't resume until 2:30 AM on Friday and, by that time, security had already forced the fans in attendance to leave, even though they'd paid to be there.
Now, those same fans are filing a class-action lawsuit against the F1 Las Vegas GP, seeking at least $30,000 in damages. The venue has offered fans with single-event tickets $200 off the official gift shop but that offer doesn't extend to fans with three-event tickets, who were the majority.
And all of that happened before the actual race even began. Once that happened, the drama continued even further.
In just the third lap, McLaren's Lando Norris, who's had an excellent second half of the season, crashed hard into a barrier. According to Norris, his car bottomed out and he lost the rear end, which caused him to spin into the wall. Norris was taken to a local hospital for precautionary checks but thankfully he wasn't injured in the crash. Was Norris' crash Vegas' fault? Potentially, as McLaren's team principal Andrea Stella said the track's bump is what caused Norris' car to bottom out, and wants it fixed if F1 comes back to Vegas next year.
Despite the drama and dysfunction, the Sin City GP ended the same way as almost every other F1 race has this season: with Verstappen standing tallest at the podium. Ferrari's Charles Leclerc finished in second, though he likely would have won had it not been for a late safety car that allowed the two Red Bulls to get fresh tire advantages. Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez finished third, which gave him enough points to clinch second place in the season's drivers' championship. That gives Red Bull a one-two finish in the drivers' championship and the constructor's championship title as well.
There's only one race left in the season, next week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Though, I'm not sure how much it matters, since Red Bull has all of 2023's worthwhile trophies in its case already.
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