What the Hell Is Going on at the Las Vegas Grand Prix?

Formula 1’s extravagant return to the Strip is getting battered by lackluster ticket sales, outrage from locals and even criticism from its best driver

Ferrari F1 driver Charles Leclerc is welcomed at the Las Vegas Grand Prix by Elvis impersonators and the Blue Man Group
The welcoming committee has arrived!
ANP via Getty

If you ask Lawrence Barretto, he believes this Saturday’s Las Vegas Grand Prixcould be the greatest show on Earth.” Of course, as a presenter and correspondent employed by Formula 1, he’s pretty much obligated to say that. If you ask Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver who has already clinched the title this year despite there being two races left, he has a different opinion of F1’s splashy, expensive return to Vegas: “It’s 99% show, 1% sporting event.” 

Verstappen’s verbal bucket of cold water is not the only bad press F1 is facing ahead of what was supposed to be the sport’s most exciting new race in years. In fact, while the initial announcement of the event in March 2022 led to near-universal acclaim — Sports Illustrated even went so far as to predict the Vegas race could “become one of the most iconic races,” “an American Monaco of sorts” — the current state of F1’s most expensive event of the year can be summed up in one word: underwhelming. 

“Well, the big race has finally arrived and tickets are still available, both directly and on a dramatically reduced secondary market,” the Associated Press reported. “Hotel prices along the Strip have plummeted and all signs suggest first-time F1 race promoter [Liberty Media] appears to have grossly overshot the price point for drawing in new fans and spenders.”

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The final word on the Vegas Grand Prix’s financial success will come after the weekend wraps up and numbers are tallied. But for some Vegas residents and workers, who have been dealing with the upheaval from the enormous construction effort needed to build new facilities and prepare the city roads for high-intensity racing — including tens of thousands of tons of new pavement — the downsides have already overshot any potential benefit of F1 coming to town.

“For every one fat cat Formula 1 fan, there are hundreds of ordinary tourists that are avoiding visiting Las Vegas owing to elevated costs and the general mayhem the sport is bringing to the city,” a unionized Vegas worker, only identified by the first name Evan, said in a story on local backlash in Jalopnik. “Convention organizers are seeing the struggles their attendees have had, and if F1 is back next year, they will move their shows to another city.”

F1 owners Liberty Media are certainly hoping to bring the Las Vegas Grand Prix back again next year, and every year for the foreseeable future. As the AP explained, while a reported $500 million is being spent to put on the race, $240 million of that went “to purchase property at the end of the Strip for construction of the paddock area and a permanent pit building.” They’re putting down roots, not popping up for a one-time spectacle — or two-time spectacle, as was the case when F1 previously raced in Vegas, in a Caesars Palace parking lot, in 1981 and ‘82.

Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes driver currently sitting in third and fighting for second place with Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez, can see both sides of the coin. 

“I just don’t understand how we’re going to move around that place. I don’t even know how we’re going to get from the track to the hotel,” he said in an interview with Sky Sports. He added, “I think the best thing is just to go in with an open mind, not having predetermined ideas of what it’s going to be like and just take it all in when you get there.”

“Driving in those lights,” he said, “I’m going to feel like I’m in the Casino movie.” 

Wait a second, has Hamilton seen Casino?

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