F1 hits the jackpot in Las Vegas
JENNA FRYER Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — There were mistakes and mistakes, and a master class in how not to handle customer relations. But by the time Justin Bieber took the checkered flag on Formula One’s return to Las Vegas, Sin City’s $500 million gamble had hit the jackpot.
F1 and owner Liberty Media hosted an electrifying F1 event on Saturday night which turned out to be one of the best races of the season and a glitzy international spectacle that can only be pulled off in Las Vegas.
It was like a show with bad reviews that suddenly becomes an overnight hit.
Max Verstappen trashed the race every chance he got, but the LVGP finally gave him the winner and he was chanting “Viva Las Vegas!” as he won for the 18th time this season. He was an instant Las Vegas convert.
He said he needed to analyze the rest of the season before declaring Saturday night the best race of the year, but smiled and said: “It was a fun race. I enjoyed it.”
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Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez even suggested that Las Vegas should be the final finish of the F1 season.
The whole mood had changed by the time the roads reopened on Sunday and demolition began on the circuit used by the Strip. It wasn’t the sale that LVGP CEO Renee Wilm promised investors in a Nov. 3 earnings call, but she said Sunday “maybe only a few seats on Heineken” were sold and she would not yet debrief with her team. ticketed.
Wilm admitted that LVGP made mistakes in the race in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press. She said the timeline was tight – F1 announced the race in early 2022 – and the scale of the event as a huge task.
“It’s been a very hectic year and a half,” she told AP. “I know we could do such a better job at a lot of things. We were a startup.”
The race was embraced by the F1 industry, eager to continue to tap into the sponsorship-heavy North American market. Las Vegas was F1’s third race in the US, more than any other country, and the most expensive spectator event on the 22-race calendar.
But it was maligned elsewhere as out of financial reach for the average American, and Verstappen ripped the race several times and called it “99% show, and 1% sporting event.”
The three-time reigning world champion would not let up and had another tirade after taking third place around 1am on Saturday. He hated all the show stuff and just wanted to race F1. Verstappen won the title in early October and has been adding to his longest winning streak in a season since.
After this Sunday’s race in Abu Dhabi, he is done for the season. And so Las Vegas was an excessive party that delayed his next win and the next holiday season.
“I understand that there are fans, they need to maybe do something as well around the track,” he said. “But I think it’s more important that you understand what we do as a sport, because most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ play or a performance act.
“I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely (expletive) and have a good time. They come and they become fans of what? They want maybe see their favorite artists and have a few drinks with their colleagues and then go out and have a crazy night,” he continued. “But they do not really understand what we are doing or what we are putting on the line to do. I love Vegas. But not to drive an F1 car.”
He had completely changed his mind by Saturday night, when the podium finishers received a stage show by the Bellagio fountains, which had been shut down for the week. Then the LVGP lit up the Strip with a New Year’s Eve fireworks show.
He noted to the NFL that the Super Bowl in February would be better than half the show that F1 put on on Saturday night.
But the bumps cannot be forgotten, and the organizers of the race were up against a huge task in that no first-year event is error-free. F1 and Liberty promoted this one for the first time, and it was clear that their vision was creating a world-class event.
Add to that the fact that the LVGP was a street race, and, well, things happen to public roads that F1 has no control over. F1 drivers have passed water valve covers on street circuits before, so it wasn’t entirely surprising when Carlos Sainz clocked nine minutes in Thursday night’s opening practice before needing to inspect the track further. Things like that happen more often than you might think in street affairs.
It was the response of F1 and the subsequent LVGP that angered fans. Both parties were arrogant and unsympathetic for kicking out the fans at 1:30am while the track was being inspected to ensure the entire circuit was ready to race. The second practice began at 2:30 am on Friday morning and lasted until 4 am, when work began to restore the roads to morning commuters, and a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of ticket holders Thursday.
A joint statement from F1 and LVGP served as an explanation and said it was “important for those new to racing to understand.”
The statement did not apologize for Thursday night and as far as refunds are concerned, a $200 credit to the Las Vegas Grand Prix merchandise store was only given to those who purchased a ticket on Thursday only. As Wilm told the AP on Sunday, most of the Thursday-only tickets sold to locals were part of a Las Vegas resident special.
The statement also said a lot that things get canceled sometimes in life, even F1 races, but the rest of the weekend should be great.
Many fans thought it was a far-fetched approach to rounding off an expensive experience that ultimately involved nine minutes of watching F1 cars race the Strip.
“Hisight is always 20-20. Could we say more? Should we have said yes? That’s always hard to say,” Wilm told AP. “We were really just trying to provide information to people.”
Fans had to be told to leave because organizers had run afoul of federal employment laws on hours worked per day, union rules, and, frankly, F1 had to pay attention to focus on ensuring that the following two days were faultless.
They were, and from that F1 wins.
But Wilm noted moving forward that LVGP needed better community relations and that its residents needed to be better informed. F1 drew 315,000 people over four nights and LVGP said the economic impact on the area was $1.2 billion, but road closures and public disruptions marred the event before F1 even arrived.
Wilm said the LVGP did not request a waiver of the live entertainment tax, a decision that allowed Nevada to “get hundreds of millions of dollars in the coffers to be used for teachers, for public safety, for STEM schools,” she said. “We are very pleased to be able to use our event to support community benefits.”
With F1 now gone, the roads will be reopened and all restored and improved – partly with Liberty money. There will also be a permanent F1 draw at the end of the Strip that was previously parked, and Las Vegas has never looked better than it did on Saturday night.
The 2022 Miami Grand Prix suffered a major setback in its first year and 2023 proved to be a much better event. F1 ended up with a hand full of aces by the time the race was over, but to continue, not there can be more mistakes.
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