Max Verstappen, the three-time world drivers’ champion, isn’t in Las Vegas for the show. All the Red Bull driver wants to do is race, again making known his annoyances with the spectacle of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.
“I think it is 99 percent show, 1 percent sporting event,” Verstappen said Wednesday at an opening ceremony at which all 20 drivers participated.
Verstappen said he looked “like a clown” standing on the stage. His complaints weren’t the only ones voiced by drivers during Wednesday’s availability. It hints at some of the other points of conflict between the sport and its drivers, most notably the balance between the entertainment and sporting sides of Formula One.
“Our schedules are getting busier and busier every year that goes by,” Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said. “The weekends are almost starting earlier than starting later. We’re adding races to the calendar. And it’s getting to a point where I think everything feels a bit repetitive and a bit overpacked and we’re trying to overdo it a bit.”
Added McLaren’s Lando Norris: “It’s definitely more of a show now than what it was a few years ago. To be honest, I just want to come here and drive.”
F1 is entering its penultimate grand prix of a 23-race schedule. The teams will immediately depart Las Vegas after Saturday night’s race for the season finale Nov. 26 in Abu Dhabi, a 12-hour time difference. F1 had three consecutive races — in Austin, Texas, Mexico City and Sao Paulo — before giving teams a one-week break before coming to Las Vegas.
Sainz and Verstappen also mentioned how little say the drivers get in F1’s schedule. Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg said F1 has never given the drivers much say in the sporting side, and he and Sainz said they would like to see that change.
Sainz said it’s important considering the drivers are the ones who have to talk to the media most often.
“It’s fundamental that the driver agrees and has some kind of opinion going forward,” Sainz said. “Yes, we might not have a vote, but we have a very important voice. We all want to be aligned and in unison with F1 also.”
Seven-time world champion and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said he’s willing to give the Las Vegas Grand Prix and the surrounding spectacle the benefit of the doubt.
Hamilton, a self-admitted lover of the movie “Casino,” said it’s been “surreal” to be in Las Vegas. He praised F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and owners Liberty Media for growing the sport, and said Las Vegas’ iconic and unique status makes it a good fit for F1.
But Hamilton also had his criticisms. The British driver said there has to be more outreach to local communities if F1 wants host cities such as Las Vegas to embrace the sport, especially with the disruptions the race forces locals to endure. Hamilton invited 15 students from Helen Marie Smith Elementary School to tour the Mercedes garage, and said other teams and the sport should be implementing similar programs.
“We’ve got to think about the impact we have in these different places,” Hamilton said. “It’s not just a circus that comes here and then we leave. We should look at how we can positively impact the community here.”
What: Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Strip
Favorite: Max Verstappen -450