Formula 1 drivers have criticised the Las Vegas Grand Prix for being more about the show than the racing itself following a grandiose opening ceremony on Wednesday.
After a four-decade absence from the F1 calendar, the sport’s return to Las Vegas kicked off with an opening ceremony headlined by Kylie Minogue, Steve Aoki and John Legend amongst other musicians and performers.
This weekend’s Grand Prix is the first to be both promoted and organised by F1 owners Liberty Media, who have been dealt a blow following scathing criticism from drivers after Wednesday’s event which saw 30,000 attend in person.
Max Verstappen was quick to issue his verdict on the event, saying the weekend is “99% show, and 1% sporting event” and that he felt drivers looked like “clowns” when raised on large platforms in front of fans.
When asked to discuss the balance between spectacle and sport in Las Vegas, Carlos Sainz suggested that the extensive F1 calendar has led to a repetitive format.
“Let’s say there are some things that you are looking forward to more than others,” the Spaniard said of the expanded driver obligations this weekend.
“That is always the case. I do believe, looking forward and looking into the future, sure we’re going to need to reconsider, a bit, the way we go racing at the weekends,” he posited.
“Our schedules are getting busier and busier every year that goes by. 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 I think, sometimes, everything feels a bit repetitive and everything feels a bit overpacked and we’re trying maybe to overdo it a bit.”
It is clear that for F1, a return to Las Vegas is the opportunity to promote the business not only in America but on a global scale.
Sainz is conscious of the business motives involved, but raised concerns over the repetitive nature of race weekends.
“There are things that I actually think they [Liberty Media] do a lot for the sport and it’s good to put on a show and to make the sport better.
“Then, on the other hand, there are other things that feel very repetitive and almost they don’t add any more for the weekend,” the 29-year-old continued.
“We need to reconsider the way we just shape the whole weekend. Because yeah, we are at the risk of being too repetitive and too out there.”
Lando Norris echoed his former team-mate’s comments and sided with Verstappen in a harsh critique of Wednesday’s driver introductions and opening ceremony.
“I mean, it’s definitely more of a show now than what it was a few years ago,” the McLaren driver began. “To be honest, I just want to come here and drive and come here and race.
“Never been the biggest fan of doing these types of things like we did earlier. 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 yeah, I do this job because I want to come and drive and race cars and things like that.
“I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing these types of big events and shows and things like that, but I guess it’s part of the job and it’s a business and all those things. And that’s how it has to run in the end of the day,” Norris conceded.
Veteran Fernando Alonso offered a more diplomatic approach, suggesting that the series’ return to Nevada warranted the bolstered schedule.
“I have to say that I think places like this one and with the investment that has been done and the place that we are racing, I think it deserves a little bit different treatment and a little bit of extra show of what we did today,” the Aston Martin driver said.
“I’m OK to do extra for these type of events. But maybe it could be balanced somehow and reduced maybe, our schedule, somewhere else.”
The format of the Las Vegas race weekend has placed added media attention on drivers, and the two-time champion feels that will result in repetitive media sessions throughout the Vegas weekend.
“We’ve been saying that, especially the media commitments that we have – and it’s nothing against you guys – but it seems like they will repeat what we have to go through especially on Thursdays,” he added.
“I think you are all very curious to see how the track is and what is our feeling tomorrow when we go in the car. And you will not get that. You will get, today, a lot of hours and interviews and one-to-ones and TV sessions and TV pen and things like that of something that we don’t know what to answer, because we’ve never run on this track.
“Maybe tomorrow after the free practice we don’t have any time with you guys. And so maybe on Thursday, we can use the time a little bit more wisely and try to help the promoters or whatever in a different way and maybe give you something extra on Fridays after we run.
Meanwhile, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton urged optimism for the maiden race around the Las Vegas street circuit.
“It is a business ultimately, and I think you’ll still see good racing here,” he asserted.
“One [race in the USA] wasn’t enough. All the lights, the show… It’s never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe over time, the people in the community here will grow to love the sport, just as we’ve had the privilege of growing up and experiencing.
“Maybe the track will be good, maybe it’ll be bad. I think don’t knock it until you try it.”