Max Verstappen is unhappy with events in Las Vegas (Picture: Getty Images)
Forklift trucks are swerving around and packing cases are still being unpacked. Normally, this would have been finished on the Tuesday before a race but the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix is running 24 hours behind.
The paddock features such never-before-seen additions as a casino and a wedding chapel, should the excitement of a surprise win encourage anyone to pop the question.
The Red Bull drivers popped up right in front of where I was standing, with Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen appearing via a lift where minutes before Journey performed Don’t Stop Believin’. After the introductions, Verstappen took a selfie with Perez and the Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, and he looked happy, but the world champion didn’t sound it.
‘For me, you can skip all these things,’ he said. ‘It’s not about the singer, it’s just standing up there, you look like a clown.’ Asked if this race is about sport or entertainment, he replied: ‘99 per cent show, one per cent sporting event.’
However, Fernando Alonso says Las Vegas – which last hosted a grand prix in the Caesar’s Palace parking lot in 1982 – deserves special treatment.
‘I have to say, places like this one, with the investment that’s been done and the place we’re racing, I think it deserves a little bit different treatment and a little bit extra show.’
Charles Leclerc, whose Ferrari’s speed on the straights makes him a definite contender this weekend, agrees. ‘It’s a lot,’ he said of his many promotional appearances. ‘But if you don’t do that here, you don’t do that anywhere. F1 needs to take every opportunity it has and if that means making a bit more of a show around the race, that’s amazing.’
Lewis Hamilton is also on board: ‘Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. I hear there are a lot of people complaining about the direction [F1 president] Stefano [Domenicali] and [owners] Liberty have been going – I think they have been doing an amazing job. It is never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe the people in this community will grow to love the sport.’
With three races on the calendar, including Miami and Austin, the States has a stronger F1 foothold than it has ever had. A lot of the credit goes to the Netflix show Drive to Survive.
The Las Vegas strip, on which the circuit runs after dark, is crammed with celebrity-fuelled events away from the track. Mark Wahlberg is MC’ing a McLaren party. Gordon Ramsey is filming a cookery show. Tickets are three times the price of Silverstone. Several guests at the Wynn Hotel have paid nearly £1million each.
The race itself will take a back seat but the signs are it could be a classic. The last time a race was run here, the late Michele Alboreto dominated in his Tyrrell. This time, under the cover of darkness with a lot more neon and an extended street circuit, Verstappen is the favourite but the top speed of the McLarens and Ferraris makes a Red Bull win far from certain.
Temperatures of around 10C will make this one of the coldest races in F1 history, and with walls rather than run-off and very little simulation intel, we could see drivers struggling for grip and hitting barriers in every session.
Drivers must navigate The Sphere through turns five-nine, with the state-of-the-art venue’s exoskeleton boasting the biggest high-definition LED screen on earth. U2 have paused their residency to hand control over to F1, with ads from Aston Martin, Mercedes and Pirelli on its outer skin. So as not to confuse drivers in the race, the colours yellow, red and blue are banned in case they think it’s a warning from on high.
‘It’s going to be an interesting one. We’ve often got LED lights around us, but never so much in your peripheral,’ Mercedes’ George Russell said. ‘I think with the vastness of that, if I saw a big red ball on there I’d be backing off thinking it was a red flag.’
The timetable for this race is unlike any before, with the grand prix on Saturday night at 10pm. Viewers in the UK will need to tune in at 6am. Qualifying is set for tonight at midnight local time, 8am tomorrow in Blighty. Drivers and teams are having to adopt nocturnal working hours.
I myself nodded off shortly after midnight last night, following the opening ceremony, only to be awoken by Nile Rodgers strumming his guitar to China Girl in a club residency he’s hosting here. That felt like a pretty Vegas opening, and if anyone can beat Verstappen over 50 laps they will get an even bigger standing ovation.
It’s no pig of a track for Hamilton
The Las Vegas Strip Circuit looks a bit like an upside-down pig, with two very long straights and a series of quite basic corners. Lewis Hamilton says the layout could suit Mercedes.
‘Definitely more than the last one,’ he replied when asked if his car will respond better to the Las Vegas track than Sao Paulo a fortnight ago.
‘It’s not the most technical of circuits, so hopefully that makes it a little bit easier.’