Monday, November 20, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Formula One's Vanity Project

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

The 24 Hours of Daytona entry list already came out and there are many exciting names in exciting places. Jenson Button will drive a WTRAndretti Acura. Josef Newgarden will get another shot in a Porsche Penske. Alexander Rossi will drive alongside friend and podcast co-host James Hinchcliffe in the Pfaff Motorsports McLaren. Corvette announced a bunch of drivers. Ben Keating is going to run in GTP and LMP2. That's just one entry list worth of news. MotoGP saw its championship tighten and nearly claimed a race early within 24 hours in Qatar. Formula Three returned to Macau. Japan closed out the World Rally Championship season, but there was only one race really worth taking about after this weekend...

Formula One's Vanity Project
This was the big weekend for Formula One. Las Vegas. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent for this inaugural event that saw Formula One shut down one of the largest parts of this travel destination and create an event that felt more like a race written into a racing movie than a grand prix that would take place in the real world. 

There was plenty of hype, but it brought a mixture of excitement and disdain for this race. For some, they could not wait to see the fabulous Formula One machines blast down the Las Vegas Strip under the artificial lighting and between the spectacle of hotel and casinos. For others, they could not stand this race, a bloated event with unreasonable prices that didn't care about what happened on track but what happened on the perimeter. Even Max Verstappen vocally opposed the race.

We got through this weekend, and it saw both ends of the spectrum. It could not have started worse with a drain coverage tearing a hole in the bottom of Carlos Sainz, Jr.'s Ferrari less than eight minutes into the opening practice session on Thursday night bringing out a red flag that ended the session and delayed the start of the second practice session by over three hours, not starting until 2:30 a.m. local time Friday morning. 

In the wake of track issues, security cleared spectators during the early hours of Friday morning, causing anger among those who spent hundreds of dollars, or perhaps even thousands of dollars for one practice days and then being thrown out before any on-track session had ever taken place. 

Formula One's statement to the track issues has been panned and could not be more tone deaf as not once did the organization apologize for the delays, the clearing of the grandstands and the best it could do to compensate the spectators was offer a $200 merchandise voucher, not even offering people their money back for the lost day at the racetrack. A Nevada law firm has already brought on legal action over the ejection of spectators on the first day of the race weekend. 

It could not have been a worse start to an event that already had many rooting against it and wanted to see Formula One humbled after over a year of thumbing its nose to the average person with the cost of tickets and late start times. It is a black eye everyone will remember.

And yet, it turned out to be a great race.

For all the concerns that more focus was put on what happened on the grandstands, what happened on the racetrack was brilliant once repairs were made. 

This race had the second-most number of overtakes this season with 82, behind only the changing conditions at the Dutch Grand Prix over three months ago. There were great battles throughout the field, including for the lead, as Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc fought for first while Sergio Pérez was also in contention. Only 2.241 seconds covered the podium finishers. Less than two seconds covered Lance Stroll in fifth, Sainz, Jr. in sixth and Lewis Hamilton in seventh. Oscar Piastri had a recovery drive from a tire puncture late in the race to finish tenth and pick up fastest lap in the process. 

In the wake of Thursday night, this race was the rouge Formula One needed to cover the contusion everyone saw. Those calling the circuit uninspired have gone quiet. The drivers enjoyed themselves. Even Max Verstappen was pleased when it was all said and done, and it wasn't because he won for the 18th time this season. The Dutchman showed genuine joy for what he experienced, and he is only there for the racing. 

We will still have to wait a little longer to get an accurate read on how year one went. Locals will re-group over the next few weeks, but it should not be ignored that this race was not an unblemished success. 

Besides the track issues and disgruntled spectators that were shown no compassion, it should be noted that this race regularly slashed its ticket prices in the weeks and months leading up to race day because the demand was not there for $25,000 tickets. This race clearly made less than the organizers first planned even if it broke a profit. It caused massive disruptions around that part of the city, some of which will only be a year-one thing as the paddock building was constructed and roads were repaved, but a good amount of those delays will become yearly things. Formula One does have a high standard for its circuits, temporary ones include. Those roads will be constantly worked on as long as a race is being held.

Many are asking for the start times to be addressed as drivers pointed out how thrown they were with the late start, and crew members were working later than the cars were on circuit. Daniel Ricciardo told The Athletic's Luke Smith people in the paddock were "delirious" especially after the late hours pulled with the delayed second practice. 

There are also the concerns of having Las Vegas be ahead of another race halfway around the world, as now everyone must hurry to Abu Dhabi with their body clocks even more out of whack than had the race occurred at a more reasonable and suitable hour. Ricciardo was shocked to hear Las Vegas will be the first race of a three-consecutive week stretch of races next year to close out the 2024 season with Qatar and Abu Dhabi and Ricciardo said Las Vegas should be moved to prevent the three-week slog to end the season. 

However, we cannot ignore that a proper race was held and removing the pomp it was a fabulous race. Had this race occurred at Barcelona, Monza, Montreal or Austin, everyone would be singing praise and at no point would the extracurricular activities happening around the circuit be mentioned. This was one of the best races of the season if not the best race of the season. It was even punctuated with a sensational final lap overtake for second when Leclerc threw his car up the inside of Pérez at the end of the Strip and made it stick. 

There was great competition throughout the field. Ferrari swept the front row in qualifying. Pierre Gasly qualified fifth for Alpine. Both Williams made the final round of qualifying, as did the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. McLaren had both its cars fail to make it out of the first round of qualifying, and yet both showed pace to score points before Lando Norris' accident. Piastri should have been better than tenth. The field will likely spread out in year two and we will not see eight constructors in the mix for points, but it was nice to see a race where basically everyone was competing for something tangible from this event.

You must step back for a second and digest what Formula One pulled off. The sights were incredible with millions of colors shining and reflecting from the casinos and hotel that lined the circuit. We are all tired of The Sphere, but talk about racing around a recognizable landmark! For years, ideas have been floated to race in London or Rome or New York City, but it has always been seen as pure fantasy to race pass Buckingham Palace, the Colosseum or through Times Square. Las Vegas shut down its most notable road, arguably one of the most notable stretches of asphalt in the United States, if not the world, and held a race.  

It is unlikely Las Vegas will now mean Formula One will get dream street races in every other famed city around the globe, but it pulled off this one, racing pass the Eiffel Tower, something even Paris could never make happen. It was extravagant to the point of unbearable, and yet, it must be acknowledged how cool it was to happen. 

There were plenty of flaws. Formula One looked terrible after Thursday night and it should do better to recompense those who lost out due to the track issues. The circuit will be massaged for year two to make sure a repeat does not happen. It would also be prudent to make some adjustments in terms of timing. However, it is difficult not to look forward to next year's race because year one was that damn good. For those worrying about the "show" receiving too much attention, the race stole the spotlight. 

Champions From the Weekend

Jaume Masià clinched the Moto3 world championship with a victory in Qatar.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Max Verstappen and Jaume Masià, but did you know...

Fabio Di Giannantonio won MotoGP's Qatar Grand Prix, his first career MotoGP victory. Jorge Martïn won the sprint race. Formín Aldeguer won the Moto2 race, his third consecutive victory and his fourth of the season.

Elfyn Evans won Rally Japan, his third victory of the season.

Luke Browning won the 70th Macau Grand Prix.

Raffaele Marciello won the FIA GT World Cup fro Macau.

Norbert Michelisz and Frédéric Vervisch split the Guia Race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One ends its season in Abu Dhabi. 
MotoGP crowns a champion in Valencia.
Supercars has its final act of 2023 in Adelaide.