Furious F1 fans have described being ejected from their seats having watched just nine minutes of on-track action on the first day of running at the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Police reportedly threatened spectators with trespass charges unless they left the circuit after a lengthy delay when Carlos Sainz‘s Ferrari hit a loose drain cover on the track at the start of the first practice session. Red flags brought that session to a close and pushed the start of the second practice session back by 90 minutes, well into the early hours of the morning.
With staff and stewards coming to the end of their shifts, organisers took the decision to clear fan areas and seats, leaving the cars running in front of empty grandstands after the circuit had been repaired and inspected.
“Paid $3000 for a ticket to get kicked out after FP1 got cancelled,” wrote X user Paul Loeffel. “You couldn’t pay your employees to put on an event”. Fans were further angered when they were moved on from areas outside the track where they could still watch the action through black sheets which were meant to block the view. “Las Vegas PD [police department] and private security are kicking people off of every potential viewing spot,” Loeffel added.
Pictures of fans giving the thumbs down from emptying stands will bring back memories of similar scenes from F1’s last disaster in America when just six Bridgestone-shod cars took the grid at Indianapolis in 2005, due to rivals’ Michelin tyres not being strong enough to withstand high-speed cornering.
By F1’s own measure it is a catastrophic start to the race, which was supposed to set a new benchmark for spectating, justifying premium ticket prices and helping to win over more US fans.
“We’re going to have a high revenue stream, we’re going to have a high cost stream, but it’s more important that we have a great experience for everybody involved in the first year,” said Greg Maffei, CEO of F1’s parent company Liberty Media in an earnings call earlier this year.
“I think we will make a lot of money in Vegas over the long term. I’m very excited. I think we will make good money this year. But way more important than that is that we have a great experience, for our drivers, for our patrons, for our fans, for our viewers, for everybody involved. That’s the goal.”
The Las Vegas GP action got off to a poor start after Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari hit a drain cover, but F1 team bosses have emphasised they still fully support the show
After the first day of running, Liberty can be considered to have failed on every front. Sainz faces a ten-place grid penalty as a result of needing new power unit components due to the crash; spectators saw a fraction of the running they were promised; and TV viewers fared little better, with the delays running into the European work day, and late into the US night.
After travelling thousands of miles and spending hundreds of dollars on tickets — at a minimum — many spectators attempted to stay at the circuit following the cancellation of the first practice session, which began at 8.30pm local time. They patiently waited trackside while over 30 manholes were sealed shut and awaited news of a start time for FP2.
But in the early hours of the morning, an announcement was played across the tannoy: “Due to logistical considerations for our fans and staff, we made the determination that we will be closing all Las Vegas Grand Prix fan areas at 1.30am. We look forward to welcoming fans back later today for exciting free practice 3 and qualifying sessions.”
Reddit user Adam R46 posted a picture of a man in police uniform in the grandstands, with a caption: “Fan getting kicked out by police at the start of FP2, threatening trespassing charges”. Other users reported similar stories, describing being ordered out of viewing areas by officials with loudspeakers.
Some fans didn’t even manage to see the short burst of action in the first practice session. A newly-constructed pedestrian bridge to the T-Mobile FanZone underneath the Sphere reportedly failed, forcing fans to take a much longer and congested route through the Venetian Hotel, causing them to miss the start of the session.
“The walk [from my hotel] to centre strip is 40mins” said one fan. “Many of us just got re-routed and had to follow huge crowds.”
“It’s a f****ing joke,” added another.
As they left the circuit, many fans continued to voice their anger.
“We’ve travelled here from Los Angeles just for today,” one fan told Sky Sports F1. “We paid money for flights, we paid money for this [Las Vegas GP], and we saw nothing.”
A loose manhole cover has holed the hype around the Las Vegas Grand Prix. But organisers can’t say they weren’t warned. From Montreal to Monaco; Shanghai to Sepang, stray drains have plenty of form for wreaking havoc
“It was ridiculous,” added another. “We waited for four hours and they kept giving us hope. They said ‘at 2am we’re going to have the session’ but then nothing.”
When the extended FP2 session eventually went ahead, drivers were greeted by nothing but empty grandstands and silence, a far cry from the “unmatched atmosphere at any ticket level” that was promised.
But, with two further days of the weekend to go, some senior figures believe that there is still time for organisers to recover the initiative.
“It’ll probably be one of the most watched Grands Prix we’ve ever had in our sport,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown. “It’s unfortunate the way we’ve kicked things off.
“But putting that aside we have a tremendous number of corporate partners out here, plus lots of fans and lots of attention. It’s an example of Liberty taking the sport to another level, so I hope we can get the show back on the road.”
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