Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: F1 Fumbles Response to Las Vegas Mess

The first night of practice of the Las Vegas Grand Prix wasn’t a complete disaster, but it did end up being a joke.

Teams made it through eight minutes of Free Practice 1 before an unsecured manhole cover was ripped up, heavily damaging the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon.

The FIA then determined that all manhole covers around the track must be inspected and covered. Entering this weekend, I figured there could be several problem areas, but the one area where I placed my faith was the overall track construction. Both the FIA and FOM are very good at ensuring something as basic as checking the manholes would be part of the setup ritual.

But, it turns out, they missed an obvious issue. Fixing the manhole covers delayed the on-track actions by five hours, with Free Practice 2 turning into a 90-minute session that began at 2:30 a.m. local time, with no fans present. If you were working on Friday morning on the East Coast, there’s a chance you were either in the office or on your commute when FP2 ended at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Thankfully, FP2 went off without any problems from a competition standpoint, and the cars appeared to be working on the racetrack. While the cars may have been at home on the track, fans were not so fortunate.

Fans in attendance were told at 1:30 am local time that they would need to vacate the grandstands immediately, as F1 did not have the resources or the staff to support the fans remaining in attendance.

So, unless you had a hotel room overlooking the track, there was no way to watch the race live. Single-day ticket buyers left Thursday having watched eight minutes of practice after paying for two hours, while for weekend pass holders, this messy beginning was their first impression of the ballyhooed event.

About 12 hours after all of this went down, F1 sent two messages, one for the public and one for the single-day Thursday ticket buyers. They did not send anything out to weekend pass holders, meaning they were just plum out of luck.

What an incredibly arrogant statement and offer.

Why did FOM not simply issue an apology? It turns out there is a reason for this.

But there is one straightforward way to avoid lawsuits: issuing full refunds. Not store vouchers – cold, hard cash. For both Thursday single-day tickets and the equivalent for weekend day passers.

It shouldn’t be thought of as money sunk. It would be an investment. On a weekend with so much negativity circling it, here was a chance for an act of goodwill that would be an easy jump shot. Instead, it’s just yet another wedge being driven that many fans, especially among those hardcore enough to show up for just two practice sessions, are getting tired of.

This is a company, Liberty Media, that expects an 8% growth in total revenue in FY2024. This is not some lean mom-and-pop corner store, struggling to turn a profit; they’re literally racing on the Las Vegas Strip.

These are the types of actions a series can afford when it’s red hot. The 2021 Belgium Grand Prix, which infamously only consisted of two laps behind the safety car, was much worse than what went on this week. But because F1 was gripped by a thrilling battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, it could skate by with little long-term damage.

But now we’re deep into the second straight year of Verstappen dominance, with no sign of the Dutchman slowing down anytime soon. F1’s doom has been slightly overstated this year; yes, ratings are down by 9% in the United States. But that’s in line with how much TV has fallen YOY, with cable, in particular, decreasing by 12.5%.

Still, the reality is that the explosive growth the series had a couple of years ago with Hamilton v. Verstappen is no longer in place. Decisions like this, as small as they are in the big picture, are what turn people away.

Jeff Gluck of The Athletic wrote a piece where he talked to a few Thursday attendees about their experiences. It’s a fascinating bit of writing (it is Gluck, after all), but one section of it caught my eye:

“[Fan] said he would have liked to see F2 cars or a spec F1 car run the course on Wednesday night to see if there were any issues before the actual F1 cars took to the track for the first time on Thursday. He blamed the LVGP for being greedy and trying to get as much money as possible instead of attempting to grow F1 fandom with the event.

‘I totally get it’s a business, but their attitude, more than anything, has been a turnoff and gives me a lot of pause about going back and spending my money with them,’ he said. ‘I’d rather go to COTA.”

Honestly, FOM is lucky this fan at least ends with wanting to go to COTA because there are plenty who shared in this experience who are saying that they would rather go to something else.

Keep making these decisions, and those select fans won’t be the only ones.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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JD in NC

F1 is all about the “show” with this race in Vegas. Well that’s what they’ve created… a shitshow.

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