LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The much-maligned Las Vegas Grand Prix crossed the finish line in style on Saturday night, delivering a dramatic race on the famed Las Vegas Strip to help offset earlier missteps.
The announcement of a third U.S. grand prix was initially met with enthusiasm, but the mood began to sour in the days leading up to the event as street closures choked traffic and public interest began to wane.
Making matters worse, a disastrous first practice session on Thursday night lasted just eight minutes before being cancelled for track repairs, leading to a class action lawsuit by disgruntled fans.
But on a crisp and clear Nevada night, even LVGP’s biggest critic – inaugural event winner Max Verstappen – had to admit that it was a success.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” the Red Bull star said after securing his record-extending 18th victory of the Formula One season.
Verstappen, who had wrapped up the championship well before coming to Vegas, raised eyebrows this week when he was critical of the spectacle surrounding the race and even the crowds themselves.
But he pulled a U-turn after Saturday’s triumph.
“A great crowd,” Verstappen said in the winner’s circle as the famed Bellagio fountains danced in the background.
“I hope everyone enjoyed it, we definitely did. Excited to come back here next year and try to do something similar.”
Red Bull Principal Christian Horner said Verstappen relished the experience.
“I think he changed his mind about Vegas,” he said.
On Thursday, a loose drain cover along the 3.8-mile (6-km) street course wrecked Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and led to concerns about the quality of the brand new circuit, but Lewis Hamilton praised it after his seventh place finish.
“Lots of great overtaking opportunities,” Hamilton said.
“And I think for all those who were so negative about the weekend, saying it was all about show blah blah blah, I think Vegas proved them wrong.”
Residents and workers expressed mixed feelings this week about F1’s return to the city after a nearly 40-year absence.
Some told Reuters it was unacceptably disruptive to their daily lives, while others argued it was the exactly the kind of event the city needs to attract if it is to continue to grow.
Second-place finisher Charles Leclerc offered a final word of praise for the LVGP, which is scheduled to be held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving for the next decade.
“There was no better race to be the first race in Vegas,” he said. “The energy around the city is incredible and I’m just really, really happy. I really enjoyed today.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Las Vegas; Editing by William Mallard)