POLE POSITION: Max would rather eat horse dung than pay lip service

POLE POSITION: Max Verstappen would rather eat horse dung than pay lip service to the Vegas glitz… but the £500m race is crucial to the future of Formula One

  • Liberty Media have speculated £500m on the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix
  • But runaway world champion Verstappen will not pay lip service to F1’s owners 
  • Brad Pitt, star of Apple TV+’s F1 movie, is slated to be in Las Vegas this weekend

Two warriors who will never see eye to eye took diametrically opposing views of the madness of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, the most eagerly awaited race ever on which nothing depended.

Max Verstappen, the runaway world champion, derided the event as ‘99 per cent show, one per cent sport’, and said his contribution waving at the opening ceremony made him look like ‘a clown’. Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, told the doubters ‘not to knock it until you’ve tried it’.

An on-track fight between the best and bitterest rivals in modern Formula One is exactly the show the sport craves. It lit up the 2021 season, however controversially the contest was decided in Abu Dhabi. 

But, in its absence, we have the compensation of the glitz and glamour contained in the 3.8-mile trip along the Strip with its famous landmarks illuminated by 1,750 temporary lights.

For months, F1 have been hammering into the drivers the need to stick to the script. They have been told that Las Vegas is central to the business model.

Max Verstappen delivered an unvarnished verdict of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix

The Dutchman wasn’t willing to pay lip service to Formula One’s owners 

Runaway world champion Verstappen wasn’t too excited at the prospect of racing in Vegas

One imagines, too, that they will have it hammered into them not to prang it into the wall as practice starts this morning. Major delays as inevitably tricky rescue acts by cranes on a difficult-to-access road circuit are among the last things needed on this showcase weekend. 

But despite these entreaties to play along with what everyone here was billing as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, in a city where hyperbole never sleeps, Verstappen played the straight-talking curmudgeon.

The Dutchman could wax lyrical about tyre compounds until the cows come home. He would prefer to eat horse dung than walk on a red carpet. 

He will not pay lip service to Formula One’s admittedly rapacious owners, Liberty Media, who have speculated £500million on this event, including a sparkling pit building complex the length of three American football pitches.

Verstappen, who takes home £50m a year from the game, delivered an unvarnished verdict, saying: ‘I am not going to fake it. I will always voice my opinion on positive things and negative things. 

‘That is just how I am. Some people like the show a bit more. I don’t like it at all. I grew up just looking at the performance side of things, and that’s how I see it.

‘They (F1) still make money whether I like it or not, so it’s not up to me. I like to be in Vegas, but not so much for racing. I am looking forward to trying to do the best I can but I’m not looking forward to this show.’

Sin City has pulled out all the stops as it prepares to take centre stage in Formula One

The race weekend in Vegas will be a beautiful, breathtaking, intoxicating spectacle, a festival of excess and profit and neon for the Drive to Survive generation

Hamilton has come a long way in his relationship with Formula One under the ameliorative leadership of Stefano Domenicali, the former Ferrari chief executive who took over from Chase Carey, the Trump-voting former chief executive who was once a lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch and not a natural Lewis bedfellow.

‘I hear there are a lot of people complaining about the direction that Stefano and Liberty have gone but they are doing an amazing job,’ said the seven-time world champion, who hasn’t won a race for two years. 

‘The sport continues to grow. It is a business, ultimately, and you will still see good racing here. It is a country to tap into and to captivate the audience.

‘We needed to have at least two races in America, one wasn’t enough, and this is one of the most iconic and unique cities that they have.

‘It is a big show for sure, and it is never going to be like Silverstone,’ Hamilton added. ‘But maybe over time the people in this community will grow to love the sport, and maybe the track will be good, and maybe it will be bad. It was so-so on the simulator.’

The fact is that there is space for Silverstone and Las Vegas, and that blend of old and new is the future.

A sport run by Liberty, not history

Formula One’s American owners Liberty Media appear to have little obvious respect for the sport’s heritage.

If they did, they would have invited a few of the legends who competed in the 1981 and 1982 races in Las Vegas.

Even Alain Prost, a four-time world champion, for heaven’s sake, and an official F1 ambassador, is not carded.

There was no football before the creation of the Premier League. And there was no Formula One before Liberty Media chucked Bernard Charles Ecclestone out of the window in 2017.

It’s a strange blind spot given American sport’s veneration of its old stars.

Formula One owners Liberty Media have speculated £500m on the event

The race that never sleeps

No sympathy is asked for here, but these are the longest days Formula One has known. Qualifying is at midnight local time tonight. The race is at 10pm. The drivers’ media commitments went on past 1am on Wednesday. That despite the European body clock waking you before the dawn breaks over Sunrise Mountain.

There is a 12-hour switch between Pacific Standard Time and the concluding race in Abu Dhabi next weekend, putting a massive strain on the well-being of travelling mechanics who do not have the luxury of the star men’s private jets and first-class seats.

This itinerary is seriously pushing it — greedy Liberty. The one answer at my digs, at the MGM Grand, is to put on the do-not-disturb sign that says in typical Las Vegan style: ‘I’ve gone all out so I’m staying all in.’ And then you keep your fingers crossed and your eyes shut.

Kylie Minogue (above) and John Legend played at the opening ceremony in Las Vegas

A dazzling spectacle

We were enjoying a few cocktails upstairs in the Paddock Club as the opening ceremony unfolded. Kylie Minogue and John Legend played. 

Formula One does not normally do son et lumiere preludes to the more visceral attraction of the track action, and rightly so, it being motor racing rather than Glastonbury. 

But, no matter what Max Verstappen may say, I certainly had no objection to the 30-minute concert. The Strip, and its hotels that are the central backdrop magic of the weekend, rippled in the televisual background.

When Las Vegas last entered the diary in 1982, in the Caesars Palace parking lot, it took place during the day, the ambient heat registering 98.8°F (37.1°C). But the drama provided by a race under lights is something else altogether, even if you have to be up at 6am in Britain to watch it on Sunday.

No relief on the Strip 

It has been more temperate here — 13.9°C as I write at 11.40pm — than some forecasters suggested for Nevada in November.

That makes it easier for tyre suppliers Pirelli, who are deploying their three softest, and thus grippiest, compounds in case of the mercury falling. 

They will also increase pressures to combat conditions the long, tyre-cooling straight — the Strip — does nothing to relieve.

Brad Pitt, star and producer of Apple TV+’s F1 movie, is slated to be in Las Vegas this weekend

Pitt to join the action

Still, the script for Apple TV+’s F1 movie is uncompleted, a delay hindered by the recent writers and actors strike in Hollywood. 

Lewis Hamilton, who is a key player but without any particular qualifications in the department, says he will spend time polishing the lines in December. 

Brad Pitt, star and producer, is slated to be in Las Vegas this weekend, one of a number of the glitterati in town. 

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