Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 | 2 a.m.
It was almost midnight Thursday when 12-year-old Ismael Amanullah and his family made it to the T-Mobile Zone at the Sphere.
The family had arrived in Las Vegas on a flight from San Diego just hours earlier to catch the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix’s nighttime practice.
Dressed in an orange jersey to honor his favorite driver, Lando Norris of McLaren, Ismael was in awe of the frenetic scene — from the live music by DJ Mark Ronson to the bright video ads wrapped around the outside of the Sphere, the center of the viewing area dubbed the T-Mobile Zone by Formula One officials.
All that was missing was the open-wheel cars speeding through the surrounding streets.
The first practice session, which started at 8:30 p.m., lasted less than 10 minutes.
It was halted when Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a water valve cover in the street that severely damaged his car. Practice did not resume until 2:30 a.m., once that valve cover and others along the racecourse had been more tightly secured.
But Ismael and his family — father Ashraf, mother Nathalie and 10-year-old sister Linah, took the unexpected turn of events in stride.
“Vegas, it’s really a show. So you’re taking in everything,” Ashraf Amanullah said.
The family became F1 fans through the show “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” a Netflix documentary series about the lives of Formula One drivers. The fifth season was released in February.
The family has attended two other Formula One races, in Belgium and France. They have been to Las Vegas previously, but not for an event of this magnitude, they said.
They plan to be back in the grandstands at the T-Mobile Zone for tonight’s race. More than 100,000 people are expected to be packed along the 3.8-mile course.
Among them also will be Amber Meranda of Indianapolis and Chris Algera from Chicago.
You couldn’t miss the duo in their custom-made jackets, every inch covered in orange sequins, and their arms wrapped with multicolored, beaded friendship bracelets.
Meranda, 38, makes the bracelets. Some of them spelled out words like “Legends,” while others were designed with certain drivers in mind — green beads for Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, for example.
Meranda grew up going to the Indianapolis 500 and reignited her interest in racing after watching the Netflix F1 series.
Meranda and Algera have been to two F1 races in Austin, Texas, and didn’t want to miss the race down the Las Vegas Strip.
“Who throws a party like Vegas?” Algera said, plus, there are “so many unknowns” with a first-year race. “I think that’s what’s really cool is the unpredictability of what this weekend brings.”
Meranda and Algera said Las Vegas seemed to have less of a “festival” feel than the Austin races. Gates there opened in the mornings and featured races from other leagues, like the female-only F1 Academy.
But the friends are looking forward to the more diverse group of fans, who have come to Southern Nevada from around the globe, as well as opportunities to meet the drivers.
From attending the Red Bull Liberty Launch Party at the Omnia nightclub at Caesars Palace to a chance to see Finnish F1 driver Mika Häkkinen at the Venetian, the pair have a full weekend planned.
Meranda said the race gives Las Vegas a chance to show off to the rest of the world.
“I want to put on a good show — and everybody’s gonna have an opinion, and that’s fine — but I’ve been really, really pleased so far about being a patron and being engaged,” Meranda said.