Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The shuttle bus ride from MGM Grand to the Formula One Paddock was stopped by security personnel.
A bomb-sniffing dog on a leash started walking around the passenger transport heading to the Las Vegas Grand Prix. These dogs are impressive, thoroughly searching for scents under the vehicle before clearing it to proceed.
It was part of the extensive planning to make sure the Formula One events went off without a hitch.
The four-day party on and near the Las Vegas Strip for the race league that ended early this morning had plenty of hiccups — and that’s putting it nicely, especially for those who bought tickets for Thursday’s practice rounds and saw just nine minutes of racing because multiple drain covers on the street course needed to be sealed. The crowd thinned so quickly you might have thought you were at a UNLV basketball game.
It would be easy to judge the experiment of Formula One in Las Vegas as being unsuccessful. That would be fair and deserving criticism — yet not a complete assessment.
While the racing wasn’t what we had hoped for, other aspects of the festivities stood out as being well orchestrated.
Let’s start with fans’ access to the racecourse, which from those canine security sweeps to scanned photo identification granting access to viewing zones, was smooth.
There were also plenty of red jacket-wearing greeters answering questions about where spectators should head. They were easily spotted and everywhere.
I’ve gotten lost a handful of times navigating through Allegiant Stadium and wish game-day staff was as resourceful as those for the race league.
Commuting to the Strip was painless and featured no traffic delays. I parked at the Westgate, took the Las Vegas Monorail for the locals rate of $1 and was at MGM in less than 30 minutes. From there it was a short walk to the shuttle.
There were plenty of workers from Strip properties on the train. They rode for free because access to resorts was affected by the racing. Some were surely inconvenienced by a different commute, but parking off the Strip at the Las Vegas Convention Center and riding the monorail was a reasonable alternative.
It shows, yet again, that tourism officials in Las Vegas are masters at planning for large-scale events and being hospitable to partners temporarily setting up shop in the Resort Corridor. Bring on the Super Bowl in February.
The racing, thankfully, was only part of the show.
Properties had viewing parties that were over-the-top and well attended, the opening ceremonies featured a fireworks show and live musical acts in what was one of the coolest displays I’ve seen on the Strip in nearly five decades of living here, and the buzz around town for the competition was unmatched.
Everyone was eager to catch a glimpse of the racing, including a pair from California on the monorail who kept riding the train up and down the Strip hoping to get an overhead view of the cars humming around the circuit.
Like any business in its initial year, the race was going to encounter some difficulties getting off the ground.
That was glaringly obvious on Thursday’s practice run, when Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a valve cover on the course that badly damaged his Ferrari. Taking care of that cover and others throughout the course caused hours of delay before practice could restart, and then at 4 a.m., fans were told they had to leave so streets could reopen to Las Vegas commuters.
Make no doubt, it was an unacceptable night that left many — fans, drivers, car owners — upset.
But, as Toto Wolff, the principal of the Mercedes driving team said, it was just a practice round. And these kinds of track repairs have happened before, he said.
Remember, transforming the Las Vegas Strip and surrounding neighborhoods into a 3.8-mile course was a long and tedious process that involved plenty of heartache for Las Vegans while the Strip was repaved for the racecourse. Formula One paid for the repaving, which needed to be done anyway.
Greg Maffei, president and CEO of Formula One owner Liberty Media, apologized to residents last week during an earnings call. He stressed that doing this all again next year would be easier because the infrastructure would already be in place.
We should be willing to give the race a second chance. We should reserve our judgment until next year, extending race officials an opportunity to follow through on what they have repeatedly promised: They are taking notes on what went wrong and will address those issues moving forward.
Time will tell if those $1 billion-plus revenue projections for the four days were accurate, although it likely will be less based on how the room rates and ticket prices plummeted as the racing neared. Online ticket broker StubHub featured $737 general admission tickets for Saturday’s race, or significantly cheaper than its rate of $1,645 last month, according to Forbes.
Either way, Las Vegas, with the world’s most famous stretch of real estate, will remain the undisputed champion of hosting major events.