It is fair to say the world champion is not enjoying life in Fairyland. Regardless of what unfolds in the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix on Sunday morning, Max Verstappen will not zip it and toe the party line that proclaims this to be the biggest spectacle in all sport.
‘Monaco I think is Champions League,’ he declared after qualifying third. ‘This is National League.’ He added that people come to Sin City to get ‘s***-faced’ rather than for the motor racing.
Ouch. His latest cutting remarks came after the seams had already come loose on some of the organisers’ hype, with the debacle of Thursday night’s practice seeing to that.
A broken drain cover was sucked up by Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, he shuddered to a halt and the session was cancelled. Egg was already splattered across several faces, but it got worse.
A delay of two-and-a-half hours ensued. Some fans were told to go home because staffing hours forbade security to stay on. The whole caper ended at 4am.
Max Verstappen has been open about his views on the hype around the Las Vegas Grand Prix
The famous Las Vegas strip has been turned into a $500million race track for the event
Charles Leclerc will be on pole for the race, the first to be held in Sin City since 1982
The middle of the night is clearly an absurd time for a major sporting event to be staged, whether the stands are full or empty. There was no wriggle-room once the safety concerns delayed proceedings. What fans want to be stuck in stands when they should be in bed?
Perhaps some of these teething pains can be alleviated with experience, but there remains the fundamental problem of when the streets can be closed.
Las Vegas Grand Prix: GRID POSITIONS
1. Charles Leclerc
2. Max Verstappen
3. George Russell
4. Pierre Gasly
5. Alexander Albon
6. Logan Sargeant
7. Valtteri Bottas
8. Kevin Magnussen
9. Fernando Alonso
10. Lewis Hamilton
11. Sergio Perez
12. Carlos Sainz
(Also: 15. Lando Norris)
The deal Formula One struck with the casinos and local authorities was for the event to be held at night to cause minimal disruption.
So qualifying started at the ludicrous time of midnight last night local time, finishing an hour later.
Ten years — the length of the contract — of potential 4am finishes opens the sport to ridicule in the eyes of an American market that has remained persistently resistant to Formula One’s charms.
Indeed, yesterday’s qualifying crowd of only 70,000 was 30,000 down on organisers’ expectations.
The advent of Netflix has created a new demographic to win over — an opportunity F1’s American owners, Liberty Media, are desperate not to spurn.
The counter-argument is that they are selling the sport’s soul to line their own pockets. At least part of that criticism is made by Verstappen, the 26-year-old sim racer who is more vocally than ever before acting as the conscience of Formula One.
‘I could go on for a long time,’ said the Dutchman, having already criticised the £500million Sin City spectacle as ‘99 per cent show and one per cent sport’.
‘I feel the show is important, but I like emotion. When I was a little kid it was what I fell in love with and not the show.
‘As a real racer, the show shouldn’t matter. An F1 car does not come alive on a street circuit. It is not that exciting. It is about proper race tracks. When you go to Monza and Spa, these kinds of places have a lot of passion.
‘Seeing the fans there is incredible and when I jump in the car I am fired up.
‘I understand fans need things to do around the track, but it is more important that they understand what we do as a sport.
‘Most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ play or a performer act.
‘I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely s***-faced and have a good time. People come here, but they become a fan of what?
‘They want to see maybe their favourite artiste and have a few drinks with their mates and go out for a crazy night, but they don’t understand what we are putting on the line to perform.’
The Grand Prix had a lavish open ceremony with performances from the likes of Kylie Minogue
Brad Pitt is just one of the famous names that has already been seen at the Grand Prix events
Verstappen, who will start from second on the grid today behind Charles Leclerc, added: ‘It would be better if we put more time into explaining what the team is doing throughout the season.
‘These things are way more important than having random shows all over the place. I am not passionate about that.
‘I love Vegas, but not to drive an F1 car. I love to throw everything on red and have nice food, but emotion is not there compared to the old-school tracks.’
There are warning signs for Liberty, but are they looking and listening? It is not always evident that they are.