The CEO of Formula 1 owners Liberty Media, Greg Maffei, has apologized for the disruption caused to Las Vegas after employees raised concerns about the impact the sport has had on infrastructure.
Las Vegas will host its first F1 race in more than 40 years on Saturday and for the first time it will take place along the Strip in the city centre. Work on the project has been underway for more than nine months and has included the resurfacing of the roads that will form the circuit, and the construction of an extensive and permanent pit and paddock complex.
The process has been far from painless and continues to this day. Traffic on the Strip – Las Vegas Boulevard – has already been reduced to torturously slow traffic, as pedestrians are funneled along narrowed and shortened walkways due to the restrictions imposed in part by the fabrication of the track. When the cars enter the circuit, access to many areas, especially hotels on the Strip along the circuit, will be restricted.
F1 and the city council have put in place extensive plans to minimize disruption, but Maffei acknowledged the problematic issues associated with organizing the event.
“I would like to apologize to all Las Vegas residents and we appreciate their patience and willingness to tolerate us,” he said. “We’re going to bring about $1.7 billion in revenue to the area. So it’s not just for the benefit of fans who want to watch. We hope this is a great economic benefit in Las Vegas. We hope that this will be the most difficult year, with all the construction work that has taken place, and that things will be easier in the future.”
Early November is traditionally a quieter time for Las Vegas, but the city is demonstrably packed with racing fans. Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes stars are increasingly visible on the casino tables and slots, but the extra visitors also have to be taken into account – 105,000 people are expected to attend the race alone.
Of particular importance is access to workplaces. The city has laid out a plan for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when the track is live, that includes resorts offering off-site parking and transportation to Strip hotels, and expanded use of the Las Vegas monorail.
However, the resort staff are still not convinced. Two expressed serious doubts to the Guardian whether the system would work, but did not want to be named. An employee of the Venetian told Fox 5 Vegas that he feared the 20-minute travel time would be extended to two hours.
Local resident Ian Rineer, who has lived and worked in Las Vegas for 20 years, said the city was yet to be convinced by F1.
“We are worried. “We love big events, we love money coming to the city, but with F1 we don’t know yet what kind of value we’re going to see,” he said. “Because this is the first year and the hurdles we had to jump through without knowing what will happen, everyone is tense.”
Rineer, a Grand Canyon guide and resident of downtown Fremont East, also acknowledged that it was far from fair to lay all the blame on F1. He pointed out that traffic around Allegiant Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in 2024, is also bad as the city adjusts to having a large venue in its heart.
“We’re growing up as a city,” he says. “Before the coronavirus we didn’t have a big stadium, now we have Allegiant Stadium (home of the Las Vegas Raiders), so we’re playing in the big league. Las Vegas is growing as a city, but there are growing pains.”
F1 is yet to confirm whether the race has sold out, with Maffei also having to issue significant public criticism over the price of some tickets, citing high demand and hotels charging a five-night minimum which is driving up costs. The cheapest grandstand seat cost $1,500, with Strip venue packages starting at around $5,000 and going up to as much as $5 million at Caesars Palace.
However, the sport will likely judge success in Las Vegas more based on the impact the race has on raising its profile in the US and globally, rather than on ticket sales. But in the city itself, when F1 departs, a simple benchmark will be measured by its citizens.
“We are a very simple city, it is money in our pockets,” Rineer said. “Will put the money in our pockets as a server, as a bartender, that’s how we’ll measure it. Many of us work on a cash and tip basis, that’s how we survive.”
Nevertheless, he remains hopeful that the sport will earn its place in the hearts of his fellow citizens of the Las Vegas Valley. “I love F1, I’ve seen Drive to Survive, I want to meet baby Lando and I’m a McLaren fan. So I hope that after the headaches of the first year we will smooth everything out and things will go smoother and smoother. F1 is the biggest racing event in the world and we should be able to make this happen.”