POLE POSITION: Max Verstappen would rather eat horse manure than pay lip service to the Vegas glitter… but the £500m race is crucial for the future of Formula 1

Two warriors who will never see each other had diametrically opposed views on the madness of the first Las Vegas Grand Prix, the most highly anticipated race ever on which nothing depended.

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

An on-track battle between modern Formula 1’s best and bitterest rivals is exactly the show the sport has been craving. It lit up the 2021 season, no matter how controversially the match was decided in Abu Dhabi.

But lacking that, we have the compensation for the glitz and glamor of the 4.2-mile trip along the Strip, with its famous landmarks illuminated by 1,750 temporary lights.

For months, F1 has been insisting that drivers must stick to the script. They have been told that Las Vegas is central to the business model.

Max Verstappen has made an unvarnished assessment of the first Grand Prix of Las Vegas

The Dutchman was not prepared to pay lip service to the owners of Formula 1

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

You can also imagine that they will be hammered into not sticking it against the wall when practice starts this morning. Major delays and inevitably difficult rescues by cranes on a difficult-to-access road circuit are among the last things needed during this showcase weekend.

But despite these pleas to play along with what everyone here labeled the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, in a city where hyperbole never sleeps, Verstappen played the outspoken miser.

The Dutchman can remain lyrical about tire compounds until the cows come home. He’d rather eat horse manure than walk a red carpet.

He will pay no lip service to Formula 1’s admittedly predatory owners, Liberty Media, who have splashed out £500 million on this event, including a glittering pit complex the length of three American football pitches.

Verstappen, who takes home £50million a year from the competition, delivered a blunt assessment, saying: ‘I’m not going to fake it. I will always give my opinion on positive and negative things.

‘That’s just me. Some people like the show a little 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) are still making money whether I like it or not, so it’s not up to me. I like being in Vegas, but not so much for racing. I’m looking forward to doing my best, but I’m not looking forward to this show.’

Sin City has pulled out all the stops as it prepares to take center stage in Formula 1

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

Hamilton has come a long way in his relationship with Formula 1 under the improving leadership of Stefano Domenicali, the former Ferrari CEO who took over from Chase Carey, the Trump-voting former CEO who was once Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenant and not a natural Lewis bedfellow.

“I hear a lot of people complain about the direction Stefano and Liberty have taken, but they are doing a great job,” said the seven-time world champion, who has not won a race in two years.

‘The sport continues to grow. It’s a business at the end of the day and you’ll still see good racing here. It is a country to tap into and captivate the public.

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

“It’s certainly a big show and it will never be like Silverstone,” Hamilton added. “But maybe over time people in this community will come to love the sport, and maybe the track will be good, and maybe it will be bad. On the simulator it was so-so.’

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

A sport run by Liberty, not by history

Formula 1’s American owners, Liberty Media, appear to have little apparent respect for the sport’s heritage.

If they had, they would have invited some of the legends who competed in the 1981 and 1982 races in Las Vegas.

Even Alain Prost, four-time world champion and official F1 ambassador for heaven’s sake, doesn’t get a card.

There was no football before the creation of the Premier League. And there was no Formula 1 before Liberty Media threw Bernard Charles Ecclestone out the window in 2017.

It’s a strange blind spot given the veneration of American sports’ old stars.

Formula 1 owners Liberty Media have speculated £500 million on the event

The breed that never sleeps

No sympathy is being asked here, but these are the longest days Formula 1 has known. Qualifying is tonight at midnight local time. The race is at 10 p.m. The drivers’ media engagements continued after 1 a.m. on Wednesday. That’s despite the fact that the European biological clock wakes you up before dawn breaks over Sunrise Mountain.

There is a 12-hour change between Pacific Standard Time and the final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend, putting enormous strain on the welfare of traveling mechanics who don’t have the luxury of private jets of top men and first-class seats. .

This route is pushing it seriously – the greedy Freedom. The only answer at my digs, at the MGM Grand, is to put up a do-not-disturb sign that reads, in typical Las Vegan style, “I pulled out all the stops, so I’m staying all in.” And then you keep your fingers crossed and your eyes closed.

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

A dazzling spectacle

We enjoyed a few cocktails upstairs in the Paddock Club while the opening ceremony took place. Kylie Minogue and John Legend played.

Formula 1 doesn’t normally make a prelude to the more visceral appeal of the on-track action, and rightly so, as it’s car racing rather than Glastonbury.

But whatever Max Verstappen may say, I certainly had no objection to the thirty-minute concert. The Strip and the hotels that form the central background magic of the weekend rippled in the television background.

When Las Vegas was last included in the calendar in 1982, in the parking lot of Caesars Palace, it took place during the day, with the ambient heat registering 37.1 °C (98.8 °F). But the drama that comes with a race under lights is something else entirely, even if in Britain you have to get up at 6am to watch it on a Sunday.

No lighting on the Strip

It has been more moderate here – 13.9°C as I write at 11:40 pm – than some forecasters had suggested for Nevada in November.

That makes it easier for tire supplier Pirelli, who uses their three softest, and therefore most grippy, compounds in case the mercury drops.

They will also increase the pressure to combat the conditions, which the long, tire-cooling straight – the Strip – does nothing to address.

Brad Pitt, star and producer of Apple TV+’s F1 film, is in Las Vegas this weekend

Pitt to get in on the action

Yet the script for Apple TV+’s F1 film has not yet been completed, a delay hampered by the recent strikes by writers and actors in Hollywood.

Lewis Hamilton, a key player but with no specific qualifications in the department, says he will spend time polishing the lines in December.

Brad Pitt, star and producer, will be in Las Vegas this weekend, one of the glitterati in town.