Max Verstappen lifts the first place trophy after winning the Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix on November 18, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

LAS VEGAS — Nearly twenty-four hours ago, Max Verstappen talked about how he disliked the way Formula 1 went about its business in Sin City. He said it’s 99% show, 1% sport. He even compared it to the National League. The fans didn’t want Verstappen to run away from the field and win by more than thirty seconds after shelling out gobs of money to attend the event.

But, the reigning and defending world champion passed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on lap 37, held off Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez and won the first Las Vegas Grand Prix Saturday night in thrilling fashion.

The race featured 83 overtakes and was one of the more exciting races this season.

And that is why they play the game.

“A great crowd,” said Verstappen. “I mean, I hope everyone enjoyed it a bit. We definitely did. So, yeah, already excited to come back here next year and hopefully we’ll try to do something similar.”

The Dutchman forced Leclerc off track to take the lead in lap three. Because of the illegal move, the track stewards handed Verstappen a five-second penalty. He served it during a later pit stop, but since his Red Bull is one of the strongest and fastest cars in the field, he would never be out of contention.

Leclerc passed Perez for the lead with 17 laps remaining, and then three laps later Verstappen passed Perez to take second. Then, Verstappen passed the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc on Lap 37 after a fierce battle between he, Leclerc and Perez. Sergio would ultimately finish in third.

Here is wild thing about Verstappen’s comments: they were accurate! Want to know what else was accurate? Max raced in an Elvis Presley inspired white jumpsuit and might have taken to the track. As he crossed the finish line, Max shouted “Viva Las Vegas” on the team radio.

“Well, I always expected it to be a good race today,” said Verstappen during the post-race press conference. “But yeah, today was fun. That’s the only thing I want to say about it;  I think today was fun. I hope everyone enjoyed it. I think the DRS effect was strong but good. I mean it made for fun racing out there. [Red Bull Team Principal] Christian [Horner] put me on the spot so I cannot leave them hanging so I have to sing. But I definitely need some lessons, so I need to go to Jerry and book an appointment I guess.” 

Notably, Lewis Hamilton finished in seventh place. The seven-time world champion was complimentary of Las Vegas on Instagram.

“P7 after a lot of ups and downs in Vegas,” Hamilton said. “Promising result after coming into the weekend with so many unknowns. Not a bad track, either. Excited for another go at it next year. One more left.”

David Beckham and Shaquille O’Neal hosted Sports Illustrated’s Club SI at the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday, November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo courtesy: Acre Media and RMG)

Liberty Media, the City of Las Vegas, Formula One and the State of Nevada each made a huge bet by staging this race. They spent $500 million on the construction of the paddock, making the Vegas city streets suitable for racing, and the extensive marketing that is only found out here. Formula One announced it drew more than 315,000 spectators over the weekend and estimated an economic impact of $1.2 billion to Las Vegas. Sure, the tickets were expensive. As a matter of fact, it was the most expensive race on the F1 calendar. How so? The average ticket price hit a record asking price of $1,667, including a VIP package that sold for $50,000 per head to access an exclusive suite above Turn 1. Sky boxes with views over the team garages came at the slightly more modest $8,000 to $13,000 per head.

However, the one thing the promoter cannot control is can’t the race itself. The race was the centerpiece of a weekend of parties, music, food, and entertainment.

“To Las Vegas, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for embracing our shared vision of bringing Formula 1 back to this community and showing racing fans around the world what makes this community so special,” said Renee Wilm, Chief Executive Officer of Las Vegas Grand Prix, Inc. “LVGP would like to extend our congratulations to Max and the entire Red Bull team for a phenomenal showing – we are thrilled you have established your place in history as our inaugural winner. I want to thank all our elected officials, public safety providers, and community leaders whose dedication was essential to putting on a safe, secure and entertaining event for all. I would also like to thank our founding partners, sponsors and the talented LVGP team for their tireless efforts in putting together such a successful race weekend. We are even more excited than ever for the 2024 Las Vegas Grand Prix.” 

One thing about American races, the celebrities will be out there. The luminaries in attendance were Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Shaquille O’Neal, David Beckham, Lupita Nyong’o, and Brad Pitt. Fans didn’t lack for entertainment options as Steve Aoki, John Legend, J Balvin, A-Trak, and Journey, among others dazzled audiences.

“Las Vegas Grand Prix has set the new standard for Formula 1 racing, and we are glad to have been a part of the event’s immense success,” said Tom Reeg, Chief Executive Officer of Caesars Entertainment. “When the LVGP was announced, becoming a Founding Partner was an easy decision, both for our business and our valued guests.  Everything in Las Vegas is larger than life, and the show that the LVGP and the drivers put on this weekend reflected the best of our legendary city. All of us at Caesars Entertainment are Looking forward to 2024 and beyond.” 

Whether or not the Las Vegas Grand Prix delivers the $1.2 billion windfall that was promised after its citizens saw their home get torn up, shut down, and their routines get disrupted for a huge roll of the dice remains to be seen. Formula One’s first venture as a promoter did not go over well among the fans until Friday night’s qualifying and Saturday’s race. However, optimism among the organizers is upbeat for next year’s race.

“Thanks to the Las Vegas Grand Prix, our city will have its best November in history” said Steve Hill, President and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “Working with Renee and the LVGP team to bring this race from concept to completion has been extremely rewarding. The benefits of this race are both profound and broad and will drive record economic and fiscal impact of more than $100 million in tax revenue to the Las Vegas community. We celebrate the successes of this inaugural race and look forward to what the LVGP has in store for years to come.” 

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...