F1 is more boondoggle than boon for Vegas

Jay Janner-USA TODAY Sports
The much-anticipated arrival of the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix comes amid frustration over the inconveniences it created.

LAS VEGAS — They’ve arrived.

The fast cars. The big-name drivers and race teams. The fans. Well, at least some of them.

Like it or not, for better or worse, the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix is here. And for us residents, it’s going to mean a few days of inconveniences when it comes to getting around town while the fireworks go off and the race curs purr around a 3.8-mile layout that goes right down the famed Strip.

It’s a big event. No doubt about it. But will it be the financial gold mine everyone believed it would when it was agreed a couple of years ago to bring F1 back to Las Vegas for the first time since 1982? I had my doubts about this event from the outset and that the upheaval it has created in the community is not worth the hundreds of millions that have been spent to prepare the streets of Las Vegas for it. 

In January, it was announced that the race was expected to generate $1.3 billion in economic impact for the city. They claimed it would be bigger than the Super Bowl, which will be played here at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11 and where the economic impact from the game was also expected to exceed $1 billion.

I’ve been to the Super Bowl. I know the kind of revenue it generates. I have no doubt the NFL’s marquee event will deliver. I’m not as convinced the race will live up to its billing economically. Not with the reports of ticket prices on the secondary market and hotel rates for the weekend plummeting. It might be a stretch to think F1 will generate $1 billion, much less $1.3 billion. Actually, the new estimate is $1.7 billion, courtesy of the CEO of the company which owns and operates F1.

I guess all the sponsors the race has attracted and the power of the F1 brand will deliver those gaudy economic impact numbers for Las Vegas. I remain skeptical. 

Those who are flying in on their Lear jets and staying in the best suites at the hotels and will be shuttled via limousine around town in attending the race won’t feel the impact of being inconvenienced. They can care two wits about the housekeepers, restaurant workers and front desk folks working at the Strip hotels that have to find an alternative way to get to work. No, the rich and famous are here to party, just like they would in Monaco, Miami or Montreal when they followed the fast open-wheel cars to those locales. 

You need to take the Monorail to get to work? Aw, too bad. That’s your problem, Jack. Just make sure you don’t run out of Cristal. Or if you are visiting town for something other than the race and decide to hop in a taxicab or a rideshare, be prepared to pay large surcharges on top of the normal fare as the horrendous traffic near the Strip will leave drivers and riders equally frustrated.

You see, the people who run F1 never gave a damn about the locals. You think they wanted a bunch of beer-guzzling guys in baseball hats mucking up their wine-and-cheese scene? It’s a big part why tickets were priced so high, it made seeing Taylor Swift, Beyonce, U2 and Bruce Springsteen look like a bargain. 

So little wonder when the market cratered and nobody was buying the tickets or the five- and six-figure hotel packages, the F1 gang had an epiphany of sorts. Suddenly the good people of Las Vegas who lived and worked here were invited to the party, provided they came in through the kitchen entrance so to speak. They made tickets available to Saturday’s race for the Las Vegans residents — for $1,300.

Yes, there are the local race fans who are embracing the event and have been touting it as a boon for the community. And I hope they have a good time. 

However the majority of residents passed. They’ll get through the weekend well enough and avoid the area that makes up the course. However, we’ll have to endure six to eight weeks of hell as they clean things up and get the Strip and the race area back to normal. That would indicate New Year’s Eve, arguably the biggest event of the year for the city, will be impacted somewhat. 

Maybe they’ll get everything done faster. We’ll see. 

But the locals will also remember the officials who kowtowed to the race cartel and gave away more than a simple proclamation or the key to the county. When those county commissioners who voted for this debacle come up for re-election, you can bet folks will remember. They’ll be bombarded with ads from the incumbents’ opponents to remind them just in case they forgot.

Of course, when your own stars diss Las Vegas, you’ve got a problem. Max Verstappen is the top driver in F1. He wins more races than the Ortiz brothers Irad and Jose win riding horses at Saratoga every summer. So instead of Verstappen celebrating the return of his sport to Vegas, he basically ripped it. And he’ll likely be on the first private jet outta here as soon as he can leave the victory stand on Koval Lane.

“First of all, I think we are there more for the show than the racing itself if you look at the layout of the track,” he said recently. ”But you know, I’m actually not that into it. I’m more like, ‘I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again.’”

Yeah, way to get into the spirit of things, Max. Obviously, he’s likely to be in the minority. But still, if the sport’s best performer isn’t excited to be here, why should we?

The F1 folks have done more than their fair share to turn locals off to their event. Between the public money that has been spent, the disruptions to traffic and businesses around town for the past few months have been more than just mildly annoying, the tearing down the 20-year-old trees outside of Bellagio or draining the outdoor canal at Venetian just to help line their pockets, it’s no wonder the residents are not willing to roll out the welcome mat.

The visitors who planned to come to the race regardless of the cost were always going to be here. And yes, the Pit 1 building complex they built on Harmon Avenue adjacent to Koval is indeed impressive. I’m sure those who come to the race Saturday night will have a good time, even if they’re shivering in the cold (it’s expected to be in the upper 40s when the race begins at 10 p.m.) 

So pardon us folks of Southern Nevada if we say “Screw you” to F1. Go find some other sucker to pay you and your rich patrons to take over their city. We already have world class motor sports in our neighborhood with the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that actually cares about us locals. 

If Max Verstappen wants to come back and visit Las Vegas someday, he’s more than welcome. He can come to a Golden Knights hockey game, as long as he’s cool paying the $35 to park in the Aria Garage like the rest of us.