How ironic that this star-spangled gala was won by its biggest detractor, wearing Elvis-themed overalls and singing ‘Viva Las Vegas’ over the radio in his Red Bull throne.
Max Verstappen, competing in a white race suit with red collar and gold belt, had accused the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix of being all show and no sport.
But now here he was smiling in front of the Bellagio hotel, of all flashy places, with its gold-lit fountains.
He was driven there by limousine after winning a captivating race – a glut of twists, collisions, courage and the odd mistakes. In the end, the extravaganza lived up to its hot billing. It was the best race of the year.
Lewis Hamilton finished seventh, before taking aim at his old rival, saying: ‘There have been many people being so negative about the “show” and all that. Just let it be and see how it goes. This is like Baku but better.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has come out on top again at this week’s Las Vegas Grand Prix
The Dutchman overcame Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and fellow team-mate Sergio Perez
‘It is a huge win for Formula One. People have talked about bringing old classics back from Europe but this has provided a better race than most of the tracks we go to, so hats off to the people who run it. I cannot wait to come back and hopefully have a better race next year.’
Verstappen, in his Elvis gear as part of a team stunt devised some weeks ago, was circumspect afterwards, though not exactly contrite about his criticisms over the previous 72 hours. He thought he might have gone too far. Some close to him suggested he had.
‘I always expected it to be a good race because there are long straights and low-speed corners, and you don’t lose a lot of downforce, so that has never been my issue,’ he said slightly disingenuously.
‘Today was fun and that is the only thing I want to say about it. I hope everyone enjoyed it.’
They surely did, despite a dismal Thursday night when practice was abandoned and delayed, and fans sent home.
So Verstappen, who also hated the razzmatazz of Wednesday’s opening ceremony, was not entirely wrong in his coruscating assessment. There are elements of the spectacle that need ironing out over the remaining nine years of the contract.
Such as never starting a session after midnight! Or indeed after 10pm, even in Vegas, where clocks are not hung on casino walls and time suspended.
The Dutchman only finally pulled off the victory on lap 37 of 50 when he passed Leclerc
There was also the organisers’ tin-eared refusal to refund the majority of spectators turfed out because of the shambles on Thursday. And why did the manhole cover that caused the delay jump out of the road, anyway? Why was it not secured and adequately tested beforehand?
As for the grand prix itself, Verstappen showed no signs of disenchantment. Prior to the race, his 18th win from 21 races looked like the safest bet in all Sin City.
But it did not always seem so certain as the race hit its stride under the bright lights at the 3.8-mile track running through the Entertainment Capital of the World.
This was one of his most precarious and fluctuating victories of the season, and the Dutchman only finally pulled off the victory on lap 37 of 50 when he passed Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in a blur of determination.
A super-packed grid set the scene for the high-octane contest.
In fact, it was so busy and congested during the build-up rituals that several unprecedented announcements were made over the Tannoy to ‘please move off the grid’ so the lights could go out at the appointed time on a cleared road. This happened by the skin of teeth, at 10pm local time.
Lewis Hamilton defended Formula One’s decision to race in Las Vegas
The event attracted criticism from Verstappen, but Hamilton insisted it was a major success for the sport and that the 3.8-mile track provided a great spectacle
Verstappen started second and wasted no time or energy in pushing pole-man Leclerc so far wide that the red car was almost pushed into the Harbor Island Apartments on the outside of the left-hander.
Verstappen refused to concede he had erred, claiming that he was in front. He was. But, as we were saying, also so far off the track it was hardly a legitimate argument. He was handed a five-second penalty. ‘Yeah,’ he said with sarcasm aimed at the stewards. ‘That’s fine. Send them my regards.’
Actually, Leclerc was flying, and passed Verstappen just before the first round of stops. Could a surprise winner be on the cards? They are all surprise winners if Verstappen’s name does not lead the rest.
Before the customary conclusion, Verstappen tangled with Mercedes’ George Russell at Turn 12 — the bend leading into the Las Vegas Boulevard. It was where most of the overtaking occurred.
Russell was at fault as Verstappen pushed his claims with his usual gusto down the inside, a bravura act. He didn’t appear to realise the Red Bull had come at him like a rocket and was right there beside him. He turned in.
A bit of damage to both cars, but not too much. The safety car came out and they pitted. The stewards slapped Russell with a five-second penalty. He finished eighth.
Verstappen had the bit between his teeth by now. He passed his team-mate Sergio Perez and then came the killer move on Leclerc, who came second.
Lando Norris steps out of his car after crashing on the fourth lap of the Las Vegas Grand Prix
The McLaren driver hit hard into the barriet after his rear axle locked and he spun out
What else? Lando Norris lost control of his McLaren on his way past the Wynn hotel with a big snap of understeer into Turn 12 — where else? — and spun into the wall, scraping along it until his car spun back around and flew nose first into the thankfully distant barrier, but still hurtling at some speed.
That brought out the first of two safety cars. The Briton went to hospital but was discharged unharmed.
Justin Bieber waved the chequered flag. He is Hamilton’s pal, not Verstappen’s, but the triple world champion, and occasional Elvis impersonator, was two seconds ahead of Leclerc by then.
It was all over, bar the ride to the Bellagio on an evening on which the ‘sport’ lived up to the ‘show’.