F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix diary: A flashy Opening Ceremony and Denny Hamlin says hello

Keep up to speed with all our coverage from the Las Vegas Grand Prix right here. Read Jeff’s diary from Day 1 here.

LAS VEGAS — Those must be the same drones from last night’s event.

That was my thought as I looked up at the night sky and nearly ran smack into a line of yellow caution tape. If a security guard hadn’t been standing in front of it, I would have broken through like a marathon finisher.

“Sorry,” she said. “You can’t pass through here until the drone show is over.”

I’m new enough to the world of drones that I didn’t realize they need to be treated like fireworks displays. But sure enough, the pathway to F1’s Las Vegas Grand Prix Opening Ceremony was blocked until the drones were done lighting up the sky and returned to earth.

I was trying to reach the Opening Ceremony, which had been billed as a Super Bowl halftime show experience. Surely that was overselling it, I figured. Either way, I wanted to see for myself.

The drones were in my way because I was not only late arriving to the event (I couldn’t figure out how to walk to the correct entrance from the Strip), but I couldn’t even locate where to pick up my pass.

East Harmon Zone, it said. Well, OK. Guess I’ll go to Harmon Ave. and enter that way.

Wrong. I was directed off to a side road along with a handful of others in the same predicament.

Rain began falling as we stumbled along like a horde of zombies through some parking lot pathway. Somehow, after about 30 minutes, I ended up at a different entrance. It was likely user error, but still frustrating.

I could hear the echoes of Thirty Seconds to Mars and Kylie Minogue in the distance, along with the nearby drones’ incessant buzzing. Suddenly, though, the drones turned off their lights and began swarming back to the ground.

After the last one was parked on its little launch pad, the yellow tape dropped and I followed the herd of latecomers toward a pair of gates. I’m not sure how this happened, but I ended up following the wrong group (who may have been event workers) and suddenly was inside the venue with no ticket or pass of any kind.

I kept following the crowd up the stairs of the main grandstand. The show was well underway and there were plenty of empty seats, so I just grabbed one as Journey played “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I did. I’m sorry.

Suddenly, the singer J Balvin emerged from a giant box parked on the frontstretch. He was dressed in an oversized orange outfit that made him appear to be the spawn of a construction worker and a traffic cone. But oh did the people around me love it. They were dancing, singing and taking videos of every moment.

Then Balvin disappeared back down into the box and lasers started going off like we were in “Tron.” Wait, there’s Tiësto on the roof! And is that John Legend? It is!

As if that wasn’t enough, the F1 drivers started shooting up from the various giant boxes like colorful Pop-Tarts. The crowd was going absolutely nuts. As IndyCar driver Conor Daly has said, F1 drivers are truly rock stars; they are some of the most famous athletes on the planet.

The drivers disappeared back into their mega toasters and the public address announcer said something along the lines of “thanks for attending.” But it wasn’t clear the show was over after just 30 minutes.

“Is that it?” someone asked behind me. I wasn’t sure, either. After roughly five minutes, though, people began realizing there was nothing else to see.

What a weird thing to experience. Some of music’s biggest acts playing one or two songs each, a world-class drone show, a lighting display worthy of a top-tier concert tour, fireworks in the distance — it all had to cost untold millions. If the purpose was to be a tone-setter for how spectacularly over the top and ostentatious this entire week will be, then mission accomplished.

Anyway, I had some time to kill between the Opening Ceremony and an event at the Wynn, so I went to the neighboring Encore to grab dinner. But it was strange; as I mulled restaurant options, there was a decided lack of people sitting in the casino.

I’d noticed a similar scene when walking through other casinos this week. At a McLaren and Jack Daniel’s event on Tuesday night at the Virgin Hotel, the casino was nearly deserted. Same thing at the Mirage, at least compared to when I was there on a normal weekend last month.

One of my Uber drivers said he’s noticed the same thing. On Monday, which marked somewhat of a transition point to F1 week, he gave 30 rides across eight hours. But on Tuesday, he worked 9.5 hours and had just 16 rides all day.

It wasn’t because of traffic (there wasn’t any yet), but rather due to a lack of ride requests, he said.

That doesn’t mean everywhere in Vegas is empty. Inside the Wynn’s Intrigue nightclub, partygoers were stacked shoulder to shoulder for Red Bull’s “All-In” party. There was thumping music, Red Bull cocktails of every kind and hundreds of beautiful people who oozed effortless coolness.

And then there was me, a 43-year-old balding dad of two who never even had one cool phase in his life. I awkwardly stood by myself and pretended there were very important things on my phone, but silently vowed to stay and sip my sugar-free Red Bull and vodka until Alpha Tauri’s Las Vegas Grand Prix livery was unveiled after midnight. Duty calls, right?

Finally, after two hours of not knowing anyone, someone kicked me in the leg. It was the NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, who held out his hands to indicate surprise that he (who actually knows how to blend into cool crowds) would end up at the same party as me.

I totally get that, but it also wasn’t a shock to see Hamlin. At the NASCAR championship race earlier this month, Hamlin had told reporters he intended to visit the F1 race for both entertainment and idea-gathering purposes (the 23XI Racing team Hamlin co-owns with Michael Jordan is known for skewing toward the type of younger fan that would overlap with F1’s demographics).

Certainly, there’s a lot to take from what F1 is doing in Vegas. It’s almost like even the livery unveils are trying to one-up each other (Red Bull’s descended from the ceiling of the Omnia nightclub on Tuesday) and every party seems to elevate the week to yet another level.

This particular party seemed set to go on well into the wee hours of the morning, but my night was finished after Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda finally unveiled a Las Vegas livery that resembled a zebra.

Actually, that’s quite unfair. The black-and-white design is made to resemble the latest Alpha Tauri/Brendan Monroe capsule collection drop, which is special for Las Vegas. I’m sure if you have any fashion sense at all (which I don’t), you would appreciate the apparel. There were some extremely fashionable people pulling off the look with ease.

The thing is, they looked cool while doing it because they are cool. I’m the one who would have looked like a zebra.



The Las Vegas GP’s opening ceremony: A bumpy, fitting display of excess

More from The Athletic’s Las Vegas Grand Prix coverage:

(Photo of J Balvin at the Las Vegas Grand Prix Opening Ceremony: Kym Illman / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top