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LAS VEGAS – Though many fans attending this weekend’s Las Vegas Grand Prix purchased three-day ticket packages, the most expensive race in Formula 1 history forced others to choose a cheaper option.
Some fans bought Thursday-only tickets to see the opening day of on-track activity, which was supposed to feature two one-hour practice sessions. Instead, fans only saw eight minutes of cars at speed before the stewards canceled the first practice due to water valve cover issues on the track.
The second practice was held in full at 2:30 a.m. local time, but fans were not permitted to attend after the LVGP closed its fan areas due to the late hour.
Refunds were not offered, no apology was given. On Friday night, fans were given the option to use a $200 voucher for the LVGP online merchandise store – but only those who bought single-day tickets.
The Athletic spoke with three Thursday-only fans who agreed to share their reactions and experiences.
Tyler Thompson, 43, Phoenix
Thompson has been an F1 fan since he was a kid in the 90s, attending races on the city streets of Phoenix. So when the Las Vegas Grand Prix was announced, it was a no-brainer for Thompson to figure out how to make the five-hour drive.
But Thompson quickly realized ticket prices were “pretty nuts,” and his son’s birthday party was this weekend anyway – so Thompson decided he could only do one night of the F1 weekend before returning home.
He bought tickets off StubHub for the Skybox area, the suites above the main grandstand. His first impression was extremely positive: Short security line to get inside, people greeting him with trays of champagne and wine upon arrival, great food and cool furniture.
“I had just gone to the World Series (earlier this month), and this puts it all to shame,” Thompson said. “They had everything going on. It was awesome.”
But it quickly unraveled after Carlos Sainz ran over the drain cover, and the race stewards canceled FP1. The screens at the track said FP2 would be delayed, so Thompson walked around a bit. Workers at the track reassured him, saying they would stay as long as it took.
Thompson felt optimistic after seeing a post on the social media platform X that said FP2 would take place at 2 a.m., but an announcement suddenly asked people to clear the fan zones and proceed to the gates.
“I thought, ‘Well, OK, maybe they’re just closing up the food and all that stuff,’” he said.
That wasn’t the case. Up in the Skybox, he and other customers were told to vacate the premises. Thompson was confused because he could see teams across the track putting tires on the cars and warming them up. He pointed that out to security personnel but was met with an insistence that all fans had to leave.
“A few people were pretty upset because of the price of those tickets,” Thompson said of the $2,750 walk-up price. “So they told us we could go down to the guest services, and they’d get us all squared away.”
Las Vegas police officers soon arrived to emphasize that point and clear the suites. The patrons walked to the guest services area, but Thompson said they were told: “There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing anybody is going to do. There’s no one you can talk to. There’s no email address we’re giving out. You just have to leave.”
Some fans became irate at that point, but with the police nearby, Thompson said he urged those from other countries to leave before they got arrested.
“Even the police were like, ‘We don’t know why they’re kicking everybody out, but we have to enforce that,’” Thompson said.
Thompson still wasn’t giving up hope because he figured he’d just find a spot on the way back to the hotel to watch the cars. But security personnel prevented anyone from getting near a viewpoint of the track, including standing on a ledge or even a driveway.
“It was like, ‘Come on, guys. You’re gonna kick everybody out, and then you’re still gonna enforce your privacy screens?’” he said. “You didn’t gain anything by doing that. You just made yourself look like an asshole.”
The entire experience left Thompson “with a big sour taste in my mouth,” he said.
“F1 has always had this air of elitism where they don’t give a s— about the average fan or the people not in the Paddock Club,” he said. “But if that’s really their deal, it makes me rethink things.
“Frankly, I don’t even think the racing is any good anymore. I was just hoping the spectacle would be kind of fun. But now I don’t want to support them and their company if that’s how they’re going to act and treat their fans.”
Thompson said he would have liked to see F2 cars or a spec F1 car run the course on Wednesday night to see if there were any issues before the actual F1 cars took to the track for the first time on Thursday. He blamed the LVGP for being greedy and trying to get as much money as possible instead of attempting to grow F1 fandom with the event.
“I totally get it’s a business, but their attitude, more than anything, has been a turnoff and gives me a lot of pause about going back and spending my money with them,” he said. “I’d rather go to COTA.”
One positive for Thompson: StubHub emailed that his tickets were protected by the company’s “FanProtect Guarantee,” which he believes means they will refund him even though F1 will not.
Connor, 24, Las Vegas
For months, Las Vegas native Connor (who asked his last name be withheld) was an outlier among the locals. As seemingly everyone else complained about the race, Connor always felt positive about it and was thrilled to have secured a ticket for Thursday when prices fell into his range ($200) during a sale for locals.
Connor and his girlfriend were excited to be at least able to see the cars run the track, even if they couldn’t attend the race (“We figured Max (Verstappen) was going to win anyway,” he said.)
He left work last night and went straight to the track, where Connor bought some merchandise as a souvenir and grabbed a drink before settling into his seat.
“It was cool for about five minutes, at least,” he said.
After FP1 was canceled, he kept refreshing his timeline on X. But when FP2 was officially delayed, he decided to leave the track around 12:30 a.m. because of an early-morning work shift.
For that reason, Connor was actually happy to see the news of F1 forcing fans to leave the track around 1:30 a.m. because he figured that meant they would all get refunds or perhaps even makeup tickets for Friday.
But that wasn’t the case. Connor said he might still watch the race on TV but found himself getting angry while looking through all the pictures from F1 accounts he follows on Instagram on Friday. The whole experience left him feeling like a sucker for spending his hard-earned money on F1.
“The drain thing – that’s one of those things in sports where I get it. I’m not mad there was an issue,” he said. “But what pisses me off is to not even say sorry or give a refund.
“All this time, I was one of the people defending F1 being here and saying, ‘No, no, it’s going to be awesome. So that’s kind of brutal. I have to eat crow on that.”
Diego Alvarado, 25, Los Angeles area
Diego Alvarado, a motorsports fan in all its forms, was thrilled when he heard about F1 racing in Vegas. The problem was he couldn’t afford tickets.
But two months ago, Alvarado noticed hotel prices had plummeted. So he grabbed a reservation at a Strip hotel that cost just $300 for the entire weekend and figured he’d try to see about tickets after that.
Sure enough, Alvarado found a resale ticket in the T-Mobile Zone at Sphere via Ticketmaster for $275 (including fees), a price down from more than $1,000 initially.
Unlike many fans who lingered after getting to watch just eight minutes of practice, Alvarado could see the writing on the wall and left the track with his girlfriend. They went to the Omnia nightclub to watch a Steve Aoki show instead.
Alvarado scrolled his X timeline during the show and initially tried to calculate how long it would take him to walk back to the Sphere when practice resumed, but then he saw the news of fans being sent away. When FP2 finally took place, Alvarado walked the Strip and tried to see the cars from various viewpoints – through fences and elevated sidewalks.
OK, headed back inside to warmer temps. Good job race fans, keep getting creative out there. pic.twitter.com/Ia4U2QiB1Y
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) November 17, 2023
“I didn’t spend thousands of dollars like other people did, but I still think about how many hours I had to put into work to buy my Thursday ticket,” he said. “That’s where a lot of my frustration comes from.”
Alvarado said the $200 merchandise voucher can only be used in an online store and requires fans to still pay shipping on any purchases, which he found ridiculous.
As for the rest of the weekend? Alvarado will remain in the city and play it by ear.
“I am going to try to look at Ticketmaster or one of those reselling websites to see if there’s some way I can find something for half-decent price,” he said. “The backup plan is just to walk around the Strip and see what I can find because that’s really all I’ve got.
“I want to see the events. I want to see the race. I think it’s all really cool. But I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”
More from The Athletic’s Las Vegas Grand Prix coverage:
F1 news live updates: Lewis Hamilton excited by Las Vegas GP ‘opportunity’
F1’s Sphere takeover: From traffic snarl to Las Vegas GP’s ‘incredible backdrop’
Why F1’s first Las Vegas grand prix was an utter failure — and a ‘lesson learned’
Las Vegas GP hotels go all-in on F1, from Bottas haircuts to ‘Shoey Bars’
Our turn-by-turn breakdown of the Las Vegas Strip Circuit
Why the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix starts at 10 p.m. PT
F1’s ‘unacceptable’ night in Las Vegas: How a water valve cover halted practice
(Lead image: Kym Illman/Getty Images)