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Unhappy F1 Fans Race to Court after Las Vegas Grand Prix Debacle

By T. Evan Eosten Fisher, Esq. | Last updated on

“We have all been to events, like concerts…that have been canceled because of factors like weather or technical issues. It happens, and we hope that people will understand."

— Statement from Stefano Domenicali, Formula One CEO

Not everyone is as understanding as Domenicali would like, so it seems. Racing fans at the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix are now seeking damages from Formula One's parent company in a new lawsuit filed after fans were forced to leave the racing venue.

F1 racing returned to Las Vegas in 2023 for the first time in decades in a high-profile extravaganza that featured an all-new nighttime street race around a circuit that had cars zooming past landmarks on Sin City's famous strip. However, the execution of the event hit a few technical difficulties that left some racing fans properly aggrieved.

The Saturday night race itself went off without a hitch, with a record number of fans treated to a masterful victory from three-time world champion Max Verstappen, but the race itself was only one event on the schedule of the F1 weekend. The racing league routinely sells tickets to practice and qualifying sessions, enabling fans to get an up-close experience of the sights and sounds of world-class racers piloting their wheeled missiles at incredible speeds for a fraction of the cost of a race ticket.

It was at one of these practice sessions earlier in the week, the first one held on the new Las Vegas street circuit, that both the fortunes of one racer and the enjoyment of the fans were dashed against the inequities of faulty infrastructure.

Practice? We're Talking About Practice?!?

Carlos Sainz, the Spanish Ferrari driver and the only person to win an F1 race in 2023 in a car not manufactured by Red Bull, entered the Las Vegas weekend with high hopes. His car was fast, and his driving form was arguably at the peak of his career. Nine minutes into the first practice session, however, he drove over an iron water valve cover, which came loose and simultaneously ruined his car, his chances of competing for the podium spaces, and the experience of those fans who bought a ticket to watch the practice session.

The incident sparked an immediate response from the safety-minded course marshals, and the circuit was closed while each similar valve cover along the nearly four miles of the street track was replaced as a precautionary measure. The fans who had purchased tickets to the practice saw nothing after those first nine minutes. A second practice session, scheduled to begin later that night, was also delayed by the repairs. When the cars were finally allowed back onto the track at around 2:30 am local time, there were no fans in attendance. Fans who had waited around for the track to reopen were told they had to leave the venue.

According to a statement from the race organizers, fans were not permitted to attend the delayed practice session because of concerns about staffing and compliance with labor laws. Outraged fans demanded their money back, but F1 offered only $200 merchandise vouchers to those who had purchased a single-day ticket to the practice sessions. Dissatisfied with that offer, a group of fans filed a class action lawsuit in Nevada court.

A representative from the plaintiffs said that the voucher was simply inadequate compensation, stating that many fans simply wanted their money back and that costs of travel and accommodations associated with attending the F1 event should also be considered.

Disputes over ticketed events are typically governed by the "small print" contractual terms imposed by the event organizer, and refunds are usually not included. It is unclear what legal theory the plaintiffs' counsel will call upon to overcome those terms.

F1 faced similar criticism in 2021 after the Belgian Grand Prix, where fans waited for hours in a heavy downpour of rain for a “race" that featured only a handful of laps behind a safety car, with no overtaking allowed for safety reasons. After that disappointing event, fans did not receive refunds; they were instead entered into a raffle for free tickets to the next year's race and given some other minor perks.

Injustice On and Off the Track

The disrupted practice session was summarized as "a bad night for any fans who turned out there and a bad night for Carlos Sainz" by popular F1 podcaster Spencer Hall.

The suing fans from Las Vegas will hope they find more justice than poor Carlos Sainz, whose damaged Ferrari required expensive repairs and the replacement of certain engine components. Even worse, F1 penalized Sainz for replacing the parts, which dropped his starting position by 10 spots. The team protested the grid penalty against him to no avail.

The Spaniard ended up starting the race in the twelfth position. Despite his best efforts, he finished only sixth in the race on Sunday, while his teammate Charles LeClerc shared the podium with Verstappen after nabbing the second-place finish from Red Bull's Sergio Perez. After the race, F1 fans and even rival drivers called for a rule change to address the unfortunate Sainz penalty.

F1 is under contract to return to Las Vegas and race on the strip for at least the next nine years. Both racing fans and Sainz will be hoping for a better experience next year.

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