Drivers enthusiastically welcomed on Friday Las Vegas hosting a night-time Formula 1 grand prix, but voiced concern that traditional races in Europe could pay the price as the sport expands in new directions.
Racing returns to ‘Sin City’ next year for the first time since 1982, becoming the third grand prix in the United States alongside Miami and Austin.
It is part of a concerted effort by the sport’s US bosses to attract a new, younger audience, rather than relying on a traditional, ageing fanbase.
Part of that strategy was allowing Netflix to make the ‘Drive to Survive’ series about the sport and it has proved hugely popular.
Drivers at the Australian Grand Prix were unanimous in looking forward to racing around Vegas’s famous strip, taking in its most famous landmarks, hotels and casinos.
But they also said it was important to remember Formula One’s history and tradition. France, Belgium and even Monaco are all seen as vulnerable races.
“I think that’s going to be awesome, it’ll be good for business… just being there and the spectacle,” said seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of the Vegas move.
Hamilton’s former Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas agreed that it was good to grow the US market, as did fellow veteran Fernando Alonso, but he was more muted.
“It’s the way Formula One is going,” said Spain’s former two-time world champion Alonso.
“On the other hand, I think we need to be careful with the number of races.
“We should have a limit because for the teams it is quite demanding, the schedule and the calendar, as it is now, especially as we don’t have so many races in Europe now.”
There are currently 22 races scheduled in 2022, nearly half in Europe. Russia has been axed, but a replacement is expected.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said he was “a big fan” of more races in the United States, but is also worried about Europe’s future.
“Obviously a big fan of having to go to Miami and Vegas, but it could be a big loss for those classic European races. Hopefully for the future we can find a compromise,” said the Spaniard.
“Maybe where races that cannot afford to be on the calendar year in, year out can be on the calendar once every two years or three years so we keep coming back to the places where we have always been.
“Business is business… but I wouldn’t like to stop racing in Europe. It’s a great place to go racing, it’s where our heritage is and I think we need to keep coming back even if it’s not every single year.”
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was also keen on Las Vegas but noted that some of the new additions to the Formula One circuit, which he didn’t name, lacked character.
“It’s a great opportunity for the sport but at the same time it would be good to keep our history in the sport, we need those historic tracks to always be with us,” said the Mexican.
“We have to make sure that when we go to new venues to really have some character in the tracks. I feel some of the new tracks lack character.”