Opening ceremony, Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023

2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix Paddock Diary part one

Formula 1

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Formula 1’s new Las Vegas GP started badly, while the distractions in the paddock and strange running hours made for a surreal experience.


After spending a night in Los Angeles and road-tripping down to Las Vegas on Tuesday, I woke up at 09:45 on press day – hours too early for this nocturnal event.

My hotel, which is situated on the Strip, is a 15-minute walk from the paddock so after lunch (or maybe it was breakfast – we weren’t entirely sure what to call a first meal of the day at 1pm) we made our way down to the new track to get our bearings.

Coming off the strip in Vegas presents a very different side of the city. Away from the big bright lights everything is very beige, with an unappetising odour of excrement and weed.

Walking into the paddock was underwhelming as we arrived during the day. It is very much a paddock built for the night time, but I was struck by how wide it was, despite being quite empty. But heading into the pit lane I had to admit what F1 had done was pretty impressive with their purpose-made buildings erected just off the Strip.

Stopping to take a few pictures, a security guard advised me not to take any of the start/finish straight, but was unable to give me an answer why. I wondered if this was the start of a logistically tricky weekend.

Next, I went to find the media centre which was located in a hotel around 15 minutes’ walk from the paddock. Not ideal if a breaking news story happens, but F1 is looking into relocating it for its 2024 return.

As the sun began to set, media duties got underway. First up was a trip to see Daniel Ricciardo, running uncharacteristically late. Franz Tost, in his penultimate race as AlphaTauri team principal, apologised for his driver’s tardiness, and despite him making light of it you could tell he was a little put out.

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Ricciardo eventually materialised, bag on his back and not in team gear, apologising profusely that the traffic had been a nightmare outside before flashing a big smile as always.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023The lights in the paddock were all starting to illuminate. With a small break in the schedule, I wandered up to the top of the paddock to be greeted by 10 Elvis impersonators. Naturally, I had to have a picture, before one stopped to tell me another wanted my number. It was a surreal moment, but I guess that’s Vegas.

Valtteri Bottas lightened the mood as his session began, telling us “I know this is what you’re all here for” before slinging a picture of his posterior in my direction. It was my very own copy of the ‘BottASS’ calendar – a cheeky collection of photographs he’s produced to raise money for prostate cancer research.

So there I was, going through an entire year of naked Bottas pictures alongside the real, fully clothed man himself. My copy of the calendar is going to my mum for Christmas…

In a strange scheduling move, the opening ceremony took place in between several of the drivers’ sessions with the media. We had been lucky enough to be invited onto the roof of Paddock Club to watch it.

Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023The show was everything I expected it would be, though slightly dampened by rain. Seven boxes were placed onto the grid as I walked out to 30 Seconds to Mars playing in front of me. The atmosphere was electric as one by one different A-List artists emerged from the boxes seamlessly. The grandstands didn’t look packed, but those who were there seemed to be enjoying themselves.

While the fireworks released from four hotels surrounding us subsided, it was back to work. But the harsh hours and jet lag were taking their toll: I felt a wave of nausea and my voice was starting to suffer.

I wasn’t alone. In the chilly paddock, where the rain continued to pelt down, every person I encountered was either sick or fatigued. With the strange hours that didn’t fit into European time or local time, we were all stuck in some odd non-time zone in which we all couldn’t get our heads around.

Finishing the day with a 1am sit-down with Oscar Piastri at McLaren, I was surprised to see even he looked drained of colour. He admitted he had no idea what the time was or how long he’d been awake, and I began to have concerns how safe it would be for the drivers across the weekend.

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Track repairs, Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023

Waking up around 10:30, it was still far too early for practice that started at 20:30 that evening. My voice had now pretty much disappeared so I headed to a local pharmacy to get some throat sweets and painkillers.

This being Las Vegas, even the paddock has a chapel, complete with ‘Race to the Altar’ branding. I heard none other than Jacques Villeneuve was making use of it, which I couldn’t believe, so I made the long walk down to find out what was happening.

Sure enough, I walked into the paddock chapel to see the former world champion in a suit standing alongside his future wife Giulia Marra, who was wearing a beautiful white wedding dress. Arriving just in time for the vows, it was a very surreal moment standing alongside my colleagues as ‘Elvis’ wed the pair. On the way out we were handed ‘thank you’ bags with cake and bottles of Ferrari Trento sparkling wine.

The sun began to set and fans poured in to see a glimpse of these modern F1 cars thundering along the Las Vegas Strip for the first time. As the cars headed out on track, I wasn’t that impressed by what I saw on the TV screens. It looked like a mixture between Jeddah and Singapore but with nothing extra to add. The aerial shots, however were incredible, and that was the spectacle F1 were after.

But it didn’t last long. Just a few minutes into the session Carlos Sainz Jnr had parked his Ferrari on the track after sustaining huge damage when he hit a loose water valve cover. Things moved quickly and shortly after that the session was cancelled as Esteban Ocon’s Alpine was also damaged.

Things got from bad to worse as a lengthy delay ensued. F1 knew they could not afford another incident and despatched an army of circuit workers to reinforce every similar covering around the six-kilometre track.

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As time ticked by, we were told F1 and the FIA would update us and when. Would they cancel second practice, scheduled to start at midnight? Or were we have to wait hours for the session to resume?

Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023In the meantime, the team principal press conference got underway. Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur was furious, but the rest were eager to praise the event and organisation.

Sitting in the front row, I looked back to hear a journalist asking Toto Wolff a question about the drain covers and if F1 should be embarrassed. As Wolff began to respond and defend F1, another journalist interjected to tell him he was wrong. Wolff’s face changed immediately and he looked furious. After bartering with the journalist who wasn’t backing down, Wolff fiercely defended his point. I didn’t know where to look, the tension in the room was high.

Glad for the session to be over, we had another wait for any decision. The temperature had dropped and the paddock was tired. Everyone was struggling to keep their eyes open and people were starting to worry how long our day was going to go on.

At quarter to midnight, we were finally told we had a two-hour wait for practice which was due to start at 2:00am. A further delayed pushed that back to 2:30am. It didn’t feel real.

Fans directed out of grandstands, Las Vegas GP, 2023As we waited, we heard the news that fans were being kicked out of grandstands and even the Paddock Club, which had some high rollers paying, had shut with guests sent home. Photographers were being challenged on track by security and the city was due to wake up in the next few hours.

It wasn’t going well.

Eventually, in front of empty grandstands, practice got underway. Trying to stay awake I made it to the end to speak to Ricciardo again.

“I am delirious,” he stated. I knew how he felt. The final sessions done, I grabbed my bag and walked back to the hotel at 6am with the sun beginning to rise.

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2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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2 comments on “2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix Paddock Diary part one”

  1. Coventry Climax
    18th November 2023, 9:16

    Even you can’t hide it’s all pretty sad.

  2. It’s good to get an insight to how it all really feels. Liberty have created a monster.

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