In the city of dreams and derring-do, fiery triple world champion finally transformed from vehement Las Vegas GP critic to the happy champion under a neon sky. Throughout the weekend, Verstappen’s mood had been as mercurial as the desert weather as he expressed his disdain – feeling like a “clown” in what he perceived as a charade, where the show overshadowed the sport. “99 percent show and 1 percent sport,” he lambasted, leaving no stone unturned in his critique.
Yet, as the engines roared to life for the actual dead-of-night race start on Saturday, the Las Vegas GP ultimately unfolded into a mesmerising dance of skill, speed and wheel-to-wheel thrills. “The sport had to deliver on the track today and it was achieved,” Christian Horner, Verstappen’s Red Bull boss, remarked.
And in a twist worthy of a Vegas showstopper, Verstappen also had a change of heart once the chequered flag flew – a personal reconciliation with the spectacle he had so fiercely criticized. Celebrating in appropriate style, he crooned ‘Viva Las Vegas’ in Elvis-themed racing overalls, a fitting tribute to the city that had finally won him over. “Yeah, today was fun,” said the Dutchman. “That’s the only thing I want to say about it.”
But the road to this euphoric climax was paved with harsh words and candid critiques. Verstappen’s weekend-long negativity had drawn comments from all corners. Lewis Hamilton, his erstwhile rival, took a dig, suggesting that Vegas had proved the naysayers wrong. “I think for all those who were so negative about the weekend, saying it was all about the show, blah blah blah, I think Vegas proved them wrong,” said the Mercedes driver. Even Kevin Magnussen, the Haas driver, weighed in, hinting that perhaps some opinions are better kept private. “It’s good to have an opinion,” he told Ekstra Bladet newspaper. “But maybe you can keep it to yourself sometimes.
“At the end of the day, we all make pretty good money and live the good life. And it’s because all of this,” the Dane added in Las Vegas. “Maybe we should appreciate it a little more.”
Dr. Helmut Marko, the Red Bull team advisor and Verstappen’s mentor, acknowledged his protege’s frankness, but admitted that all the bluster was probaby premature. “I always said that we should only draw a conclusion after the race,” he said. “And the race was fantastic.”
“Max is very straightforward but perhaps he could have said things a bit more diplomatically,” he conceded. Yet, he also pointed out the extenuating circumstances: the fatigue of a long season, the jet lag, and the overwhelming marketing demands.
In the end, as Marko aptly put it, “All’s well that ends well. A race like this once a year is fine.”