November 16, 2023 – 8:46 AM UTC
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Red Bull’s Max Verstappen isn’t buying into the turbo-charged hype around Formula One’s return to Las Vegas, describing the race as 99% show, 1% sport.
Having clinched the drivers’ crown weeks ago, Verstappen had already taken much of the drama out of Saturday night’s race and his open distain for the glitzy showbiz promotion around the event will not do anything to help ticket sales.
But the dour Dutchman was unapologetic, reminding everyone on Wednesday that he is driver not a showman.
Asked if he was looking forward to this weekend, the three-time world champion was unequivocal, “No.”
“I think it is 99% show, 1% sport,” said Verstappen. “They (Formula One) still make money if I like it or not so it is not up to me.
“But I’m not going to fake it. I always voice my opinion in positive things, in negative things, that’s just how I am.
“It’s not really my thing.”
“Some people like a show, I don’t like it at all.”
If that is the case, Verstappen lived his worst nightmare on a Wednesday during a splashy Vegas-style opening ceremony with rock bands, a drone show and booming fireworks when he and team mate Sergio Perez appeared from a giant box on the home straight to the cheers of a rain soaked audience.
“For me you can all skip these things,” said Verstappen. “It’s just standing up there, you look like a clown.”
Later, in a media scrum, Verstappen’s mood was as dreary as the weather. He was not impressed by either the scheduling of the race or his first impression of the circuit.
Qualifying on Friday begins at midnight locally (0800 GMT) while the race is scheduled for 10pm (0600 GMT).
“I just always want to focus on the performance side of things,” shrugged Verstappen.”I just don’t think it (the layout) is that exciting.
“The scenery will be great driving through the Strip but the layout itself is not the most exciting.”
What Verstappen lacks in charisma and tact he more than makes up for with other skills that have put him, aged just 26, among motor racing’s all-time greats.
While goals did not appear to be on his mind on Wednesday, the laser-focused Dutchman is certain to be locked onto new records within his reach this weekend.
Victory in Nevada would be the 53rd of his career, equalling the tally of four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel and lifting him to joint third in the all-time win lists.
Only Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.
It would also be a record-extending 18th from a single campaign, with one more race to come in Abu Dhabi the following weekend.
“They (races) are all just as important, I always want to do the best I can,” said Verstappen. “I am looking forward to trying to do the best I can, but not looking forward to this.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Las Vegas. Editing by Christina Fincher