LAS VEGAS – Formula One has gone all in for its first race in Las Vegas.
The grand prix takes place on Saturday (10 p.m. local time PST) on a circuit which incorporates the city’s famous Strip and is set to be unlike anything F1 has ever seen before. For one thing, it has opted against the traditional Sunday in favour of a Saturday night race. F1’s investment in the inaugural event — in itself unprecedented for an individual race — is upwards of half a billion USD. You could make the argument that, purely from the perspective of a standalone event, this is the biggest race F1 has ever hosted.
It certainly has felt a bit like that to hear people in F1 talk about it. But can this event, or any for that matter, live up to such huge expectations from the word go?
A deal different to the rest
The deal between F1 and the Las Vegas promoter is different to anything else which exists in the championship. F1 is so determined to make this race a success it has ripped up its normal business model by taking on the promotion of the race itself. Under other race deals, independent promoters pay huge sums to do the same for their events.
There is a clear visual sign of this unique investment in the heart of Vegas, where F1’s impressive paddock building has been constructed. It is also reflected in the contractual commitment F1 has made. While officially this race has a three-year contract, F1 agreed at the start of this year to support this race for at least 10 years. Las Vegas officials have said they want a “lifetime partnership” with Formula One. The pressure is on to get it right.
This is proper Las Vegas. F1’s previous attempts to race in Sin City included a championship-deciding race in a circuit constructed in the parking lot for the Caesers Palace hotel and casino.
This time, it’s the real deal. One of the most immediately impressive parts of this race is that F1 managed to convince Vegas to shut down one of the most famous streets in the world to host the event. Anyone familiar with previous F1 reports of races in New York or London will remember they rarely included significant downtown areas — even the Miami Grand Prix shifted from a proposed race around the Biscayne Bay area to a circuit which curls around the Hard Rock Stadium north of the city. With Vegas — probably because F1 has been willing to foot the bill itself — logistical questions have not been an issue.
One thing is certain: Las Vegas GP will look spectacular. Not only is there a 1.4 mile stretch of the Strip, but the rest of the circuit takes the F1 drivers past some of the most iconic landmarks the city has to offer. The middle section includes a section where the cars will pass the Venetian on the left, Caesars Palace and then the Bellagio on the right. Planet Hollywood will then sit just before a heavy braking zone onto Harman Avenue.
From a racing perspective, it is impossible to judge until cars have driven it, but drivers have commented how fast certain parts of the race rack appear to be when they’ve done simulated runs. Fans seem to be less convinced, with the circuit appearing to lack many obvious overtaking opportunities. In F1 it seems it can be difficult to convince fans a circuit is great, but it can sometimes take just one bad race for people to label a venue a dud. Vegas will hope to dispel any doubts this week.
What’s with the start times?
F1 is leaning into Vegas’ reputation as the city that never sleeps. The earliest sessions this week will be at 8.30 p.m. local time — the first and third practice sessions of the week on Thursday and Friday respectively.
The timings of the two competitive sessions stand out:
Qualifying – Midnight
Race – 10 p.m.
F1 clearly felt there was no point doing a race around Vegas without being able to lean into the neon lights of the city’s famous skyscape. In November the sun sets before 6 p.m. in Vegas, but it is understood one reason the times shifted back so far was to minimise disruption and to quieten concern among locals (more on that coming). An obvious drawback of the times from a U.S. perspective mean anyone on the east coast will be watching the race early in the morning.
A more obvious concern about the start times is the impact it has on the quality of racing. F1 has never hosted a race so late.
This isn’t a balmy summer evening either — even in the desert, November can be cold. The temperatures for this week dip as low as 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) at the crucial times. Tyre supplier Pirelli has acted to counteract any issues here by bringing the softest tyres in its range, which warm up the quickest, but it is still going to represent a mighty challenge for the drivers. Add on top of that the fact F1 laid new tarmac on the roads used for the circuit, and the fact there are no support races this week, and it is clear the question of grip will be huge. It will not be surprising if tyres are a major talking point after the three practice sessions.
F1 has experienced similar temperatures before, notably when it used to test at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya in February or March. F1 has since switched the preseason event to the much warmer Bahrain circuit, which tends to host the season opener, where teams get more relevant data and running time.
Expensive tickets and angry locals
The ordinary ticket price for the average punter has been a big talking point. The average three-day general admission ticket has been reported to be $1667. The next closest is Miami, which joined the schedule in 2022, which is a reported $1113. Miami is almost double the average price of the next highest figure, perhaps underlining better than anything else how big the opportunity for growth for F1 in America is right now.
On social media, it’s not been uncommon to see posts about third party ticket sites slashing tickets. While F1 has not yet officially commented on ticket sales, what is clear is that the resale value is much lower than face value, perhaps indicating that F1 and Las Vegas expected a little bit too much from this first event in that department. F1 is expecting to welcome 100,000 fans a day.
That’s not the only thing you’ve been able to find about this race on social media either. More recently, the complaints of Las Vegas residents or vacationers have been prominent. Several popular local TikTok accounts have shown the extent of the work F1 and Vegas have been doing to erect grandstands in key locations around the circuit. One, in particular, is right in front of the famous Bellagio fountain, which was briefly turned off during the construction. Those visiting the famous landmark have complained the huge new structure completely ruins the experience.
But the wider picture here is significant for Vegas. Local businesses are expecting to do big business this week.
Greg Maffei, CEO of F1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media, this week told locals: “I want to apologise to all the Las Vegas residents and we appreciate that they have their forbearance and their willingness to tolerate us.”
Maffei went on to remind residents F1 and Vegas hope to bring in $1.7 billion in revenues from this event alone. To put that into perspective, ESPN understands Las Vegas expects a lower return from the 14 days or so of build-up to the Super Bowl early next year.
Some locals have also seemed baffled by the lead time F1 has needed to build the circuit, although this is common for such an event. Monaco’s iconic street circuit starts being built six weeks in advance, while another three are required on the other end to deconstruct. Construction of Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit can start a whole month before the event. It’s probably not surprising it has had that reaction as many of Vegas’ famous venues are purpose built to host events all year round. With F1 and the city wanting a long-term partnership it is fair to assume this process will become much more efficient and accepted in coming years.
Is this F1’s new Monaco?
For so long, Monaco’s famous race has been considered the jewel in the crown by Formula One.
Although Monte Carlo’s race is synonymous with F1, the long-term future of the event is not a given. While the mere suggestion of F1 without the Monaco Grand Prix feels like sacrilege to a lot of people, its likely it could become a reality in a few years. There has been no talk of a “lifetime partnership” between Monaco and F1, quite the opposite. It is clear that F1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media and even boss Stefano Domenicali have imagined a world where the race is not on the calendar. Vegas feels like F1’s shiny big new thing. If Monaco represents old money and a bygone F1 era, then Vegas is the complete opposite.
And yet, it is hard to judge exactly how big this event will feel. The city has been unlucky to a degree that its debut race falls in a year in which Max Verstappen wrapped up the championship at the start of October, 41 days and three races before Vegas’ big debut. F1 and Vegas confirmed this year’s event several months after the conclusion of the captivating 2021 season, which saw Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton controversially fight for the title until the final lap of the final race, but from a competitive point of view things have not been the same since.
But, championship on the line or not, make no mistake: this week’s race is a big deal. A race of this magnitude, and one taken so seriously by one of the most famous city’s in America, would have been unthinkable even a handful of years ago. F1 spent decades scratching its head about how best to break America. While Austin’s U.S. Grand Prix did a good job of getting a foothold back in the States from 2012, the story of the boom caused by Netflix’s Drive to Survive series has been well told now.
F1’s U.S. landscape has completely shifted in just a handful of years either side of the pandemic. However it goes down, Las Vegas’ first race could be a landmark next step in the growth of that market.