Formula One gambles on Las Vegas spectacular to break US market

WWhat happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, as anyone who has ever rolled the dice knows. But certainly not for Formula 1, which wants nothing more than for the whole world to witness the sport racing in the heart of Sin City next weekend.

When F1 hits the track in Las Vegas, it aims to be a showcase like no other. In a city that does nothing by halves, this will have to be big, brash and utterly spectacular if it is to surpass the bright lights of the Strip that the cars will race over.

The sport has previously visited Las Vegas in two unloved races, branded as the Caesars Palace Grand Prix, in 1981 and 1982. They were so named because they actually took place in the Caesars parking lot on an impossibly tight and unconstructive track. that failed to excite the drivers or fans. The return, more than forty years later, is on a much larger scale and of much greater ambition.

This time, the Las Vegas Grand Prix will take place on a 6.1 kilometer street circuit through the heart of the city, centered on the dilapidated Las Vegas Boulevard – the Strip – lined with the casinos that have been an integral part of its history of the city. support the race. It is, as F1 sees it, more than just a race, but an ‘entertainment event’.

To that end, the house has changed the rules. The Grand Prix will take place on Saturday for the first time since the 1985 South African GP, ​​and will take place at night, when F1 hopes the city has reached boiling point. Like the big fights Vegas specializes in, it will be a second later at 10 p.m.

Lewis Hamilton noted earlier this year that this race would be impossible to ignore. “Vegas is an iconic place,” he said. “The dream of driving down the Strip with all those casino lights. I am very excited to experience it.”

For F1, the stakes are high, says Emily Prazer, Chief Commercial Officer of the Las Vegas GP. “We want to ensure that the fan experience is second to none and that we deliver a sports and entertainment event that is every bit as good as the Super Bowl.”

For a sport that is still a relatively niche interest in the United States compared to the NFL and in a city that will host its first Super Bowl next year, this is battle talk indeed. Still, Las Vegas is set to change that, as Prazer notes that the race is intended to be a can’t-miss event that will bring more attention to the sport both in the US and globally.

A detailed overview of the curbs in the first turn, showing the four playing card suits. Photo: Dan Istitene/Formula 1/Getty Images

“I don’t think anyone is prepared, this is really the biggest event the city has ever hosted,” she says. “It is the first time that someone has encapsulated the city. We are trying to own where we are and make it unique on the F1 calendar.”

This will be the third race in the US this year, joining Miami and Austin, and F1 sees it as a key part of the sport’s intention to expand in the country, perhaps even a key part of breaking a market that it has been longing for for a long time. It’s a showcase that she believes will capture the attention of an audience beyond those already drawn by the success of the Netflix series Driving force to survive.

skip the newsletter promotion

To that end, it is very much all-in. For the first time, the sport’s owner is organizing the meeting itself, rather than guaranteeing profits by selling racing rights to a local promoter. F1 will fund it to the tune of almost half a billion dollars by the time it’s all done and dusted.

Putting it together since 2020 has required complex collaboration. The casinos’ collective agreement had to be part of it in order for the race to take place on the Strip – something former F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone was unable to obtain, hence the Caesars car park – as did the Las Vegas Convention Authority and the Clark County Commission, up to and including the Governor of Nevada.

Much of the cost, which rose to $435 million (£370 million) in September, was to purchase land in the heart of the city to build a stretch of track and a large, permanent paddock complex. The roads in front of the circuit have been repaved and as the race approaches, additional infrastructure will include a series of temporary bridges so Vegas activities can continue in the background.

Las Vegas GP CEO Renee Wilm has spoken of a race that has been held here “for decades”. Perhaps it’s the perfect example of what Liberty Media, F1’s owner, had in mind when it wanted races in “destination cities”, especially one that bills itself as the “global entertainment capital of the world”.

F1 has come to the desert city to make some noise and next weekend it will show its cards. Expect it to be as flamboyant, daring and overwhelming as Vegas itself and may not be to everyone’s taste. Still, its true success will likely be measured over the years, and not in the wee hours of Sunday morning, when bleary-eyed fans make their way back for one final shake-up before going to bed.