This weekend, Formula 1 comes to Nevada. Sadly, this event, like the Miami Grand Prix, is more of a spectacle for the rich and famous to see and be seen than something for the average race fan to experience. Although ticket prices and hotel room rates have declined since the initial exorbitant amounts, they are still out of the range of many. The cheapest three-day tickets I could find online start at over $1,000 each. Add in a hotel (three-night minimum for most), and it’s still far above the average fan’s budget.
This weekend is not Sin City’s first attempt at staging a Grand Prix. It will actually be the fifth major race in Las Vegas, with the previous contests held on a temporary course in the Caesar’s Palace parking lot from 1981-1984 (twice in F1; twice in CART). That track was characterized as a “Mickey Mouse” course, or an autocross course on steroids. This time, it’s a whole different animal, a 3.8-mile, 17-turn course featuring a 1.18-mile straightaway running down the famous Las Vegas Strip. Anticipated top speeds are as high as 217 mph. There are also two shorter straights and a few fairly mundane turns at either end. The configuration calls for a low-downforce setup to maximize top speed on the straights.
Speaking of setup, all the teams are working from scratch. All work done by drivers, engineers, mechanics, and team strategists is based on simulator runs. Unlike Monaco, Singapore, Azerbaijan, and now Miami, there’s no experience to work from. Practice and qualifying (which came after print deadline) will be critical for teams to find out how far they are off on their setup calculations and fix it before Saturday qualifying. Expect Max Verstappen to use Red Bull’s superior straight-line speed to give him yet another win, with Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Charles Leclerc battling for the other two podium spots. At least the race won’t be plagued with penalties for exceeding track limits. The concrete walls lining the track will extract much harsher penalties than the stewards can.
The labor, money, and effort involved in putting the track together have been monumental, with cost estimates in the $400 million to half-a-billion range. Another issue is the disruption to everyday life on The Strip. There have been horror stories of traffic problems, often resulting in casino workers’ commute times lengthening from minutes to an hour or more. Fortunately, a looming strike by the hotel workers’ union was averted in the nick of time. And some of the changes are truly amazing. Take the permanent four-story pit building recently erected at Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane. It’s 900 feet long, the largest pit building in F1 history. It will house the garages, team offices, hospitality suites, and more.
And the streets composing the track have been repaved to smooth the bumps and eliminate the potholes. Maybe we should stage an F1 race in Carson City just to get the streets fixed. The amount of asphalt, concrete, and steel fencing used is mind-boggling.
It will be a challenge for the drivers, coping not only with a new, unknown track, but all the distractions. Despite an impressive track lighting system, drivers’ vision will also be assaulted by the city’s ever-present display of neon signs and the Sphere. And with the race’s late start on Saturday, body clocks and jet lag will also come into play.
If you go, there are plenty of spectator sites. Thousands of hotel rooms overlook the track, along with 18 temporary grandstands, 10 hospitality structures, and 12 ticketed spectator areas. If you watch it on TV, the race will air at 10 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.