What’s Formula 1 doing in Las Vegas? The international racing event is reaching new heights, particularly in America, thanks to the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, which turned not only drivers but the team managers working behind the scenes into global stars. Before the debut of the Miami event earlier this year, the only Grand Prix to take place in the U.S. was Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. Though the latter race has been known as the United States Grand Prix, that title might soon be up for debate.
The Las Vegas Grand Prix will become the third race in the U.S. when it arrives in the city November 16-18, 2023. Sin City has a reputation as the destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties looking to do Hangover cosplay, but the city’s bonafides as a sports capital are flourishing. The Aces just won a WNBA championship under first-year coach Becky Hammon. The Golden Knights nearly claimed a Stanley Cup in their debut season in 2018. The Raiders’ relocation to Nevada hasn’t come without controversy, but they’re a storied franchise in the NFL. Now there are rumors of an imminent NBA expansion with none other than LeBron James involved on the ownership side.
Sitting at the intersection of sport and spectacle is Formula 1, and the event’s official launch party in early November offered a taste of what’s to come. A day’s worth of events overtook Caesars Palace, including pit stop challenges, simulators, activations and more. While it was my first visit to Vegas, the city felt decidedly different on event day than when I’d arrived the day before; you couldn’t venture more than a few feet inside the casino without running into someone in F1 team gear. A few miles away, a gravel lot contained the bones of the eventual Vegas paddock — the working area for teams, sponsors, media and F1 employees. Not every paddock is permanent, but the one in Vegas will be. It’s not uncommon to have a dalliance in Vegas, but the construction of this paddock may function as yet another of the many chapels around the city, as it will signify a long-term relationship between two parties: the city of Las Vegas and Formula 1.
“We want to stay [in Vegas] for a long time,” Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali stated at the press conference.
The city is making good on that investment, providing quite an arena for F1. The 50-lap, 3.8-mile track will race right down the Vegas Strip next November and turn many of the hotel rooms along it into skyboxes. If you want a closer look, there are various grandstand and paddock seats that can be paired with hotel stays, with packages at Caesars starting at $8,000 for the former and $11,590 for the latter (and yes, that’s per night). Clark County Commissioner James Gibson said there are roughly “150,000 hotel rooms within walking distance” of the paddock. If the sheer number of people walking around the launch event on November 5 was any indication, there’s quite an appetite for the Vegas Grand Prix.
Guenther Steiner agrees. “It’s Vegas,” he says when I ask about this race’s personality. “That maybe sounds like a too simplistic answer, but to be able to race on the Strip — just think back three years ago — could you ever have envisioned that? I think nobody would have seen that coming.”
As the team principal (basically a team coach) of the American-based Haas F1 Team, Steiner is uniquely positioned to understand the American audience. He heard rumblings about the possibility of Vegas about a year ago when chatting with Domenicali and thought it’d be great. He mentions talking to the late, great, iconic and three-time F1 champion driver Niki Lauda about the Caesars Palace Grand Prix, which essentially turned the casino’s parking lot into a track in the early ’80s, but how it’d be impossible to do something like that now. When Domenicali told him they’d do it on the Strip, Steiner expressed incredulity to the F1 head. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. “If it’s not possible in Vegas to do something crazy, it’s not possible anywhere,” he says. “It’s just a city which makes things happen.”
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The drivers themselves realize the potential of the city as well. “I have a feeling there’ll be people [in Vegas for whom it] will be their first time seeing a Formula 1 race,” says Williams Racing driver Alex Albon. “I have to say it’s so different to anything I’ve gone to. It’s going to feel quite surreal. Vegas is a show. The circuit, the way it’s been designed, is to make good racing and bring the show to Vegas. We do have night races, but they tend to be kind of self-contained. Whereas this, you’re driving through these landmarks, hotels, water fountains — it’s gonna be really special.” Mercedes driver George Russell feels the same. “The circuit [that Vegas] reminds me of is probably Jeddah,” he tells me. “[It’s a] high-speed street circuit, very fast and flowing. This is about the spectacle, the show it’s going to bring to Formula 1. It might not be the best circuit to drive from the driver’s seat — but definitely from a fan perspective.”
With three American races now on the calendar, is there enough of an interest to warrant so many races? Williams team principal Jost Capito believes so. “America is big enough to have three races,” he tells me. “Miami was sold out. Austin was sold out. It will sell out [here] for sure.” But Williams is willing to go a step further and leverage the fact there will be a craving for an American driver, too. Floridian Logan Sargeant is part of the Williams Driver Academy and currently holds a conditional contract to be the team’s second driver if he can place high enough in the Formula 2 standings to secure the needed points to qualify for F1. Capito’s faith in Sargeant is high; he speaks glowingly of the 21-year-old driver’s past performance and believes there to be only a small risk that he won’t qualify. (His belief was rightly placed; Sargeant accrued his points during the F2 race in Abu Dhabi and will join Williams for the 2023 F1 season.) Considering Capito himself gets recognized on the streets — an experience he calls “surreal” — the prospect of an American driver at three races across the country is an exciting one for the team.
If what I saw on November 5 is any indication, Vegas will propel F1 to a whole other stratosphere. An apéritif of sorts capped off the day’s events: drivers taking solo spins down Las Vegas Boulevard. As I walked over the elevated path between Paris Las Vegas and Caesars, the typically clear paneling was obscured by vinyl covering. As I rounded the corner, I ran into a man in the middle of peeling the covering off the glass in order to catch a glimpse of Red Bull driver Sergio “Checo” Perez zip by. Despite protests from an authoritative voice nearby, he continued, doing anything he could to catch the briefest sight of a car — a fitting precursor of what’s to come.