Written by Jacob Awcock, Edited by Meghana Sree
In 1982, Formula One returned to the Caesars Palace’s car park for the second Grand Prix to be held in Las Vegas. It would be playing host to the final round of the 1982 season, with two drivers and three teams all in mathematical contention to walk away with the world championship.
Keke Rosberg led championship rival John Watson knowing that he simply needed to finish in sixth place or higher in order to secure the championship. Meanwhile, only a win would do for Watson, who was looking to hand McLaren what could be their third ever Drivers' World Championship victory at that point, their latest one being in 1976 with James Hunt at the wheel.
In the Constructors’ Championship, Ferrari led Mclaren by 11 points with Renault right on their tails, 15 points off the top. All three teams were eyeing the championship win but, realistically, the fight was down to Ferrari and McLaren.
The race would also be the last ever competitive one for Mario Andretti, one of the most decorated motorsport drivers in history, as he prepared to sign off his illustrious career at his third home race that season. It would also mark the first time since 1950 that one country had held three races in a single season, having already had one race in Long Beach, California, and another in Detroit in Michigan.
75 laps of the 3.65 kilometres (2.26 miles) circuit separated Rosberg from championship glory but qualifying didn't go as he would have wanted it to. He could only manage sixth place with Alain Prost taking pole position, followed by his teammate and fellow Frenchman Rene Arnoux.
The two turbocharged Renaults were eight-tenths clear of Michele Alboreto in his Tyrrell. However, things were worse for the other championship contender, Watson. Having struggled throughout qualifying he could only manage ninth place, nearly two seconds off the pole position.
Race day brought scorching temperatures and bright sun to Vegas with the casinos bustling and the crowds eager to watch a hotly anticipated final race to the season. The lights blinked out and the cars shot off down towards Turn One, a long flowing hairpin, one of many.
Prost led the field followed by Arnoux, the Renaults picking up from where they left off in qualifying. Further back in the field, Eddie Cheever looked to make a move and promote himself into the podium places. He looked to go around the outside of Alboreto but the pair touched wheels. Cheever was forced wide while Arnoux kept third place and continued on.
It didn't take long though for the lead to change hands. Arnoux had slowly reeled in his teammate and was right up on his fellow countryman’s gearbox. Arnoux breezed into the lead, having completed less than ten laps, and began to pull away from Prost.
But Prost wasn't giving up, and on lap 15 he re-took the lead of the race and left Arnoux to deal with the closing Tyrrell of Alboreto.
Only, Arnoux wouldn't have the opportunity to battle with Alborteo – speculation had risen that there was a problem with Arnoux’s car based on the monumental speed that Alboreto was closing in on him and this was proved correct as his Renault crawled into the pits and retired from the race. This promoted Rosberg to sixth place which would secure him the title, with Watson beginning to get to grips with the demanding Caesars Palace car park track.
The track characteristics combined with the blistering temperatures meant conditions for the drivers were brutal. The track consisted of 14 corners with four of those being harpins, and the majority being high-speed corners with high G-force levels.
Some drivers struggled to adjust to these extreme conditions, while some adapted quicker than others. One driver who struggled was Watson who, by lap 20, was nearly 30 seconds off the lead. Yet, having started ninth, the Brit was beginning his charge, by gaining positions at the start and he worked his way up the field and eventually moved into third place following Arnoux’s retirement.
But it wasn't third place he needed, he had to win.
Meanwhile, the Constructors’ Championship battle took a dramatic turn as, in his final race, Andretti crashed out in spectacular fashion, his rear suspension failing and sending him out of the race, nearly taking Rosberg with him. But Rosberg survived and inherited the fifth place which Andretti had vacated.
As the race reached its closing stages Albereto began his charge for the lead and on lap 54 he passed Prost who was beginning to struggle with his tyres as rubber began to be discarded on the racing line, meaning, as the tyres picked the rubber up, grip was at a minimum. Slowly and surely, Watson reeled him in as well and passed Prost for the second place on the podium.
Luckily, the chequered flag fell just in time for Prost and he managed to hold onto fourth place having been passed by Cheever in the closing stages. He kept fourth from the soon-to-be-champion Keke Rosberg. Albereto took his first ever win, and Tyrrell’s first in four years, followed by Watson, whose mighty championship charge came to an end.
Rosberg claimed fifth place and with that, his first ever world championship as well as Williams’ second ever Drivers’ World Championship; becoming the first ever driver to claim the world title having won only one race in the entire season. Despite not being in the final points positions, all ended well for Ferrari and they claimed the Constructors’ World Championship.
The race that was held in a car park has gone down in F1 history as one of the most disappointing races in history. Punctuated by mechanical failures and soaring temperatures, it became very difficult to get the race into a rhythm.
F1 left Vegas that year embarrassed, with the view that F1 would probably never return. Yet that has all changed now, and the new, evolved cars will race past the car park that their predecessors once raced around, but this time, the aim will be different.
This time it will be to make a lasting impact in Vegas, to draw people from the casinos, and into the grandstands. To cement Formula One into Vegas history.