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OPINION: F1 Will Fail in Las Vegas

Written by Max Smolarski, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Formula One is set to make its debut at the Las Vegas Strip at the desert night of November 18th, promoting it as the greatest spectacle of the season. It will be the first race in Sin City since the 1980s.


However, ever since the race’s announcement in March 2022, some major issues have cropped up, in the lead up to the race weekend. Based on that, and aligning with recent public opinion, I feel this year might be the one and only time the Strip welcomes F1.


Questionable public/private investment


The American public are always very interested to find out where their tax money goes, but in many ways, the details of that do not get published; sometimes for obvious privacy/classified reasons, others not so much.


This wasn’t the case in June, when it was announced that a public-private partnership was formed between the Formula 1 group and Clark County, to match Liberty Media’s US$40 million expenditure to pave the project.


It has, however, been recently stated by the county’s commissioner Jim Gibson that the exact amount being paid in is to be determined after the event’s conclusion. Adding to all this, Liberty Media CFO Brian Wilding told Autosport that its CapEx (capital expenditure) rose by $280m, adding to a total of $435m this year, until September. He urged that many of these costs would affect only the opening year of the event.

Grandstands at the Las Vegas GP, turn 3. Credit - Fox News

According to Applied Analysis, there has been a repeated effort to emphasise an over US$1.3 billion in economic impact, over double of next year’s Super Bowl, taking place in the same Vegas suburb. Yet many say they don’t feel that impact, with increased traffic around the area, and major economic problems within.


Speaking to photographer Kym Illman, an owner of the ‘Jay’s Market on Flamingo’, said they’re “Down maybe 2 million [dollars] at this point, in sales, since the construction; they’ve been working on it all summer.” Their main entrance is right on the straight at the end of the first sector, the location of the ‘North Koval Zone’ grandstands, and a temporary footbridge, just metres away from the convenience store.


Tickets and viewing areas

Talking more about individual costs, the average 3-day ticket prices in Las Vegas, as of F1Destinations’ ranking in February, is the highest of the season by a huge margin, coming in at $1667, over $550 more than the second highest, Miami.


Despite sky-high prices, recent ticket sales for the Saturday night race dropped to just over $1000, with Thursday practice tickets going as low as $179, the average price for all 3 days in Hungary.


So why the drop? Mostly Max Verstappen’s domination, TickPick CEO Brett Goldberg told CNN Business, as well as the grandstands making the Strip unrecognisable.


Unfortunately, some of these grandstands, and other race infrastructure, were ‘carefully’ placed by the organisers. Entrance views to famous resorts like The Venetian, The Mirage, and Bellagio, have been blocked by grandstands and premium hospitality. This is due to a controversial rule set out by F1, with resorts and casinos having to pay up for customer viewing, prices up to $1500 per expected customer.


Not only that, but permanent glass bridges have been covered up by sticky privacy film, later partially ripped off by an enraged public. On this decision, Clark County mentioned possible overcrowding on the overpasses, whilst F1 was more honest, talking of problems free viewing would have with its extensive licensing deals, and intellectual property.

Grandstands and hospitality zones strategically placed around the Vegas Strip. Credit: Las Vegas GP website

Mourning a dangerous accident

The largest off-track news, however, came in late September, when an experienced ironworker, identified as Tizoc Antonio, died on his first day on the ground, at the MGM Zone in front of Bellagio Resort.


After many years with a local ironworkers’ union, working on the MGM Sphere among other resorts, his first day at the Las Vegas Strip Circuit proved how dangerous this work can be, after an electric saw bounced off a piece of metal, and made a “major laceration to the neck”, per police reports. The 37-year-old from New Mexico died in hospital from the injury.


Las Vegas has had little luck when it comes to motorsport, at least in open-wheelers; NASCAR seems to like Vegas, and vice versa. Yet, previous IndyCar and ChampCar races have fallen short pretty quickly.


A street race in downtown Vegas had its one and only running in 2007, and the IZOD championship finale on Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a horrid reminder of the dangers of the sport to all of its fans. The 15-car pile-up is ingrained in many, with Wheldon caught up in an unfortunate tragedy.


On-track worries seem settled

On-track action would have been the most impactful by far, if not for how seemingly calm things have gotten, between November 8th and 10th.


Even hours before a major deadline, the three major resorts giants: Caesars Entertainment Inc, organisers of the erstwhile Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix, as well as MGM Resorts Int, and Wynn Resorts Ltd, agreed on what the Culinary and Bartenders Union’s chief negotiator Ted Pappageorge called, “the best contract and economic package we have ever won in our 88-year-history”, as 35,000 workers were about to go on what would have been the largest hospitality strike in the USA.


This was also set fittingly coinciding with the publicity of the F1 race weekend. After over 7 months of negotiations, even President Biden was pleased to hear the news, saying the unions “worked together in good faith towards an agreement that gives all workers the quality of life they deserve.”

Tyre information for the Las Vegas GP. Source: Pirelli

By far the most mentioned issue has been tyres and weather. With early reports going as low as 4°C/39°F on race day, Formula 1 is expected to race in extreme conditions, certainly the coldest in years, and possibly the coldest ever; the current record being 5°C/41°F, held by the inaugural race in Montréal in 1978.


The event will be “a step into the unknown for everybody,” Pirelli’s Mario Isola told motorsport media. “We asked [the teams] for simulations in advance to understand how much energy the layout is putting on tyres.”


Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said earlier in the year that “it’ll just depend on how exactly cold it is. Because if the track is down in single figures, that’s often a region where you go winter testing.”


Despite it being a step away from a normal seasons’ running, former F1 director Ross Brawn says there’s little to worry about. “The tyre companies [Pirelli] have done some work to make sure the tyres can cope with that. [...] I think it’ll be spectacular.” Pirelli will hand out the softest set of tyres (C3/C4/C5) for the weekend.


Will there be another?

There’s little optimism for the Strip’s inaugural racing weekend. The championships are already sealed, the organisers have shot themselves in the foot, and many locals are not happy with the entire ordeal, especially if the race has to ever be repaved.


It would be quite a miracle if the Las Vegas Grand Prix completes its’ preliminary contract through to 2032, let alone more than one race even being in the works. What comes next is a waiting game; awaiting the on-track action in the sport’s first session overlap event. Let’s just hope F1 puts the 1.2 million LEDs on the sphere to good use.


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