Las Vegas Strip Circuit, 2023

Will Formula 1’s half-billion dollar gamble on Las Vegas be rewarded?

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Las Vegas is known for its glitz, glamour, and high rollers, but this weekend its famed Strip will look remarkably different.

When Formula 1 announced in the spring of 2022 that it would hold an event in Sin City, it was the culmination of years of effort by owner Liberty Media to gain local support. But it also left a terrific amount of work to do in order to transform one of the world’s biggest entertainment destinations into a live racing circuit.

Now just days away, the reality of the event is hitting home for everyone involved, including hotels, residents, events organisers and ticket sellers. The cliche is unavoidable: The stakes are high. Vegas must deliver, and it must make money.

F1 failed spectacularly in its efforts to grab anyone’s attention when it first came to the Nevadan city in 1981. The race was not staged on a permanent track, instead, the event organisers opted to create a course in a parking lot alongside Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino on the strip.

Carlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet, Caesars' Palace, Las Vegas, 1981
F1’s original Las Vegas race had one thing this year’s won’t
The underwhelming track lasted just two years on the calendar before it was dropped. Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was eager to return, but the event was not touched again.

However, under Liberty Media, the sport has boomed in America. It feels like the perfect time to try capitalise on F1 fever with a race in Las Vegas.

Many of the changes appear to be for the better. Instead of a dusty car park, drivers will actually race around the city landmarks: Planet Hollywood, the Bellagio Fountains, Caesars Palace (site of the former race), and the eye-catching new MSG Sphere.

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In a clear sign of its commitment, F1 has even purchased a 16 hectare plot just off the Strip where it has built the paddock, which will serve as a base for its operations in the USA for the other 51 weekends of the year.

Las Vegas Strip circuit track map
Track data: Las Vegas Strip Circuit
This kind of investment does not come cheaply. In September, F1 said they had spent $435 million (£355m) in buying the land, building the track and facilities, but it is tipped to hit half a billion as costs continue to spiral. $155 million of this was spent in the first six months of 2023 and around $280m has gone on the pit and paddock building.

In a call with Wall Street analysts, Liberty Media CFO Brian Wilding said he wasn’t too concerned about the rising costs and felt it was a safe investment for the future.

“We did incur significant expenses in launching year one in Vegas,” he said. “That included extra provisions for safety, security and traffic planning, which was required by local regulators.

“And we had several non-recurring items, for example, our first-year-only opening ceremony, the design and launch of our multi-purpose app, and the creation of a fan database.

“We remain highly confident in the increased efficiency to operate there and our growing profitability in years two and beyond. And we remain bullish on the broader value creation at LVGP that far outweighs the increased investment and start-up costs.”

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But F1 stressed that a return would be made with a contract set in place for a decade. While it originally announced a three-year deal, the city subsequently granted permission for races to be run on the strip for up to 10 years.

Domenicali promised an “unparalleled” experience for spectators
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali is confident Vegas will become a long-term fixture. “While the race is set to be a spectacle it has also generated exciting noise that benefits the entire F1 ecosystem through increased commercial interest, fan awareness and broader brand value,” he said. “The fan experience will be unparalleled.

“With the agreements announced this quarter, the Las Vegas Grand Prix has now secured over 20 partnerships to date for the marquee event. We are committed to racing in Las Vegas in the long-term.

“The total local economic benefit of the grand prix, this year is expected to reach over $1.2 billion, which includes the direct spend from F1, to put on the race, the incremental spend by visitors and the impact of local supplier and businesses.

“In addition, the Las Vegas Grand Prix will generate an estimated $25 million that will be allocated to K-12 public school and is developed in a STEM program that will be implemented in the Cloud County school district in the coming years.”

But to host the event, Vegas has been heavily disrupted, as crews started laying down the foundations for a street race. Not only will it have to provide good racing, it will also have to stand up against FIA’s strict track rules for safety reasons, which will have been meticulously followed by organisers.

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In recent weeks, several locals have taken to social media to complain about the effect F1 has had on the local landscape, and how much the organisers have done to ensure only paying customers have a view of the race.

Las Vegas pit building construction, 2022
Liberty Media dug deep to fund a race it has long coveted
To start with, many trees were removed from the path in front of the Fountains of Bellagio and various other locations to help improve the views for the grandstands that have been erected around the city.

“This work is part of preparations for the Las Vegas Grand Prix and our efforts to provide the best possible experience through improved visibility, mobility and pedestrian access and safety,” an MGM Resorts spokeswoman said in a statement. MGM Resorts had informed media the trees would be safely relocated, yet this does not seem to be the case and no further update has been given on why the trees were taken down.

Elsewhere the Nevada Taxicab Authority Board approved a $15 surcharge on all fares during the inaugural Vegas race weekend, meaning a hefty bill for those coming in from the Harry Reid International Airport.

The view from pedestrian bridges has been blocked by screens to stop any chance of seeing the race over the weekend, some of which have been ripped down by non-race goers simply wanting a view of the city on their holidays.

Residents have also reported that massive grandstands are now blocking the views of famous fountains, with the Mirage Las Vegas volcano being dismantled ahead of the race on a temporary basis. The Venetian Hotel has also drained its outdoor canals temporarily for more viewing options for high paying guests.

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F1 hasn’t been deaf to the complaints from locals, however. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei issued an apology via local media last weekend.

Locals have complained about the disruption the race has caused
The star-studded event is set to be sold out, yet Las Vegas Grand Prix chief executive Renee Wilm says that’s not quite the case yet. She believes it will be a matter of time before they’re snapped up.

“We have a handful of tickets left,” Wilm said at the end of last month. “And the demand coming in, in the last minute, knowing Vegas is a last-minute market, we didn’t hold tickets back for that purpose. So, we are very excited, and we will be sold out by the time of the event.”

But there is one way in which the new race can’t help but fall short compared to the previous two. Despite all this buzz, excitement and money thrown to be racing under the Las Vegas lights, F1 has only produced three different winners over 20 grands prix this year.

The 1981 and 1982 races were season finales which decided the outcome of the world championship. F1 would love that to be the case this year, but Max Verstappen locked up the title over a month ago.

No doubt that has been priced in. But for the huge initial costs to be justified the race needs to secure itself a long-term future. F1’s newest race has a lot to live up to, but if it does, the sport might yet hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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19 comments on “Will Formula 1’s half-billion dollar gamble on Las Vegas be rewarded?”

  1. In some ways I hope it falls spectacularly on its face. Maybe then Liberty will stop the farcical attempts at Americanising a sport that just doesn’t work with the kind of hyperbole that works with NASCAR and American ‘football’.

    The rest of the world is more subtle, more thoughtful and that is why, up until now F1 has failed in the US. I’m glad that the circus visits Texas, the track is great… But they’ve learned and dialled it back a bit. Miami, they can keep because the track is awful. Vegas? We’ll see, but the hype suggests it will be completely OTT and have no substance.

    There’s also a part of me that hopes it succeeds.

    1. The rest of the world is more subtle, more thoughtful

      Oh, that’s rich.

      Two words: “World Cup”. A corrupt organization selling the rights to host an international match-up of the most obnoxious fans on the planet. Eurovision– another “subtle” event, exemplifying political bloc voting.

      Current President / CEO of the Formula One Group: Stefano Domenicali, of ITALY. Former technical director and manager was Ross Brawn. Most of the crappy policies have come from these two individuals (and yes, along with Chase Carey).

      1. Most of the crappy policies have come from these two individuals

        They’re just spokesmen hired to give Liberty a friendly face with F1 credibility (among some, at least).

        But yes; while F1 not being very popular in the US has some identifiable reasons, they are not those suggested. It’s mostly just the predictable outcome of F1 being a European sport, with a mostly European history, almost exclusively European teams, a (relatively) very high number of European races, mostly European engine suppliers, etc.

        And just like most Americans don’t really care about European sports, most Europeans also don’t really care about US sports, or Japanese sports, or Brazilian football for that matter. It’s normal.

  2. While the race is set to be a spectacle

    Reading this just makes me cringe. Baku, Jeddah and now Vegas are all trying to create a ‘spectacle’ – and apparently this can only be achieved with high-speed street circuit layouts – that are accident prone on purpose. For all the work on safety standards the F1 and FIA now seem to be willing to push their luck in the name of big cash and an unparalleled experience. While regular tracks have been ruined with asphalt run-off areas in the name of safety – it appears to be perfectly safe to go racing at extreme speeds between two walls. So if that is the way things are I have a few suggestions to create truly spectacular races. Laguna Seca, The Old Nurburgring and Bathurst, put some walls around your tracks!! Oh and maybe F1 should join F3 at Macau while we are at it.

    1. Can one of the current F1 cars even turn at the Melco Hairpin of the Guia Circuit?

    2. While regular tracks have been ruined with asphalt run-off areas in the name of safety – it appears to be perfectly safe to go racing at extreme speeds between two walls.

      Those ‘regular’ tracks you mention haven’t changed at all – the space outside of the defined track has merely been made more forgiving.
      There’s a strange irony where people complain about tracks becoming being too safe and clinical (and boring, as you say) due to the expansion of tarmac runoffs, then berate a track design that has walls instead.
      No matter what track designers create, there will always be people who aren’t satisfied with the results.

      And just speaking historically in regard to F1, taking into account the quantity of street races and events on permanent circuits – far more people have been injured (or worse) at permanent circuits than street tracks.
      It is not luck or coincidence.

      Laguna Seca, The Old Nurburgring and Bathurst, put some walls around your tracks!!

      I’m not sure what your argument is here. It is safe for those tracks to have walls immediately at the track edge, and they all do have them in certain places.
      Bathurst, in particular, has them in the most ‘dangerous’ places of all – most of the way across the top of the Mountain where all the blind corners are.
      I’ll give you three guesses where the drivers take the most care….

    3. While regular tracks have been ruined with asphalt run-off areas in the name of safety – it appears to be perfectly safe to go racing at extreme speeds between two walls.

      It is if the walls allow for sliding across them in mostly the same direction as the car was travelling in the first place. There are no runoffs, nor any need for them, at American ‘superspeedways’ for this very reason. Or along much of Monza for that matter, where the run-offs are in places where there is a significant change of direction.

      That’s not to say there are no problems with walls; an incident usually means the involved car will lose a lot of speed, which creates the possibility of having a secondary collision with a big speed difference. When a car has an incident and is then stuck in the run-off that risk is obviously much lower.

    4. The part about the tracks with walls and Macau was me trying to be sarcastic. For me the spectacle should be all about car control on challenging tracks (like Suzuka, Spa, Silverstone etc) – not about creating an as dangerous as possible track in the hope there will be plenty of crashes and surprise winners – they have Derby races for that.

  3. Undoubtably it’ll be worth it for Vegas and Liberty Media but call me old fashioned as I’ll be turning on the tv 5 minutes before the start and turning it off after the top 3 interviews after the race. The show should be the sport not the paraphernalia that surrounds it.

    Martin’s grid walks can be entertaining but I detest those over-inflated egos of people who get on the grid yet don’t know why they’re there, of which there’ll be many.

    1. I’d also watch the drivers’ chat in the waiting room and Joylon Palmer’s analysis afterwards eventually.

      1. I love the driver’s chat, sadly it tends to get muted or cut short. You can almost feel the TV execs sweating over a potential f-fomb from the drivers. But I love to see their reaction to the summary/highlights on the screen.

    2. When I first started watching F1 after it went to Sky in the UK I would watch the whole Sunday programme.

      After several years I have become intolerant and now watch after it has been recorded so I can skip any part. I rarely listen to any driver or team boss interviews. I skip any of the feature articles. When the grid walk starts I quit that and watch the GP. When the cars cross the line I usually stop watching.

      I must be missing so much but for some reason I have lost the interest.

      Verstappen seems to have admitted it is his job and not wanting to interact with anyone or anything not connected to that. Get in and get out as fast as possible.

  4. Liberty are risking the whole DNA of F1 to capture a US market in order to make more and more money.

    Since Ecclestone F1 has been dominated more and more by money, money, money. It is essential to make it work but it can work on less money. The old garagistas gave value but money was needed to make circuits better and then safer, make the whole thing a circus around the world. But there is a level which works within the F1 identity and I am unsure the current level is sustainable with billion dollar teams demanding more than half a billion dollars from a new team as an entry fee.

    As the banks found in the first decade of this century, when the music stops the balloon deflates fast. I don’t want F1 to be such a casualty as there is no government on earth which would see it as essential in the national interest to bail out the increasingly fat cats of F1.

  5. The US market was captivated by the HAM vs VER battles. They’re not sophisticated enough to appreciate the mid-field battles. Interest is already fading as Americans are very fad oriented and this fad is going to end quickly if one of the other teams can’t legitimately challenge VER.

  6. i thought the hotels are having to reduce their prices, a lot. It’s a bit embarrassing to be the same species as the ones involved in this insanity, all supposedly about who can go round in circles the fastestest

  7. The fan experience will be unparalleled.

    Fo which fans? The ones who could afford the exorbitantly priced tickets and are just there for the clout?

  8. I think Liberty have made a risky bet permanently associating its US brand with Las Vegas. It’s a popular tourist destination, but a lot of people simple don’t like gambling or the vibe of the city. A lot of people on the east coast would rather spend a 7 hour flight and a pile of money to go see London or the real Eiffel Tower not fake miniature versions of famous sites. And I question whether the kind of American who likes F1 views Vegas as any kind of draw or is instead repelled. I suspect the typical American F1 fan would much rather fly to Silverstone than Vegas for a race.

    Of course maybe they don’t want a typical fan. They want rich people who want to go to events to say they were there and flex on social media. And they think those people hang out in Vegas. I doubt three are enough of these. Vegas is not Monaco. It’s more middle class people running up their credit cards than trust babies driving Ferraris to Michelin starred restaurants. Packing out those stands with 1k tickets for a non-US sport year after year seems like a tall order.

  9. Hope it flops. It represents everything wrong with modern/Liberty F1 to me. Soul-less, 90 degree turned-circuit with huge DRS zone goes through desert city awash with crooked cash, with tickets priced to keep actual fans out.

  10. Lots of moaning going on here. Yes it’s a big risk for F1. Yes it could be a massive flop. But it’s exciting to go somewhere new with a different kind of vibe. And with the extreme track and ambient conditions, it could throw up a different kind of spectacle hopefully.

    I can’t remember the last time I was planning to tune into the start of FP1. I’m looking forward to it.

    And if it doesn’t work out? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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