Las Vegas opens its doors to Formula One this week ahead of the inaugural race on the city strip – and anticipation is at fever pitch.
After more than three years of planning and $500m spent on a state-of-the-art pit building, F1 is on the cusp of its ultimate moment in the American spotlight in the entertainment capital of the world.
While the penultimate race of the 2023 season won’t have an impact at the top of the world championship standings, with Max Verstappen having already claimed the title last month in Qatar, the third US race of the year will be unique in the fact it takes place on Saturday night at 10pm local time (6am GMT, Sunday morning). There is also a lavish opening ceremony, planned for Wednesday evening.
Former American racing driver Willy T Ribbs – who made history by becoming the first Black man to test an F1 car in 1986 – insists it will be “the biggest race in racing history”.
Ribbs told The Independent: “It is going to be mega – I would not be shocked if King Charles showed up. I would not be shocked because the A-list is going to be insane. You’re going to be bumping into more celebrities and sports stars than you will fans.
“Without any hyperbole, it will be the biggest race in racing history. That encompasses everything – the most talked about and the most glamorous. If you look at Las Vegas, it has a history of putting on the biggest event – whether it’s a boxing fight or an NFL game.”
It is a huge week for F1 which, unusually, is promoting the event itself as opposed to outsourcing the promotion. F1 has a 10-year deal with Las Vegas for a race in Sin City, on the assumption all goes smoothly this week.
However, preparations have not been plain sailing, with disruption in the city due to the mammoth construction projects leading to some anger among locals and tourists in recent months. But ultimately, F1 is confident the race will bring in more than $1bn for local enterprises.
“We’re going to bring in something like $1.7bn of revenue to the area,” said Greg Maffei, CEO of F1’s parent company Liberty Media.
“I want to apologise to all the Las Vegas residents and we appreciate that they have their forbearance and their willingness to tolerate us.
“It’s not just for the benefit of fans who want to view. We hope this is a great economic benefit in Las Vegas. We hope this is the most difficult year with all the construction that went on and things will be easier in the future.
“There will be 105,000 people so the sheer scale of it, even for Las Vegas, will be the largest event Las Vegas will have,”
Temperatures are expected to drop to around 12C during sections of the race weekend, presenting a different challenge to the norm for the drivers and teams. There is also the possibility of rain for qualifying on Friday night.
LAS VEGAS GRAND PRIX - SCHEDULE
Friday 17 November
Free practice: 1am-4:30am
Free practice: 2am-8am
Saturday 18 November
Free practice: 3am-4:30am
Sunday 19 November
All times GMT
F1 has raced in Vegas before, in the parking lot of the Caesars Palace hotel in 1981 and 1982. Yet this event, twisting around the city’s famous landmarks including the Bellagio fountains and the new Sphere building, should take the razzmatazz up to the next level.
“Vegas is all about show. When the drivers get on the track they’re going to put on a show,” Ribbs added.
“For Max, he might have won the world championship but he still has races to win. And he hasn’t won the most races in the history of F1, so there’s the incentive. It’s also just seeing who can knock him off.
“Who’s going to be the team and the driver to win the first Las Vegas Grand Prix? If I was the promoter, that’s how I’d be promoting it. If I was talking to the drivers in the drivers’ meeting, that would be my message. The championship is decided, but you guys go knock it out anyway and put on the best show for the fans and for TV.
“I think Vegas will knock it out of the park – and take F1 in this country to the next level.”