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F1 2022 news, Las Vegas, 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix, United States, Nevada, Formula 1 calendar

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but this week Formula 1 wants everyone to know what it’s been up to in Sin City.

In a night-time press conference from the balcony of the Cosmopolitan F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali confirmed he was taking the sport to the streets of Las Vegas in 2023.

“Look at this iconic backdrop,” he proclaimed overlooking the Strip. “There is nowhere better for Formula 1 to be.

“In November in 2023 the best racing on the planet will be on the streets of Las Vegas under these lights. It will be amazing.”

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Formula 1’s love for the United States has never been stronger, and it’s clear the feeling is mutual. Only a few years ago the sport’s foothold in the world’s biggest consumer market looked tenuous at best; now it’s about to put F1 cars on one of the best recognised roads on the planet.

With three races American races scheduled in 2021, it’s safe to say this is no one-night stand.

CAN YOU HAVE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?

Excluding the COVID-affected 2020 season, only one country has ever hosted three races in one year: the United States in 1982. It’s now set to do it again.

But the Formula 1 calendar is bursting at the seams. This year will feature a record 23 races once Russia’s replacement is announced, and that’s not including the Chinese and Qatar grands prix, both due to return next season.

The maximum number of races per the commercial agreement with the teams is 24.

Stefano Domenicali has already said some longstanding heritage races will not be offered new contracts once their deals are up. The Austrian, Belgian, French and Mexico City grands prix are out of contract this year, with Netherlands up for renewal next season.

The 14-turn Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit. Illustration supplied by Formula 1.
The 14-turn Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit. Illustration supplied by Formula 1.Source: Supplied

Some have asked why the United States, with whom F1 has previously had a flaky relationship, should have rights to 12,5 per cent of the calendar when historic circuits like Spa-Francorchamps potentially face the chop.

Some will ask cynically whether American parent company Liberty Media is Americanising a European-born sport.

But for Formula 1 it’s a pure numbers game — and not just dollars and cents.

The American population is enormous, at 330 million people — a little less than half of continental Europe. Yet it will host only three races, or one per 100 million, to Europe’s 11, or one for every 67 million.

If you were living in Mercedes HQ Stuttgart, you would have no fewer than nine grands prix within 850 kilometres of your front door. In fact you could live almost anywhere in Europe and have access to at least one race within that range.

The distance from Las Vegas to Austin or from Austin to Miami is twice that. They might be all in the one country, but in European terms they may as well be separate continents.

It’s why Formula 1 is confident that its long-held fear of nearby races cannibalising each other’s audiences won’t be a problem.

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“[There is] no dilution,” Domenicali said. “It’s an added value for everyone because we are hitting different targets in terms of demographics and in terms of location.

“The beauty of the growth of our sport in this country is we’re hitting a lot of young persons who are starting to be thrilled by our sport.”

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said that the sport’s ‘destination city’ strategy means the spectators are unlikely to be predominantly American anyway.

“One of the things that’s special about Formula 1 is the global nature,” he explained.

“The audience that shows up in Miami will be a global audience, the audience that shows up in Austin is already a global audience and I’m absolutely positive that the audience that shows up in Las Vegas will be a global audience — it’s not just going to be the US audience.”

Illustration by Tilke Engineers and ArchitectsSource: Supplied

AMERICA’S F1 LOVE AFFAIR

It helps too that the United States and Formula 1 are finally on the same page about what makes the sport tick.

For the last 40 years F1 has been transient in the United States and prone to long spells of absence, and the sport’s traditional hard-to-get approach never connected with the mainstream imagination.

Who could forget F1’s 2005 six-car nadir at Indy? Or the shelving of a proposed race on the banks of the Hudson River, New York City as its backdrop, because the would-be promoter wouldn’t stump up enough cash?

F1 lacked commitment to establishing itself stateside, and given the United States is hardly starved for sporting options, it greeted it with the same lack of enthusiasm.

But Liberty Media has made mending ties with American audiences a priority since purchasing the sport in 2017. Establishing an online presence and a marketing department were low-hanging fruit.

Targeting races in ‘destinations’ rather than in sterile purpose-built circuit on town outskirts was harder but is clearly paying dividends.

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And then of course there’s the Drive to Survive factor, which cannot be understated for beaming a previously niche sport directly into the lounge rooms of entirely new audiences.

“It’s been the number one show in 33 countries around the world already,” said Maffei. “The season four audience is already larger than the season three audience, so it’s a huge success.

“I think there are a lot of other factors that have helped drive out popularity, but that certainly is one that we don’t discount.”

The numbers don’t lie. F1 TV audiences are among their highest ever, and since the series launched in 2019 the weekend attendance at the United States Grand Prix has rocketed from around 250,000 to 400,000.

Tickets to this year’s race sold out in 24 hours. Tickets to next month’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix sold out in 40 minutes. There aren’t many circuits around the world that can boast that kind of demand.

“Just three years ago it was difficult to have one grand prix [in America] full of people,” Domenicali said.

“We feel the vibes. We feel that is really something that needs to belong to this country, and this is a huge opportunity.

“To think that next year we’re going to have three races in the US — if you think, once again, back to three years ago, you’d have said, ‘You’re crazy’.

“We are so focused on making sure this will be one of the most important markets for Formula 1 — without forgetting of course that we were born in Europe. We are a worldwide sport.”

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It’s a complete U-turn from the Formula 1’s previous aloof strategy. And in stark contrast to that ill-fated race in New Jersey that might have delivered F1 the world’s most famous skyline, the sport is putting its money where its mouth is in Las Vegas, a sign of not only its importance but also its likelihood of success.

“The momentum of Formula 1 has been demonstrated over the last several seasons, and we’ve seen that potential turn into reality as we’ve watched our fan base grow around the world but especially here in the US,” Maffei said.

“It is precisely that opportunity that enticed Formula 1 and Liberty Media to assume the promoter role for this event, which is somewhat different for us. We’re really taking a larger role because of our belief in the opportunity and our belief in Las Vegas.”

Illustration by Tilke Engineers and ArchitectsSource: Supplied

WILL IT CONTRIBUTE TO THE SPORTING SPECTACLE?

“I think the answer is absolutely yes,” Domenicali said. “At the end of the day we are a sport that needs to make sure that the racing is real, but adding real racing in an incredible context is the perfect combination of what Formula 1 stands for today: it’s emotion, it’s passion, it’s business, it’s relationships, it’s culture and it’s intensity.

“This is the reason why this is the perfect place to be.”

The circuit itself is notable for its back straight not only because it runs along the Strip but also because it’s around 2 kilometres long. It’ll be the longest straight in Formula 1 if you discount the flat-out run through turns 16 to 20 preceding the pit straight in Baku.

Formula 1 expects cars to reach speeds above 340 kilometre per hour at the braking zone for what will be turn 11, when they’ll get hard on the brakes for a 90-degree left-hander.

The layout itself isn’t so spectacular once you look past its neon setting. The most technical parts of the track will be the final chicane after turn 11 and then the first sector, which features a double left-hander followed by a right-hand sweep, with most of the rest comprising long straights.

It sums up the circuit — high speed with and big braking zones, a combination that’s sure to generate overtaking, particularly given the slipstream effect.

But the best part for Australian viewers will be the starting time. Lights out for the Las Vegas Grand Prix will be at 10pm Saturday night local time, which translates to a very leisurely 5pm Sunday on the Australian east coast — certainly a welcome change from the early mornings we’re used to for races in the Americas.

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THE CHALLENGE

There’s no doubt that the inclusion of the Las Vegas Grand Prix on the calendar is a good thing, but how Formula 1 balances it with its existing slate of races — and how it justifies inevitable axings — will be crucial to keeping that goodwill.

Vegas might be able to be squeezed in under the 24-race limit — and the limit can be raised by agreement with the teams — but we also know F1 is seriously considering a race in Africa, likely South Africa, to finally make the series a truly global world championship again with races on every continent.

And China will likely be in for a second race too. If the United States warrants three based on in-person attendance, China’s status as F1’s most engaged TV viewership will also stand it in good stead to finally close the deal for a long-rumoured race to partner Shanghai.

The calendar has always been a balance between heritage, prestige and profitability. Deciding which races to cut will be no easy task — and with F1’s audience growing seemingly by the day, there’s now a whole lot more people invested in the quality of the sport’s decision-making.



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