Formula 1 makes its 3rd appearance in the United States this week, following in the footsteps of Miami and Austin.
Colorado-based Liberty Media Corporation’s Formula One Group holds the commercial rights to the FIA Formula One World Championship, which it acquired for $4.6 billion in 2016, using just $301 million of its own cash to cement the deal along with a variety of other financial structures. It wants American F1 racing to succeed. That won’t come from Floridian Logan Sargeant, a Williams driver who is the only American in the F1 line-up.
In order to provide a full “Las Vegas effect”, the night race under a floodlighting system starts at 10 PM PT on Saturday (not the usual Sunday), with Disney’s ESPN as the official U.S. broadcaster.
This is not the first time F1 has raced in Vegas, though promoters are probably hoping that everyone has forgotten about Bernie Ecclestone’s failed attempts to run the Caesars Place Grand Prix in 1981 and 1982.
At least this time the race won’t be held in a vomit-inducing casino parking lot. Instead, race cars will rocket along the Strip, past Caesars Palace, the Venetian, the Bellagio, Planet Hollywood and the newly anointed MGM Sphere in the self-professed Entertainment Capital of the World.
The Vegas street circuit is 3.8 miles long (6.1 km) - the 3rd longest circuit after Spa (Belgium) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). With 17 mostly flowing corners, it is expected to be a dull, fast race … if adhesion doesn’t wreak havoc.
An important concern is the forecasted late-night temperatures, which are expected to dip into the low 50’s. Formula One tires are not made for cold temperatures.
“It is a step into the unknown, for everybody … Las Vegas will be cold … I can imagine a lot of track evolution and very low grip.” (Mario Isola, Motorsport Director, Pirelli)
That said, teams practice in Spain in the winter where cold mornings are not unusual. Pirelli is bringing its softest tire compounds, which warm up faster, to the chilly desert. In 1978, the coldest-ever race in F1’s history was held at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, with a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). F1 never raced in Canada in October again.
It is expected that the Vegas race will inject more than $1 billion into Nevada’s Clark County, which is about 2X more than America’s favorite sporting event, Super Bowl LVIII, is expected to yield in February. No wonder local government officials are keen on extending a welcome beyond the current 3-year contract. Liberty is said to have invested more than $500 million on this event. Its latest quarterly earnings show a 24% rise in F1 revenue to $887 million, compared to the same period a year ago; operating income rose 67% to $107 million. The Las Vegas event is special because it is the first time F1 itself is both the promoter and organizer – in other words, there is no middle-man, thus it has huge control of the event … and a huge opportunity to make money.
“… it’s crystal clear that the Las Vegas GP is a key part of the strategy of continuing to build the sport in the USA and worldwide, and crucially hold onto the fans whose interest was piqued by the hugely successful Netflix show (Drive to Survive). We are very focused on sustaining the growth and interest in F1, in many, many ways … The Las Vegas race is going to be a massive noisemaker in our sport.” (Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Media, also Chairman of Live Nation, Sirius XM and TripAdvisor. He is former CFO of Oracle and Microsoft)
Off track, there is no doubt that the Event will be a spectacle, with every wannabe in attendance. Personally, I favor sport over entertainment, but let’s face it, those days are long gone in F1.
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