LAS VEGAS — In a town which will be hosting the Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in the next couple of years, perhaps the biggest event Las Vegas has ever seen is a year away.
If you haven’t made your plans already to attend the Heineken Silver Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix, you either better hit Powerball or be so well connected you’ll be able to find your way in.
This endeavor, which is expected to generate over a billion dollars in revenue and attract several hundred thousand racing fans, is set for a three-year run beginning Nov. 16-18, 2023. The course, 3.8 miles long which will partially run down the famed Las Vegas Strip, has 17 turns and will be run at night, instead of the day. It should make for an amazing visual for the millions who will opt to watch the race on television.
“It was crazy in the beginning, but it will be amazing,” said F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali at Saturday’s kickoff event at Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane and the site of where the race will begin and conclude off the Strip. “I guarantee you this will be special.”
There was a Fan Fest Saturday at Caesars Palace which had drivers and their teams, cars running on Las Vegas Boulevard and other fan interactive opportunities that several thousand took advantage of.
F1 is no stranger to Las Vegas, in 1981-82, the Caesars Palace Grand Prix was held on the casino-hotel’s grounds. And while it was popular, the city was nowhere as big as it is today and with TV and tourism driving the F1 engine, the numbers are simple staggering.
Consider what tickets cost. Tickets went on sale Saturday and the cheapest was $500. Those were snapped up immediately. The next cheapest are $2,000. And if you want to stay in a hotel for the race, it’s probably going to cost you thousands a night.
Price gouging by the hotels? Perhaps. But many of the hotels — Caesars, MGM, Wynn — are partners with F1 so the outlay on their part is substantial. MGM has purchased over $25 million in tickets.
Which is why current Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has been a proponent of bringing F1 back to the state. He understands how tourism and big events remains essential to the area’s economy and while he may not be Governor at this time next year (He’s in a battle for re-election come Tuesday), Sisolak has always seen major league sports as a way for Las Vegas to be an attractive place for visitors.
“One hundred percent. There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said when I asked him about the viability of this event having a positive impact on the city and the state. “It’s going to be incredible.”
But will it eclipse the Super Bowl, which will play its 58th edition at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11, 2024, when it comes to generating revenue for the city?
“I think it’s possible,” Sisolak said. “We’re here for three years and the Super Bowl is a one-time thing, though I’ve talked to the (NFL) commissioner (Roger Goodell) about Las Vegas being in the (Super Bowl) rotation.”
For the drivers, competing on a new course, in a different city and at night presents a whole string of challenges.
England’s George Russell, the driver of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas car, said he’s looking forward to competing on the Strip.
“I think the event is going to be wild, hearing what Formula 1 has in store,” he said. “It’s going to be more than just a race.”
For the drivers, it’s going to take making adjustments on the fly on a course they’ve never driven before at a time of the year when temperatures are cooler than normal.
“I think the biggest challenge will be the temperature,” Russell said of the challenges of the 50-lap race. “We usually race when it’s warm so we’ll have to see how the cars handle the track.
“We’ll do a lot of simulation work to prepare to drive the course. But you can’t over prepare. You just have to be ready to adjust.”
Russell, 24, said it’s a great time to be part of F1, which grows in popularity with each year and has races all over the world.
“I think I’m fortunate to be in this sport at this time,” he said. “Coming to Las Vegas is only going to add to the popularity of F1. But you have to treat it as another opportunity to compete and know how to handle it.”
In a town that has become a major league sports city in a short period of time and is not afraid to boast about it, Las Vegas and F1 seem to be the perfect marriage. And the Governor is looking forward to next November.
“We have an NHL hockey team, an NFL team, a WNBA championship team,” Sisolak said. “So how can we top that? This is how you top that.”