If you go back to the 1970s, Bernie Ecclestone was starting to take
control of F1. Ecclestone was quietly transforming the sport into a
billion-dollar business thanks to the sale of TV rights and, with
popularity flourishing, more venues sought to host races. At the
end of the decade, the former F1 supremo joined forces with the
world-famous Caesars Palace hotel to agree a deal to race in Las
Vegas for the first time, starting in 1981. The race would take
place mostly in the car park of the hotel and casino, on land now
taken up mostly by the Mirage hotel and the Forum shopping centre.
The setting was simply too small for a race track up to F1
standards and, to meet the regulatory 2-mile length, a crammed
circuit design with near-identical features throughout the lap did
not promote any excitement. With the layout set as anti-clockwise,
a lot of strain was inflicted on the necks of the drivers,
especially in the September heat of the Nevada desert. Controversy
During the first edition of the Caesars Palace Grand Prix, there
were three drivers in with a chance to win the F1 world title:
Nelson Piquet, Carlos Reutemann and Jacques Laffite. With the
conditions so harsh, several drivers became exhausted and suffered
from terrible neck pain. Brazilian Piquet vomited in his helmet
during the race and had to be lifted from his car after the
checkered flag fell. His fifth place, however, was enough for the
World Championship – just one point ahead of Argentinean Reutemann.
While the race was largely denounced by the drivers, F1 returned to
Sin City in 1982. To make the event even grander – it wouldn’t be
Vegas if this wasn’t attempted – the race organization planned to
run CART [IndyCar] alongside F1 during the weekend. The plan was to
have sports cars running on Friday and F1 on Saturday, then switch
the track to an ‘oval’ configuration for the CART event on Sunday,
after the Grand Prix. F1 and Indy on the same weekend…? Shortly
after the 1982 CART calendar was announced, FISA [predecessor to
the FIA] confirmed that the Caesars Palace Grand Prix will be moved
to another date. FISA chief Jean-Marie Balestre indicated this was
to shorten the period between the trip to Italy and Las Vegas.
NBC’s coverage of the Major League Baseball World Series was
another factor in the schedule change. But this new date conflicted
with the scheduled IndyCar race at the Michigan International
Speedway. FISA then introduced a special rule: During a race
weekend, only one single-seater race, driving with two-litre
engines, may take place. Then-CART President John Frasco commented:
“I don’t know about all the politics, but it’s pretty clear that
FISA doesn’t want to race with us. “I actually didn’t think we were
competitors because both races have a totally different format.
Caesars Palace thought a race weekend with three draws would be
very enticing. So did we, and so did Bernie Ecclestone.
“Unfortunately, there are those who think otherwise.” See you
later, Vegas When the race did come back around, the 1982 Drivers’
Champion would be crowned. Keke Rosberg took his only crown on
September 25 by finishing fifth as Tyrrell driver Michele Alboreto
took victory. John Watson and American Eddie Cheever rounded out
the podium. Not long after the race weekend, it was announced that
there was little future for the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. The
event didn’t generate enough revenue and the hotel was suffering
huge losses. With their own suffering at an end, the drivers were
no doubt relieved.

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