Despite there being little to still play for, the first of the final two rounds of the 2023 Formula 1 season is one full of intrigue.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix will be unique in many ways, not only because of F1 itself acting as promoter, but because the race is a step into the unknown unlike ever before.

However, while F1 might think it is ready for Vegas, is Vegas really ready for F1?

Now, this weekend won’t be the first time F1 has raced in Vegas.

In fact, the ill-fated Caesars Palace Grand Prix of 1981 and 1982 saw to that, with an uninspiring layout in the car park of the famous hotel. At the time, nobody seemed to care and the sport continued on its crusade of strange events across the USA in a failed bid to crack the American market.

So what’s changed in the decades between F1’s unsuccessful attempt to crack Sin City and its anticipated return?

Ever since F1 was acquired by Liberty Media, the sport’s popularity in the United States has skyrocketed to heights that have surpassed expectations.

Aided by the advent of the Netflix behind-the-scenes documentary series Drive to Survive, TV figures have risen on US-network ESPN from an average of 554,000 people per race in 2018 to a record 1.21 million in 2022. 

The United States GP in Austin, Texas regularly sees weekend crowds of over 400,000 and the addition of Miami in 2022 shattered US F1 viewership records with 2.583 million average viewers.

This growth stateside saw F1 seize a commercial opportunity in adding Vegas to the calendar, seeking to reap the financial benefits of promoting a GP itself, but with potential upsides always come risks.

The Vegas event has grown into a financial behemoth, with ticket prices dwarfing the likes of all other events on the calendar and round-the-clock roadworks and infrastructure labour drawing criticism from locals.

What’s more, the race will get underway at 1AM ET, meaning a large portion of the US market will miss out on the action unless they top up on espressos.

F1 has spent over $200 million building the paddock infrastructure at Vegas

But F1’s $240 million spend on an all-new permanent paddock facility means there’s no turning back now.

The prices of tickets for Vegas have been talked about at length throughout this year, with the cheapest three-day standing-only general admission tickets costing roughly $500. The likes of Suzuka and Imola offered prices below $500.

At the other end of the spectrum, ludicrous hospitality packages for high-rollers are being offered for seven-figure sums.

However, the bar may have been set too high as recent reports have shown a number of ticket prices have been slashed in the past week.

According to Tick Pick, the cheapest tickets on Thursday have fallen from $385 to $162 (-58%), on Friday prices have gone from $825 to £312 (-62%) and on Saturday from $1645 to $1087 (-34%). Hotel prices are also plummeting by a reported 58%.

So has F1 overplayed its hand?

The trouble F1 is set to encounter in Vegas may not just be commercial either.

Holding a night race in the Nevada desert in November comes with incredibly cool temperatures.

Track temperatures in Vegas could hit lows like F1 has never seen

Estimates suggest that Vegas could be the coldest GP in F1 history at around five degrees Celsius – which coupled with a 3.8-mile circuit predominantly consisting of driving in a straight line will unquestionably make things more than challenging for drivers to generate heat in the tyres.

Incredibly, Ross Brawn has admitted that the series didn’t foresee the temperatures being that far on the cool side, which is an alarming oversight for a sport that prides itself on being at the pinnacle of engineering.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, reigning World Champion Max Verstappen, ever the traditionalist when it comes to Grand Prix racing, has been outspoken on the prospect of racing in Vegas.

“First of all, we are there more for the show than the race itself, looking at the layout of the circuit,” he said bluntly “I’m not actually that much into that, I’m more: ‘I’ll go there, do my thing and be gone’. I’ll deal with that once I arrive to the track. I mean, there’s still a lot to do.”

Asked whether the race would bring added value to F1, the Dutchman replied: “It depends for whom and for what. In terms of racing spectacle, maybe not, but maybe in terms of potential partners for F1, and the whole show around it – but again, I’m not into it.”

Disgruntled locals, outrageous ticket prices alienating the casual fans, a peculiar schedule cutting out the local television crowd and potentially dangerous track temperatures aren’t the best ingredients for a maiden GP.

Time will very shortly tell whether F1 can pull this latest Stateside gamble off.

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