Lights Out in Las Vegas: Formula One Comes to Town

By Liam Pointing

With only two races to go in the 2023 Formula One Season, the paddock is returning to the streets of Vegas this weekend for the first time since 1982.

Riding on the success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive, Formula One is attempting to penetrate further into the American market. The Las Vegas Grand Prix makes it three American races, in addition to Miami and Texas.

Not everyone has cosied up to the idea, though. America has a particular way of doing things, and they like doing things big.

During Wednesday’s opening ceremony, championship leader Max Verstappen said he felt like “a clown” having to parade himself in front of the crowd. So much of the sport’s events include public and media duties. The Las Vegas Grand Prix takes that to the next degree.

Aussie favourite Daniel Ricciardo, however, is soaking up the experience, declaring he is “a sucker for Vegas”.

The glitz and glamour does bring a certain appeal, combined with the high-speed spectacle, but there is always the concern it detracts from the sport itself.

The Australian rookie sensation Oscar Piastri will be glad to be on equal terms, with everyone racing on a brand-new circuit. He says the scheduling will be “a struggle for everyone”, having to deal with jet lag and the late-night activities.

Given his form this season, you would have to say Red Bull’s Verstappen is the firm favourite. The Dutch dynamo has won 17 races, eclipsing all sorts of records.

The high-speed nature of this circuit with minimal slow corners will see the cars reaching almost 360km/h along the 1.9km straight. Ferrari should emerge as close favourites behind Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull, if he manages to keep pace with his team-mate.

With Verstappen and his Red Bull Racing team wrapping up the driver and constructor’s championships, attention lands on the battle for second place.

If you are to believe the rumours, Perez is fending off a challenge for his seat from Ricciardo. He leads Lewis Hamilton by 32 points, on 258, a somewhat safe lead with two races to go. Further behind, the battle for fourth is heating up. Just six points separate Fernando Alonso (198), Lando Norris (195), and Carlos Sainz Jr. (192).

In the constructors race stalwarts Mercedes and Ferrari are duking it out for second place on 382 and 362 points. With Verstappen normally streaking ahead, drivers expect to be competing for second place at the maximum.

Being a new circuit, Mercedes and Ferrari drivers will be hoping to adapt quickly and ensure their cars operate at an optimum level.

In all honesty, this circuit does not look that exciting and the drivers do not seem overly eager either.

But as Formula One looks to expand and cash in on high-money events, street circuits like this may continue to pop up every now and then to satisfy the corporate overlords.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix kicks off on Sunday at 5pm, Australian Eastern Daylight Time.

Featured image: “The Strip” (part of the Las Vegas Boulevard) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Dieter Rabich/CC/Wikimedia Commons

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