Why F1 needs the Las Vegas Grand Prix to succeed

17th November 2022
Ian Parkes

"This race could be the best of all time." You cannot blame Lewis Hamilton for being swept along on a tide of emotion as he stood on Las Vegas' iconic Strip, addressing tens of thousands of fans who had gathered for a launch party of an event that’s still a year away.


This was a glimpse of grand prix promotion Formula 1 style as for the first time in the sport's history, F1 has opted to sell tickets for, and advertise one of its own events. The fact tickets sold out – at least those through F1's own channels as opposed to those bought up in advance by partnering casinos and built into highly-priced packages – within hours vindicated its decision.

Next year's race, to be staged on 16th-18th November – with a 22:00 local time start on Saturday night – is already bearing the weight of considerable expectation given its location and a first for the city in using the Strip as part of a circuit.

The Miami Grand Prix in May this year bore similar promise and yet, on some levels, failed to deliver. There are stark contrasts between the United States' two newest events to be added to the calendar. Miami had to settle for a circuit built around the Hard Rock Stadium, home to its NFL team, Miami Dolphins, rather than in the city as had been F1's original intention.


On the doorstep of many local residences, there were arguments, protests and appeals, notably with regard to noise pollution and traffic concerns, that were predominantly handled by the chief legal officer of Liberty Media, Renee Wilm. On this occasion, F1 CEO and president Stefano Domenicali opted to ward off further such headaches with regard to Vegas by appointing Wilm its CEO for the Grand Prix.

"It was very important to F1 and Liberty Media that we get a Vegas race on the calendar as soon as possible, and 2023 was that soon as possible date," said Wilm, in an interview with this writer. "So I started going out there, meeting with the regulators and the local stakeholders as the Liberty Media ambassador, and then it just grew from there.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime project to have the opportunity to run an event of this magnitude, and it's so indicative of the dedication and the commitment of Liberty Media. F1 is obviously one of the crown jewels in our portfolio. It is very near and dear to our hearts, particularly given the growth of the base in America, which was one of our goals when we bought the asset six years ago. This is really the next step in our minds of bringing F1 even deeper into the American culture."


There have still been plenty of hurdles for Wilm and chief commercial officer Emily Prazer to overcome, not least the growing burden of anticipation, exacerbated by the fact that in May, F1 spent $240million on 39 acres of land to the east of the Strip to build a pit, paddock and hospitality complex. "I do feel like every day we are in DRS, moving incredibly quickly," said Wilm. "We are building a track and a pit building, which will be the year-round home of F1 in North America, and that is in no way to minimise the value that Miami and Austin bring to the calendar."

Prazer added: "It's been a bit of a roadshow with all the other promoters asking them their first-year challenges because we don't want to take anything away from how difficult this is. Liberty, I do believe, are setting us up for success with the support of F1, but the reality is that this is all very new, and doing it on a piece of real estate, which is probably one of the busiest roads in America, means we can't take that lightly.

"It's that different level of logistical planning, but also working with the casinos and the LVCVA [Las Vegas Convention and Visitors' Association] to make sure we are positioning the event how they want us to."


The casinos may be selling tickets as part of premium packages but Liberty Media and F1 recognise that without them, the race would likely have been a non-starter. Wilm said: "From the casino side, they have been wonderful partners to us. They get the vision. They know what this is going to do for the city.

"Another thing that's probably different about Vegas is this is a town that knows how to get events done and get them done right, to be able to really pull together for the good of everyone. MGM and Caesars, they may be competitors in so many ways, but when they see an opportunity to activate the entire town, they're going to pull together, and they're going to help us make this happen. That's what we've experienced."

Despite the money being invested by Liberty Media, the Las Vegas authorities only signed an initial three-year deal, effectively a case of dipping their toe in the water to see what the reaction would be.

In Miami, the Paddock Club was heavily criticised for what it offered given the costs involved, leading to the construction of a new purpose-built facility for next year onwards. Similarly, the circuit itself failed to live up to the hype that had been created in the build-up, and it is understood tweaks are under discussion ahead of F1's return in six months' time.


F1 knows, given the spectacular fanfare so far surrounding Las Vegas, it cannot now afford for anything to fall flat, especially the on-track action, if the city is to commit for the longer term. "We thought it would be much more effective to deliver an event that would be very challenging but on the other side, very fascinating," said Domenicali, in conversation with this writer. "We thought there was this opportunity, so we jumped into this project with the right enthusiasm, the right people and the right partners. From the first time I went there in September 2021, to now believe we can deliver one of the greatest weekend sporting events in 2023, is something incredible."

Domenicali knows, however, it is a step-by-step process. He added: "F1 is not their bread and butter. You need to try to convince them to invest with you, believing there will be great potential for a bigger future and also for the community of Las Vegas. We are really working on the details to make sure that we will do everything needed to deliver that incredible event.

"One of the things we have learned over the years, and one of the reasons why Formula 1 was unsuccessful before [in the United States], is that it did not really communicate about Formula 1 apart from the three days of the grand prix. Our approach has completely changed, through social media, the media itself talking about the growth of F1 in the US, with Netflix no doubt, and with drivers that understand everything about their role of being a Formula 1 ambassador. All this has helped growth in this new market."

Lewis Hamilton is likely to be right in one respect, that as an event, the Las Vegas Grand Prix could just be the best of all time. But as with any new event, it often stands or falls on the quality of the racing. Until then, nothing is certain.

Images courtesy of RedBull Content Pool.

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