What happens in Vegas normally stays in Vegas … but this weekend, what’s happening in Vegas is about as far from normal as can be imagined. The world’s gambling capital is set to host the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix (November 16-18), with a massive worldwide TV audience wondering how the sport’s most audacious experiment yet will actually work.
A race track that takes in the famous ‘Strip’, zooms past famous landmarks like Caesars Palace, the Bellagio and the Venetian and has average speeds likely to match Monza? It’s hard to imagine anywhere else that could pull this off, and for that reason alone, this Grand Prix will get more eyeballs than your regular penultimate race of a Formula 1® season, let alone a campaign like this one where the title was decided long ago.
Even better for Australian F1® fans? After a Austin/Mexico/Brazil triple-header that tested sleep deprivation levels and made Monday work productivity a problem, the 50-lap race in Vegas will be held at 10 pm Saturday local time – that’s 5 pm Sunday (AEDT) for fans Down Under.
Here's what we’re watching and why this weekend.
What’s the track actually like?
It’ll be fast – just how fast is evident with a glimpse of our track map above. The track is 6.201km in length – only Spa-Francorchamps (7.004km) is longer – and the run from Turns 12-14 – along the Strip – is an eye-watering 1.9km. Speeds along Mexico City’s start-finish straight two races ago hit 361km/h (Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas in the race), so don’t be surprised if that number gets a nudge here.
That’s impressive, but the layout itself? Alex Albon feels it won’t take long to get a handle on. “It's quite easy to learn,” the Williams driver said over the Sao Paulo weekend. “At least from what I drove (on the simulator), there's a lot of opportunities, a lot of places you can overtake. The straights are absolutely massive.”
One potential curveball? The timing of the on-track sessions, with the 10 pm Saturday night race start, preceded by qualifying at midnight local time on Friday night. In mid-November in the Nevada desert, air temperatures are regularly 10 degrees or less at night, meaning tyre warm-up and grip is likely to be akin to pre-season testing in Barcelona in February – which often resembles a Spanish skating rink …
Fast drivers, fastest learners
Las Vegas is the first new track to hit the schedule since early 2022 when Miami became the second of what now are three races on US soil. We had a glut of new tracks host F1® since the 2020-21 pandemic-affected seasons, so who has proven to be the fastest learner when it comes to a fresh playing field?
Of the six new venues we’ve raced at before Vegas and since the beginning of 2020, Lewis Hamilton has won four times – the 2020 Tuscan GP at Mugello, the 2020 Portuguese GP at Portimao, and the Qatar/Saudi Arabia double-header in 2021 leading up to the Abu Dhabi season finale which – you might recall – was won by Max Verstappen.
Verstappen has won at the other two new venues that have come on board since 2020; his home GP at Zandvoort in 2021 (technically not a new F1® venue, given the sport had raced there in 1985), plus Miami last year.
Hamilton and Verstappen have five podiums each at those six newest venues, while Hamilton has the most poles (four). The podium outliers: Fernando Alonso in an Alpine in Qatar 2021 (Alonso’s first top-three result in seven years), and Albon – in a Red Bull – at Mugello 2020, his maiden F1® podium.
Piastri fans, don’t panic
It was all going so well for Oscar Piastri, who went into the afore-mentioned triple-header off the back of a maiden podium in Japan, followed by a Sprint win and a second place in Qatar.
Since then? It’s been rough for the rookie, who managed just four points across Austin, Mexico and Brazil. That abrupt end to the Aussie’s impressive run contrasts starkly with McLaren teammate Lando Norris, who snared two podiums, a Sprint pole and 59 points in three weekends to vault to fifth in the drivers’ standings.
Since he beat Norris to second in Qatar, Piastri finished outside of the points in the USA Sprint in 10th, six places and 23secs behind Norris, and retired from the race in Austin after early contact with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. In Mexico, Piastri finished eighth, three places and 10secs behind Norris despite starting 10 places ahead, and in the Sao Paulo Sprint he was eight places and 33secs behind Norris over 24 laps. His race in Brazil was effectively over at the first corner when he was clobbered by Kevin Magnussen’s out-of-control Haas, and a lapped 14th was the result.
The common thread – other than zero luck – across all three of those races for Piastri was that he’d never driven any of those circuits before. Two of those events being Sprint weekends – when you get one practice session before qualifying – doesn’t help to get your eye in, either.
While Vegas is another new track, all 20 drivers are disadvantaged equally this weekend – and Piastri will relish the complete grid reboot as he attempts to sign off on an impressive first season in style.