VIVA LAS VEGAS

Formula 1 is all-in on winning big in Las Vegas, where it hopes a glitzy track in the heart of sin city will deliver the kind of on and off-track legacy that will cement its status as a rising sporting force in the United States.

CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS

Laps: 50 laps
Length: 6.201 kilometres
Corners: 17

A race down the famous Las Vegas Strip is the culmination of Formula 1’s investment in growth in the United States and is sure to be a televisual spectacular, with cars blasting past some of the casino city’s most famous neon-lit landmarks in a commercial triumph for the sport.

The circuit has never been run, but from the layout we know it’s going to be fast. Simulations suggest top speeds beyond 340 kilometres per hour at the end of the almost two-kilometre Strip straight, though that number could be considerably higher with DRS and a slipstream in qualifying or the race.

The rest of the circuit looks fairly uninspiring, but several big braking zones should at least aid overtaking. Pre-race expectations are for lap times around 90 seconds.

PREVIOUS RACE IN LAS VEGAS (1982)

Winner: Michele Alboreto (Tyrell)

Formula 1 has raced twice in Las Vegas before. The short-lived Caesars Palace Grand Prix ran in 1981 and 1982 around a makeshift circuit built in the expansive car park of the Caesars Palace hotel and casino. The track was a forgettable series of repetitive corners and best known for its physically challenging combination of anticlockwise layout and desert heat. The race decided drivers titles both years, to Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg respectively.

FORM GUIDE

Max Verstappen arrives in Las Vegas on a five-race winning streak and having won from pole last time out in Brazil. He’s been defeated just once in the 16 rounds since Formula 1’s first visit to the United States for the Miami Grand Prix in May.

Red Bull Racing remains the form team, albeit with two minor caveats.

Ferrari has been putting up a fight for pole position, with Charles Leclerc taking back-to-back P1 starts in Austin and Mexico City last month, though the Italian team has never been a victory contender.

McLaren, however, has regularly threatened for victory in the final phase of the season. Oscar Piastri pinched sprint victory in Qatar, and Lando Norris gave Verstappen a genuine run for his money in São Paulo, where only slightly worse tyre wear kept him at arm’s length.

WHAT TO EXPECT

It might be a championship dead rubber, but a brand-new circuit always generates excitement, particularly when the track has the potential to be as quirky as this.

This is a high-speed, low downforce circuit with demands akin to those made by Monza. Drivers will have to live with a skittish car through the few mostly slow corners kinked into the streets.

But there are of course some crucial differences between Italy’s temple of speed and the USA’s city of sin.

The obvious is that Las Vegas is a street circuit. It’s freshly resurfaced and should be very smooth and likely very greasy to begin with, but grip will ramp up dramatically over three days as rubber is laid into the track. Predicting grip conditions will be key to nailing set-up.

But the biggest twist is the weather and starting time. Qualifying is at midnight Friday night and the race is at 10pm Saturday. Overnight temperatures in Las Vegas in November plunge to 10°C and below, comfortably the coldest conditions of any race this year. Without sun, track temperature will remain stubbornly low.

It’s not totally unprecedented — winter testing is in like conditions, and the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix was in similarly chilly, albeit daytime, weather — but it’s close.

The combination of long straights that cool the tyres, a low-downforce set-up, a slippery surface and chilly weather means the biggest difference-maker will be cars that warm up their tyres, particularly in qualifying.

Fascinatingly, that’s easily Red Bull Racing’s biggest weakness, a by-product of its good in-race tyre usage. The RB19 also doesn’t always love the set-up compromises needed for street tracks, though this circuit will likely be smooth enough for that not to matter.

It could be good news for Ferrari, which was rapid in low-downforce Monza and readily gets its tyres warmed up, usually to its detriment in race conditions.

But with the track so new, the race will likely go to whichever team can most quickly make up for the lack of data and experience and master the masses of Las Vegas variables.