The Las Vegas GP will be like the Super Bowl at 200mph! OLIVER HOLT strolls a lap of the 3.8-mile Sin City track that will stage this weekend’s brashest ever Formula One race
- Formula One returns to Las Vegas this weekend in a whole new setting
- Sin City last hosted the Formula One world championship since 1982
- The Grand Prix is being staged at a cost of £330million
You get a hangover before you have even enjoyed a drink in Las Vegas. It starts with the short drive in from the airport.
The faces come at you, one after another, beaming from giant billboards in the sky, faces of entertainers some of whom had their heyday so long ago, you thought they were dead. Sometimes, they are dead. It’s just that Vegas has resurrected them.
And if you think Vegas is all about the glitz and the high rollers and Formula One drivers and world title fights and Mike Tyson and his tiger, try walking down the Strip in the unforgiving light of day.
Don’t think Beverly Hills or Portofino or Monte Carlo or any other of the temples to fame and showbiz wealth.
The writer Nick Tosches called Las Vegas ‘a corporate-run nightmare, draped in the cotton candy of family values, a theme park where dead souls drift amid medication Muzak’. It is the place where America comes to celebrate sleaze.
Formula One will return to Las Vegas for the first time in four decades this weekend
Sin City has pulled out all the stops as it prepares to take centre stage in Formula One
The new track will run across The Strip, near some of Vegas’ most iconic buildings
Even the golf driving range on East Flamingo carries the slogan ‘Come Play Around’. Geddit?.
Vegas is like New Year’s Eve: having a good time is non-negotiable and so everybody gets into character. One way is to wear a T-shirt with a slogan that makes you look like a funny guy, like the man strolling past the Venetian on Monday evening with his buddies at the start of their night out in a shirt that shouted: ‘They hate us cuz they anus.’
And the woman outside the Flamingo, wearing a black jumper stamped with the boast ‘Working harder than an ugly stripper’.
Good luck wearing that on Las Vegas Boulevard where the casinos send topless women out on to the sidewalks to have their picture taken with leering tourists for cash and then encourage them to move inside to gamble.
Maybe this is just what happens when you haven’t been to Sin City since Ricky Hatton fought Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand nearly 15 years ago and the place feels more like a zoo than it used to when you were younger.
Maybe this is what happens when fatigue grabs you after you stroll a lap of the 3.8 mile street circuit that will stage Saturday night’s F1 race here, the third US-based grand prix of the season and the first Saturday Grand Prix for almost 40 years.
Everything is better after dark in Vegas.
It wasn’t a quick lap that I walked. It wouldn’t have put me on pole. By the time I’d taken a couple of diversions — one took me past a strip club called Centerfolds which claimed, rather hopefully, that it was driver-friendly — and stopped for a while to admire the looming, bewitching beauty of the Sphere, it took me about three hours.
The race is being marketed as the ultimate entertainment event for the 21st century, a Monaco Grand Prix for the modern age, Liberty Media’s new blue riband event, staged at a cost of £330m and to provide a place where speed meets hedonism meets glamour meets high-octane business meets testosterone meets conspicuous consumption. And it will be that. It will be all of that.
The race is being marketed as the ultimate entertainment event for the 21st century
The race weekend in Vegas will be a beautiful, breath- taking, intoxicating spectacle, a festival of excess and profit and neon for the Drive to Survive generation
Even the kerbs on the track pay homage to Vegas’ reputation as gambling capital of the world
It will be a beautiful, breath- taking, intoxicating spectacle, a festival of excess and profit and neon for the Drive to Survive generation, some of whom care little that the drivers’ title race ended long ago.
It will be the most Instagrammable sporting event there has ever been, a Super Bowl at 200mph.
The lap starts to the south of the Strip, behind the row of hotels and casinos that includes Harrah’s, the Venetian and Palazzo, and opposite an apartment building called Marie Antoinette which conjures up all sorts of connotations for a sport in which any concept of equality, or fraternity for that matter, has usually been anathema.
Less than a hundred yards away, comfortably close enough to hear the roar and whine of the engines when the action begins tomorrow, the Americana Apartments offer weekly and monthly rates and ‘move-in specials’, they speak of a different demographic from the fans who will be paying thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, to watch the racing over the next few days.
Mail Sport’s graphic shows the exact layout of the circuit, through the streets of Sin City
The start is in a former parking lot, which was bought by F1 for $240million. They were still putting the finishing touches to the start-finish area and the new pits complex yesterday morning and security guards blocked the curious from walking between the grandstands to the first corner.
The track runs down to the first corner, a right-to-left hairpin and curves into the back straight along Koval Lane, over a concrete gulley that channels a river which eventually drains into Lake Mead, and on towards the Sphere.
Sphere represents everything that Vegas is good at, the ability to go bigger and bolder with a spectacle, to break new ground with the scope of its ambition. People often talk about a football stadium looking like a space ship has landed. Sphere looks as if someone has dropped a planet on Earth.
The lap starts to the south of the Strip, behind the row of hotels and casinos that includes Harrah’s, the Venetian and Palazzo
The race in Vegas will be held at night, starting at 10pm local time
Grandstands and VIP boxes now dominate in front of the Bellagio and the hotel’s fountains
The track takes the drivers to the right of Sphere, which looks at its most spectacular in the dark, and around part of it in a semi-circle lined with grandstands. It is hard to think of a better place to watch the race.
Some people are calling it the Eighth Wonder of the World and if you can excuse hyperbole anywhere, it’s here. Next, the drivers will sweep up through a fast corner towards the Strip and the gleaming gold façade of the Trump hotel, past the south entrance of Wynn and its parade of shops.
Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Chanel and Dior. They’re all there. This is prime F1 territory. The sport will see those names and feel like it’s come home.
And then they turn sharp left on to the Strip next to Palazzo and across the boulevard from Treasure Island. A couple of young women in bikinis and ornate feather head-dresses waited at the foot of some escalators at the point where the drivers will get their first full view of the neon cityscape.
They asked if I wanted my picture taken with them.
They were local girls from Vegas who were doing some work for the Flamingo, where there is a famous burlesque show. They were happy F1 was coming to town.
I walked up the Strip with them for a while. ‘We’re just trying to keep the spirit of burlesque alive,’ one of them said. The spectator experience looked as if it might be at its most lavish here.
Grandstands and hospitality boxes will line most of The Strip come race day
Liberty Media have invested some £330m into bringing the race to Las Vegas
Grandstands and hospitality boxes lined the stretch of road in front of the fountains at Bellagio. John, Paul, George and Ringo gazed down from the top of the Mirage, where Cirque du Soleil are performing a Beatles-themed show called Love.
The Strip forms part of a flat-out section of two straights that goes on for more than a mile but inside the Best Western Plus casino, opposite the Mirage, it felt as if not even the spectacle of an F1 race would have a chance of shifting the denizens of this place from their seats at the slot machines.
One man sat in front of a tall plastic cylinder that said Craps on it. It held dice which, propelled by invisible gusts of air, fluttered and bounced merrily in their cage until they settled in place.
The man fed the machine again and the dice leapt and, in the background, Stevie Nicks’ voice drifted over the casino floor. ‘Talk to me,’ she sang, ‘you can talk to me, you can set your secrets free, baby.’ The dice settled again. The man fed more money into the slots. Everywhere, people stared, entranced, at the machines.
Outside, some men were asking the topless girls to pose with them. The girls said they were looking forward to the race. They were expecting a lot of European visitors. Good for business, they said. They said they worked for one of the big hotels.
Outside Caesars Palace, the statue of Julius Caesar pointed towards the end of the straight and beneath him, two men got into an argument about why one of them hadn’t picked up his dog’s mess.
‘Why don’t you make me pick it up, bitch,’ the dog owner said. The other man cut his losses and moved on.
Las Vegas has previously hosted two Formula One GPs in 1981 and 1982 (above)
Both races were staged in a track that was held in a different part of The Strip and ran through the parking lot of the Caesar Palace hotel
The track’s direction was counter-clockwise, which strained the drivers’ necks in the race
For all the talk of a symbiosis between Vegas and F1, is it really an F1 driver’s scene any more? Maybe 40 years ago, when the sport last raced here, it might have been.
But is it their kind of town now? They’re not exactly brought up to be rebels any more. They’re not dancing on tables like Graham Hill at the Tip Top Bar in Monaco. Lewis Hamilton isn’t even allowed to wear an earring.
The lap is nearly over. Before the Strip reaches the MGM Grand, the drivers turn sharply left down East Harmon Avenue and hurtle down past a Hilton with a fancy viewing area and the golf driving range with the suggestive slogan.
Before they swing left again towards the finish line, they will see a sign to the suburb of Paradise. But they don’t take that turn. The Las Vegas Grand Prix doesn’t go there.
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