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Let the racing begin! Inaugural F1 events start Wednesday night

Updated November 11, 2023 - 12:46 pm

Things have come a long way since May 2022 when the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority first started talking about something called the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix.

At an LVCVA meeting, the 14-member board of directors voted unanimously to spend $19.5 million over three years to sponsor racing in the resort corridor.

Today, 548 days later, hundreds of millions more have been spent to pave and prepare infrastructure for the 3.8-mile course, race operator Liberty Media’s $500 million pit building that serves as the start and finish line is ready, thousands of grandstand seats, some with luxury boxes, have been erected around the course, and Harry Reid International Airport stands ready to receive many of the estimated 105,000 fans who will attend race events. Of the 105,000 fans, 20,000 to 30,000 are expected to be in grandstands along the race course during events.

F1 has been described as the biggest special event to hit Las Vegas in history, and the city’s gaming executives have long anticipated a financial bonanza from the event.

MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle, stressed with a crippling cyberattack in September and labor negotiations with the Culinary union in October and November, told investors at the end of his company’s earnings call that he was ready.

“Let’s go racing,” he said, “because I want to have some fun for once.”

Gaming industry analyst Brendan Bussmann of Las Vegas-based B Global said no city is better suited for F1 than Las Vegas.

“One of the things I think we heard loud and clear coming off of everyone’s earnings calls is that this has been a benefit to gaming and nongaming revenue to the destination (Las Vegas),” Bussmann said. “The exposure on an international circuit will pay dividends now and down the road. No one knows better how to put these events on, and I think everyone will see that as the event crosses the finish line this coming weekend.”

Not everyone happy

But not everyone is happy with Formula One’s arrival.

Strip workers, particularly those at resorts encircled by the race course, say it has been taking them an extra hour to get to work and to go home because of road closures during construction and traffic congestion resulting from F1 preparations.

Many say they aren’t anticipating big paychecks because many foreign visitors tip poorly or not at all.

Local residents say they have been priced out of the market with high ticket costs of more than $1,000 apiece. And, when Liberty Media announced special rates for locals, it turned out the available tickets were for Thursday’s practice runs and not Saturday’s race,

Public transportation routes in the resort corridor have been vastly altered, making commutes challenging.

While many resort companies expect to make big bucks — the economic impact of F1 is estimated to be $1.3 billion — many smaller businesses have seen things dry up as locals and some tourists avoid the traffic mess on the Strip.

Residents who love their iconic Las Vegas attractions have bemoaned MGM’s decision to temporarily remove trees from in front of Bellagio to improve fan sightlines from the massive Bellagio Fountain Club grandstands and boxes.

Others have criticized efforts by Liberty Media to secure licensing agreements by threatening to block or shine bright lights on potential race viewing areas that don’t pay up.

Although some resorts have reported room rates have plummeted by as much as 75 percent since they first went on sale last year, others say their rates have held steady and some properties have sold out. Regardless of the rate decline, the average daily room rate is expected to be well over the current 2023 average of $180.50 a night.

But through all of the criticisms, events remain on track.

Event schedule

The event begins Wednesday with pre-race opening ceremonies for main grandstand and skybox ticket holders at 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 5) followed by the first full day of races with circuit events and two practice sessions on Thursday with gates opening at 6 p.m. and the first practice session from 8:30 to 9:30, and the second from midnight to 1 a.m.

On Friday, for the third practice session, gates open at 6 p.m., practice is from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., and then the crucial qualifying runs for drivers — to be among those making it to the final — is from midnight to 1 a.m.

Saturday is Grand Prix race day, with the luxury Paddock Club opening for partiers at 5 p.m. and other gates at 6, then a driver parade at 7:50 p.m. and the final race beginning at 10.

Steve Hill, the LVCVA president and CEO who coordinated efforts to bring F1 to Las Vegas in 2022, is expected to be watching events with LVCVA customers at the Harmon Corner viewing area.

From the start, Hill has viewed the F1 event as a means to expose Las Vegas to a different audience, which is why he urged spending $6.5 million a year for three years to bring it here.

The LVCVA added to the investment in April, agreeing to spend $7 million for race tickets. Many of those were resold to resort companies needing ticket inventory, but some were reserved for LVCVA trade show customers such as CES, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Specialty Equipment Market Association to demonstrate how Las Vegas can stage a massive megaevent and encourage more big shows from their colleagues.

Long-term commitment

While the formal commitment to F1 is for three years, Hill envisions it enduring well beyond 2025, filling an annual hole that has been on the city’s events calendar.

Hill was encouraged that Liberty Media invested in Las Vegas with its paddock building just off Koval Lane that can be used as a meeting venue when F1 isn’t using it.

The F1 circuit also includes a spin around the Sphere, which also has its own grandstands and will become a new marketing conduit. Sphere officials have promised there will be an F1 takeover of the building’s exosphere assuring that eyeballs and social media will see race imagery in the week leading up to events.

That means people in planes flying into Las Vegas — and there are expected to be more than 400 private planes coming to the city in addition to nearly 600 average daily commercial flights — may see F1 on display.

As is the case for any major special event, safety and security will be top of mind.

“We’re planning for this like it’s New Year’s Eve,” Metropolitan Police Department Undersheriff Andrew Walsh said during a recent news conference. “I think that’s the best way to look at it. The number of visitors that will be here is comparable to that, so that’s what we’re planning for.”

Metro police “will have a large presence both inside the track and outside the track” and have a liaison provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “in case we need anything from our federal partners” to help with security, Walsh said.

Traffic closures

Traffic closures will be enforced on parts of Las Vegas Boulevard, Koval Lane, Harmon Avenue and Sands Avenue from Thursday to Saturday beginning each day at 5 p.m. with a “hard closure” at 7 and the roads reopening at around 6 a.m. the next day, “contingent on how fast the crews can clear the circuits,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has implemented a temporary “no drone zone” over the track area and those trying to fly drones, perhaps to get an overhead view of the event, face a $30,000 fine and possible criminal prosecution, Walsh said.

The Clark County Fire Department and its emergency management division, the Regional Transportation Commission and the Nevada Department of Transportation have been working for months on plans to ensure safety during the event, said Jim Gibson, chairman of the Clark County Commission.

The Fire Department will link up with local ambulance companies to form emergency medical service teams along the track, and firefighters will be deployed on the track circuit during the title race to respond to emergencies, Gibson said.

So all the planning is done and everything is ready for racing.

“As we sit on the eve of F1 week in Las Vegas, it’s exciting to finally see this megaevent come together,” Bussmann said. “It’s great for the destination in terms of customer base, exposure at an international level, and the revenue generation for the city. Very few events can compete with an event like F1, and it will be good in the years to come for the destination.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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