Driven: The 2023 Las Vegas GP circuit*

F1

*Well, the bits open to the public at least

As F1 confirms the return of the Las Vegas Grand Prix for 2023, Chris Medland negotiates the traffic, billboards, red lights and broken tarmac of Sin City to get a sense of the neon-lit street circuit

Traffic on the Las Vegas Strip at night

Alamy

It’s straight out of a video game, but Formula 1 really will be racing on Las Vegas Boulevard, or the Strip to you and me.

Whether you’re a fan of Liberty Media’s desire to add destination cities to the F1 calendar or not, you can’t deny that if you’re going to do it, do it right, and you can’t get much more right than the central part of the Strip for a Las Vegas location.

Now, seeing as there’s not enough travel and events to work at on the current schedule, I thought the sensible thing to do would be to fill the gap between Jeddah and Melbourne with a trip to Las Vegas. And I must admit to looking forward to it a little bit more than the former…

The beauty of a street circuit is you can drive it yourself before it becomes a race track, and with the Vegas location that becomes even easier, so I decided to head out to take a look at just where F1 cars are set to race next November.

Las Vegas F1 track map

 

Las Vegas GP Start/finish straight

Las Vegas GP circuit turns 1-4

It starts with an absolute failure, because the opening four corners don’t yet exist. In fact, nor does the final corner. Turn 14 will be a fast left-hander leading onto a relatively short pit straight, feeding into a tight left-hand hairpin, another kink left at Turn 2, then two right-handers that are essentially one long sweeping fast right that joins the existing Koval Lane.

For now, the location of this first section is simply a derelict, undeveloped swathe of land. It has an advertising board on the outside of an unused building stating it has been earmarked for development into a resort, but its owners have clearly seen F1 as added value compared to another casino off the Strip.

Passing the inconspicuous wasteland on the right, this is where I can pick up the track, although in my rented BMW 4 Series I’m definitely a long way off the impression that F1 drivers will have when they take in the first long stretch on an existing road that will allow cars to get up to around 200mph before a hard braking zone into a more typical 90-degree right hander.

Driving it, you’re still feeling very much in Vegas with the Wynn and Encore straight ahead and huge resorts off to the left, but the first landmark is one yet to be built.

 

Turn 5 and the MSG Sphere

Las Vegas GP circuit turns 5-7 The 90-degree right at Turn 5 takes us into a construction site right now, but it’s the impressive 112m-tall MSG Sphere that is taking shape.

As part of that development, a bespoke left-hand curve around the sphere will be incorporated, with a corner that looks very similar to the impressive Turn 3 in Sochi.

The track then rejoins existing roads where Koval meets Sands Avenue, and this is where it all gets a lot more fun. For starters, Sands takes a sweep right and then sweep left – although they may be too spaced out to be much more than flat-out sections – as it passes between the Wynn and Palazzo, iconic structures in the Vegas skyline.

 

Turn 7 and onto the Strip

Las Vegas GP circuit T7-9

A tight left-hander could be an overtaking opportunity, but if recent races are anything to go by drivers will be taking an “after you” approach as they join the famous Strip opposite Treasure Island (I know, it sounds ridiculous describing a track layout in this way…).

There’s plenty of space at this junction to get creative with the corner radius and apex position, but for my lap that size is a pain as it allows five lanes of traffic in multiple directions to be controlled by traffic lights. Timing it badly, instead of attacking a corner onto the Strip I’m simply sat stationary for a number of minutes watching cars go in pretty much every direction before we’re released.

It’s a reminder, though, of how busy this stretch of road is and what a big deal it will be for F1 to close it down to host a race.

The suspension rattling road surface – the middle of which is formed of large metal plates to cover damaged sections – is also a reminder of the investment required to get the track up to standard. It’s not just the race weekend itself that will see the road affected and closed off, but resurfacing works will also prove to be disruptive in the build-up.

 

The 200mph+ Strip section

Las Vegas strip in daytime

Cars will race up from Treasure Island

Las Vegas circuit by Cosmopolitan

A chicane will be built at the end of the 1.2 mile stretch

But after that left turn onto the Strip comes the absolute jewel in the crown, as the track runs for 1.2 miles – or nearly two kilometres – along the boulevard and passes between numerous resorts, including Caesars Palace that infamously hosted two world championship rounds in its car park 40 years ago.

The new layout couldn’t be much more different, as speeds will exceed 200mph while cars could well be side-by-side in front of the Bellagio fountains, ready for the best overtaking spot on the track. Where the layout leaves the Strip again is between Planet Hollywood and the Cosmopolitan, utilising a wide junction onto East Harmon Avenue that will allow a three-part chicane to be installed, turning left-right-left and requiring more braking than a simple left-hander.

Las Vegas Strip traffic at night

Shutting down the Strip is a statement of F1’s growing presence in the US

George Rose/Getty Images

That should improve the racing opportunities, and will be the final real chance to make a move before a drag race to the line, with Turn 14 looking like it will be flat out.

As I try and get a feel for how it will be as a race track, I’m hampered by numerous red lights and delays in lines of traffic, partly driven by road works in the first half of the lap and the sheer volume of traffic on the Strip – including the moving billboards that are trucks with digital displays, that are less likely to be an issue for F1 drivers. But the slow traffic is more than acceptable given the amazing view of the different resorts that is available. Imagine it with the quick traffic of 2023…

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It’s impossible not to be excited about how it’s going to look under the lights on a Saturday night, in a city that is built to host huge amounts of people all moving around the area. The track will snake under pedestrian bridges and monorails, between palm trees and casinos, and the surrounding infrastructure should also provide plenty of amazing vantage points for fans and those all-important television shots.

To shut down one of the most instantly recognisable stretches of road in the United States – and perhaps in the world – is a sign of just how attractive F1 has become in America, and the sport is cashing in on that success.

It might not have the most thrilling corners drivers will ever experience, but it is a layout that should allow good racing, and that hasn’t come at the expense of the location.

You can’t buy history, but if Monaco’s lack of a racing spectacle is accepted because of its stunning location and party atmosphere, Vegas has every chance of marrying all three together – without needing A Little White Chapel.


Every US Grand Prix venue ranked, and the very best races we’ve seen in America: see our F1 in the USA-themed May 2022 issue here.

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