Timing is right for London GP as Las Vegas sets new F1 blueprint


F1 sees this November's Las Vegas Grand Prix as a vision of its future and the (unlikely) plans for a London Grand Prix fit right in

Mercedes rear F1 tyres smoking in front of Las Vegas skyline

Street circuits are flavour of the month for F1

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

Teams may rise and fall, drivers come and go, and new generations of celebrities will walk the grid, but one element of Formula 1 remains reassuringly constant.

No matter what else is going on, you can be certain that yet another proposal for the London Grand Prix is around the corner —  destined never to come to fruition.

As ever, the basics are covered in the latest proposition revealed this week: backing from London’s City Hall, initial discussions with F1 and an FIA Grade 1 circuit design.

But, also true to form, the plans are highly optimistic — reliant on closing public roads that don’t seem entirely suited to grands prix and also lacking anything in the way of confirmed funding (perhaps it’s no coincidence that property investors are currently gathering for a conference in the South of France — a prime moment to tap them up).

London Grand Prix render

London GP proposals are centred on Royal Docks

Dar / LDN Collective

While the odds still appear stacked against a Montreal-style circuit being installed as part of a Royal Docks redevelopment in East London, the timing couldn’t be much better. Formula 1 is sending clear signals that grands prix are overdue a shake-up. And big city races are flavour of the month.

This weekend, F1 races on the Jeddah street circuit, before heading to Albert Park in the heart of Melbourne. Then it’s on to the Baku City Circuit, followed by the suburban Miami Autodrome.

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And this is all before what the series bills as “The World’s Most-Anticipated Formula 1 Race”.

You may know November’s Las Vegas Grand Prix better as “The World’s Most Expensive Formula 1 Race” thanks to deals such as Caesars Palace Nobu Sky Villa Emperor Package, allowing you to watch the race from your roof terrace alongside up to 75 friends as part of a five-night stay… costing $5m (£4.1m).

If that’s too steep, the Wynn Hotel has its four-night Million Dollar All-Access Experience that includes six paddock passes, a hot lap and a “private photo safari”.

At the budget end, Caesars’ cheapest grandstand package starts at $2600 per person per night, while entry alone — the first phase now long sold out — was $500 for three-day general admission and $2000 per grandstand seat.

Little wonder that F1 expects half a billion dollars in revenue from the race

It’s easy to be sniffy about the — to give it its full name — Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix, but the demand for tickets at those prices is strong evidence of F1’s growing appeal and fanbase.

F1 cars racing past Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas GP render

Cars will race past the Ballagio fountains on the Strip in Las Vegas this November

Tilke Design and Architects

Silverstone saw a similar surge in demand for tickets last year and while there may be concerns that a London race could cannibalise sales for the home of British racing, it seems more likely that there’s enough latent demand to fill the projected 95,000 capacity in the same year as a sell-out British Grand Prix — even at the prices that would be needed to pay for the event.

But the cost of tickets can easily distract from the real significance of Las Vegas, which represents a new vision for F1, lit in neon and with a pounding soundtrack.

“I’m sure that this will be an incredible push for all the promoters to see what can be done better,” said F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali on a recent call with investors.

Fans booking into the Premier Inn London Docklands might not find pool parties, sun-kissed balconies or star-filled shows, but the London Grand Prix proposals have plenty in common with Las Vegas — with added drizzle.

East London Royal Docks park and F1 circuit proposal

Waterfront park could be dismantled for a fortnight each year to reveal the racing circuit

Dar / LDN Collective

Floating modules are proposed to line the waterfront carrying grandstands, food outlets, luxury hotels and entertainment facilities while the ExCel exhibition centre, at the heart of the circuit, provides plenty of space for additional experiences.

For all of F1’s glamour, attending a race can still appear rough and ready. Last year brought complaints of interminable queues for water in sweltering temperatures at the Spanish and Italian Grands Prix, while fans continue to pay hefty sums for functional food.

Trudging from paddock to grandstand can be dusty or muddy, depending on the weather, while the less said about toilets, the better.

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Even city circuits struggle to funnel tens of thousands of supporters through narrow streets and screen off the full track lest a non-paying pedestrian should spy a blurred flash of colour through a narrow gap.

For many fans, it’s an authentic experience that forms part of the atmosphere, the history and the familiarity outweigh, but you can see what F1 is thinking: if your only experience of racing has been F1 filtered through weekend coverage and the high-resolution Drive to Survive, what are you going to think as you try to shelter from the sun under a scaffolding grandstand as the wind whips up a cloud of dust?

Vegas has been criticised for presenting the Grand Prix as part of the entertainment package. But that is the point.

It’s a full weekend where the race remains the jewel in the crown, but where the build-up involves a concert rather than a support race. And instead of racing to the car park to avoid the queue, you can stroll from your grandstand to hit the bar, the casinos, or the shows.

It’s more of a music festival with F1 as the headliner, and that’s where the London proposal has taken its lead.

Las Vegas circuit by Cosmopolitan

Vegas GP weekend promises more than a race

Other circuits — including Silverstone — have seen the direction that F1 is taking and already added to their offerings, with concerts and other entertainment alongside the track action, but Las Vegas is likely to take this to an extreme.

It’s also unique in that F1 is promoting the race itself, in association with the Strip’s hotels.

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You don’t need to be cynical to realise that it’s a tremendous money-making wheeze by F1, a solution to the intolerable problem of hotel guests being able to see the cars race down the strip free of charge: the hotels contribute to the cost of hosting the race and make it back by jacking up their prices.

F1 has also bought the land where the permanent pit complex will be built. It will be open year-round to provide a constant F1 presence — perhaps in a similar way to London’s new F1 Arcade where fans can watch grands prix and race virtually.

“I think there are many countries where it’s obvious we would be less effective as a promoter than the U.S,” said Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty which own’s F1’s commercial rights. “There may be somewhere we could operate reasonably effectively or maybe have some form of co-promotion and that could be interesting.”

Whether the London Grand Prix happens or — more likely — not, it’s clear that the look of racing is changing, while demand is pushing up prices, alienating fans who have followed the sport for decades.

And while F1 does appear committed to some of racing’s historic venues such as Silverstone and Monza, its indifference to Spa suggests that money remains key.

Grand prix racing has a brightly-lit future. How much of the past will it take with it?