F1 Las Vegas History – Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

F1 Car in las vegas in the 1980s

The history of F1 in Las Vegas actually started over 40 years ago, and now Formula 1 is coming back to Vegas in 2023 with a night race held in November.

This article takes a brief look back at the history of Formula 1 Grand Prix in Vegas, and also provides details on how long the current contract is for F1 in the city of neon lights.

Contents

F1 Las Vegas history

2023 will not be the first time Formula 1 has raced in Las Vegas.

1981, 42 years prior, was the first time the Formula 1 circus came to the city. And back then it was called the Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix.

A temporary circuit was built in the parking lot of the Caesar’s Palace hotel. 

With only a limited amount of space in which to design a track, the layout that was settled upon featured a number of almost identical looping switchback turns to try and make the most of the area.

Being set in a parking lot, the track was also completely flat with zero elevation change and was entirely featureless. Surrounding the circuit were concrete barriers, tyre walls and the odd sandy run-off area.

The F1 drivers were not impressed with the circuit. John Watson, driving for McLaren, said “it was probably the least appealing Grand Prix circuit I’ve ever raced on.”

Whilst the circuit backdrop of glitzy hotels and casinos was ever present, it was still very apparent that the race was being run in a dusty parking lot.

Not only were the drivers less than impressed with the circuit, but it was also very apparent to fans watching on the TV that the race appeared to lack much of the glitz and glamour you’d associate with Vegas.

Despite that, the Caesars Palace Grand Prix ran for two years.

Image credit: Ruoteclassiche

1981 Caesar's Palace Grand Prix

In 1981, the first time in Las Vegas history that F1 had raced there, the Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix was the final race of the season. And as it transpired, it was also the championship showdown between Carlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet and Jacques Lafitte.

On 17th October 1981 when it was a warm 23 Celsius / 73 Fahrenheit, the first ever Las Vegas F1 race got underway.

Reutemann started on pole but slipped down the order through the 75 lap race. In the end, Alan Jones won the race for Williams. Piquet was 5th, Lafitte 6th and Reutemann finished 8th and out of the points.

Piquet had done enough to clinch the title over Reutemann by a single point. But after 1 hour and 45 minutes of hard driving in the hot conditions, he was exhausted and had to be carried out of his car up to the podium.

1982 Caesar's Palace Grand Prix

The following year the Formula 1 returned to Las Vegas on the 25th September. This time it was much hotter with thermometers reaching 37 Celsius / 99 Fahrenheit.

Once again the Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix was the final race of the season. And again it would serve at the title showdown, this time between Keke Rosberg and John Watson.

Rosberg qualified 6th and Watson 9th. Alain Prost was the polesitter, but once the race got underway Prost’s tyres overheated and he slipped back to a 4th place finish.

John Watson performed a storming drive to finish 2nd, but Keke Rosberg’s eventual 5th place finish was enough for him to win the title by 5 points.

The end of F1 in Las Vegas

After 1982, the Vegas race organisers and Formula 1 decided to part ways.

The crowd numbers at both the 1981 and 1982 Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix were much lower than anticipated. Vegas was not the iconic hub for high-rollers, glitz and glamour that is now is, and F1 had it sights on some other venues around the USA.

But that was not the end of the circuit in the parking lot

Caesar's Palace Grand Prix '83 and '84 - Indycar

With F1 out of the picture the organisers turned to the USA equivalent, Indycar. They agreed on a 2-year deal to bring the American series to the Vegas.

The circuit was heavily modified. The repetitive loops of the infield were done away with and instead it was a modified oval shape with just 5 corners and slightly over a mile long.

The race each year was 178 laps. In 1983 it was won by Mario Andretti and in ’84 by Tom Sneva.

After the 1984 race it was decided to call it a day for motorsport in Vegas. Both Indycar and F1 Las Vegas history had come to an end, and the parking lot was developed in to more buildings.

Nowadays the Forum Shops at Caesar’s and The Mirage hotel have been built over the site of the Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix circuit.

2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix

Roll forwards 40 years and Formula 1 is coming back to Vegas on the 16th – 18th November 2023 for a night race.

An entirely new street circuit is due to be built, running down a section of the Strip past the site of the original Vegas F1 track and working its away around Vegas landmarks like the Sphere.

See my separate article for full details of the route and layout of the new Vegas F1 track.

How much will the Las Vegas F1 track cost to build?

The initial budget for the construction of the Las Vegas F1 track was $400 million dollars, but unforeseen issues in the build have already pushed that up to $560 million. 

Included in that cost is the new 300,000 sqft permanent pit lane building an resurfacing of all the roads the track runs on to an FIA-grade tarmac.

Despite the huge cost, FIA president Stefano Domenical still expects the race to generate $1.2bn in revenue. 

Additionally, analysis suggests the Grand Prix will raise a further $1.3 billion for the local economy.

Las Vegas Grand Prix contract

The Clark County Commission have granted permission for Formula 1 to hold a Grand Prix on the streets of Las Vegas until 2032.

Clark Country own the roads that the circuit uses, so their permission is needed for the roads to be closed to hold the event.

Currently, the race promoters only have a three-year contract with Formula 1, but all being well that can be extended for the full 10 years until 2032.

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

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Nicola

In 1982 the winner was Michele Alboreto (his first victory) with a Tyrrell.

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