Feature F1 Unlocked
PADDOCK INSIDER: How the Entertainment Capital of the World is living up to its billing ahead of the Las Vegas GP
Walking into the paddock on Wednesday evening ahead of media day, the organisers of the Las Vegas Grand Prix left visitors in no doubt as to where they were in the world...
A chorus of Elvises greeted the drivers as they strolled through the entrance gates, individual bespoke ‘Welcome to Vegas’ signs with the drivers’ names were on hand for each to pose with – after, of course, they were handed a sparkly sequin-emblazed jacket with ‘Las Vegas 23’ plastered on the back.
As you wander down the huge paddock, lavish hospitality units straddle one side – each with their team logo etched in neon lights above the door. Opposite, several teams have brought bespoke designs for the garage doors – with Haas tweaking the famous Vegas sign to read 'Welcome to Haas Vegas'.
Look up and you’ll see an enormous four-level building, the length of three American Football fields back-to-back. An F1 logo that adorns the top of the building and is so big and bright, you’ll likely be able to see it from the planes taking off and landing at nearby Harry Reid International Airport.
At the other end of the paddock, you’ll find a ‘no money’ casino, featuring your typical games, including Roulette and Blackjack, a wedding chapel – with the words ‘lights out and together we go’ emblazoned above the altar and an Elvis officiant – and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s hospitality garage.
If you head back in the other direction, it’s likely you’ll bump into a variety of entertainers, from magicians to more Elvises and the performing arts troupe Blue Man Group.
And that is all just in the paddock.
Having visited Las Vegas 18 months ago to check out what we had in store following the news that F1 would be returning to the city 40 years after it had last visited, seeing what the organisers have managed to do in such a short space of time is extraordinary.
The Las Vegas Strip has had an overhaul, with safety fencing and walls, floodlights, grandstands and hospitality terraces now straddling 2km of one of the world’s most famous pieces of real estate. Behind them remain some of Vegas’s most iconic hotels – from the Bellagio and Caesars Palace to the Venetian and Paris.
The once pot-holed four-lane strip of road is now beautifully paved over with super-smooth asphalt, with a palm tree-lined central reservation remaining in place to define the 15-metre wide track.
Further round the track, you’ll find the start-finish straight – which on one side is towered over by the aforementioned new pit and paddock building, and the other overlooked by huge grandstands that’ll give fans a cracking view out of the final corner and into the first turn, as well as into the pit garages.
Crack on round the lap and you’ll find the Sphere – a giant golf ball-shaped stadium that is adorned with 1.2m LED screens. Just a shell when I was here last February, now it’s one of the most spectacular structures in the world. It’s visible for miles and displays all sorts of images, from a giant yellow cartoon face which blinks occasionally, to the Las Vegas sign, to event sponsors and team logos.
The headline show of the day was the glitzy opening ceremony, featuring performances from the likes of John Legend, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Kylie Minogue before the drivers were introduced team by team to massive fanfare.
It embodied everything that is Vegas. It’s bigger, it’s bolder, it’s brighter. Las Vegas is all about the superlatives. It is surely going to be not just the most Instagrammable Grand Prix there has ever been, but rather the most Instagrammable sporting event there has ever been.
And in among all of this, you’ll find your usual cast – from the drivers and team principals to the engineers, mechanics and thousands of staff who make Formula 1 happen every other weekend.
And while, yes, they’re embracing the Vegas vibe, their sharp focus is on the racing and finding a way to conquer the 6.2.km, 17-turn track that is not only the second-longest on the calendar but also the second-fastest behind Monza, otherwise known as the Temple of Speed.
It’s a track that is littered with unknowns. It’s all to play for. Just what you’d expect when you come to Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World.