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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Formula 1, or F1 as it’s better known, is the most popular motorsports series in the world—even though boiling it down to a “motorsports series” might be underselling the annual auto racing competition.
Success in an event like the Las Vegas Grand Prix on November 18 requires far more than just racing, as engineering, development and applied data science play just as large a role as driving ability, if not larger. To capture either a checkered flag in one of 23 individual “rounds,” i.e. races, on the schedule or the coveted Drivers Championship Trophy for the season, racers need their teams to construct the highest-level cars for them to operate.
And at least the top-ranked of the 10 total teams representing 20 full-time drivers spare no expense to ensure that happens. Teams like Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari were reportedly spending more than $400 million per car before F1 implemented a “cost cap” of $145 million ahead of the 2021 season in an attempt to level the playing field.
The cap is down to $138.6 million in 2023, but its effectiveness has been debatable. Red Bull already breached the cap in 2022—paying a $7 million fine—and overall parity has been more nonexistent than ever before.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set an F1 record with 15 race wins in 2022, and has already topped it with 17 victories this year. The Las Vegas Grand Prix is the penultimate F1 race of the year, and betting odds paint it as unlikely that anyone tops the 26-year-old Verstappen either here or in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.
Verstappen might be in the midst of the most dominant stretch in F1 history, but the sport has traditionally been top-heavy since its formation with a unified set of rules in 1946 and first full season in 1950. Before Verstappen’s three-year run as the champion, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton had won the titles in six of seven seasons.
Hamilton’s seven total Driver’s Championships is tied with Michael Schumacher, who most famously raced for Ferrari from 1996-2006, for the most all-time titles.
F1 is taking some steps to try to create more contenders, but it’s not nearly as much of a focus as it is for other racing leagues like the American-based NASCAR, the second-biggest motorsports competition in the world. NASCAR employs stock cars not unlike ones available to consumers from manufacturers Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota that are designed to stay close and pass each other during a race schedule predominantly taking place on oval tracks.
Passing is much more difficult with single-seat, open-wheel F1 cars, especially for the lead, and the appeal rests more in witnessing the ingenuity of the ultrafast vehicles in some of the most beautiful cities in the world.
It’s a draw that never fully took root in the United States, which until recently showed far less interest in F1 than international markets had. A Netflix documentary reality series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, is credited with F1’s suddenly surging success stateside after its 2019 debut.
Drive to Survive is now renewed for a sixth season, showcasing stars like Verstappen, Hamilton and fellow mainstays such as Sergio Pérez and Carlos Sainz Jr. The booming interest domestically led to F1 signing a three-year, $255 million media rights deal with ESPN before the 2022 season.
Liberty Media, which purchased F1 for $4.4 billion in 2016, reported $400 million in construction costs ahead of the first Las Vegas Grand Prix. F1 has a standard to uphold in keeping the local race as grandiose as its other spectacles such as its flagship event, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Monaco and Las Vegas are similar in that they’re both street races, but the latter is expected to be contested at much higher speeds. F1 and Las Vegas naturally wanted to showcase the most visually striking aspects of the city, and that’s resulted in the longest straight on the series schedule down Las Vegas Boulevard from Venetian to the Cosmopolitan.
Speeds are expected to reach 212 miles per hour during that stretch, and should average around 147 miles per hour for the 17-turn track as a whole.
That’s not quite as high of an average as F1’s fastest races, in Monza, Italy, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but much speedier than most stops on the schedule.
Las Vegas and F1 long felt like a natural fit, given both entities’ penchant for glitz and glamour. With the city’s recent ascent into becoming one of the most vibrant sports destinations in the world, a partnership was bound to occur.
Like most F1 races, it’s going to be scenic. It’s going to be fast. And Verstappen is in all likelihood going to win.