The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix is shaping up to be many things. A star-studded event on par with the Monaco Grand Prix. A visual assault on the senses as Formula 1 cars scream down the Vegas Strip under the lights. But according to teams, drivers, and race officials alike, it is shaping up to be something else.
According to race officials and simulation data, drivers are expected to hit average speeds of 147 miles per hour (237 kilometers per hour), with top speeds approaching 212 mph, or 342 km/h:
Just how fast would those average and top speeds compare with other circuits on the F1 schedule? The data suggests that Las Vegas could be on par with Monza, the iconic Italian circuit known by its unofficial title: The Temple of Speed. F1 cars average around 164 mph (264km/h) at Monza, with top speeds approaching 225 mph (362km/h).
“I’ve already driven it on the simulator,” said Williams driver Alexander Albon ahead of the Mexico City Grand Prix. “It’s hard to get proper data from there, because obviously, the track is still open to the public, so it’s not as accurate as it normally is. But it’s clear that it’s very high speed. It feels extremely quick when you’re driving on the simulator.”
“It is gonna be fast,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown told me when I spoke with him last month.
“That’s a fact, right? We’ve seen the circuit,” Brown continued. “I think it’s either the longest or the second longest straight in Formula One. So it is gonna be fast. That is a fact.”
What makes this a certainty, given that we have yet to see racing on this track and the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix will be a voyage of discovery for drivers and teams alike? It starts with the layout. Here is the circuit drivers will tackle in a few days’ time:
The layout offers just 17 turns, but offers drivers three long straights, including the section coming out of Turn 12, into Turn 13 and down the Vegas Strip into the quick chicane made up of Turns 14, 15, and 16.
That long straight will take drivers past some of the most iconic sights of the Vegas landscape, including The Mirage, Caesar’s Palace, The Bellagio (and its iconic fountains), Paris Las Vegas, and the Cosmopolitan:
The main focus for speed will be that long straight, running from Turn 12 down into Turns 14, 15, and 16. This stretch covers 1.20 miles (1.92 kilometers) and is indeed the longest straight on the F1 calendar. While not technically a full straight, as it winds a bit to the left at Turn 13, drivers are expected to be full throttle until they need to slow down for the chicane at the end.
This is where you can expect to see drivers hit maximum speeds in excess of 210 mph.
This stretch is also expected to be one of two “DRS zones” on the track, with the other expected to be the straight coming out of Turn 4 and bringing drivers towards Turn 5. DRS, or Drag Reduction System, was introduced by F1 ahead of the 2011 season, in an effort to increase overtaking on the track. As Brown explained to me last month, in simplistic terms for F1, “drag is slow, downforce is fast.” In an effort to speed up cars and increase opportunities for overtaking, F1 introduced “DRS zones,” dedicated points on the track where drivers who are within one second of the car in front of them can open up a flap on their rear wing, thereby reducing drag and increasing speed
In this image from Pirelli, you can see the DRS flap open on the rear wing of a Red Bull F1 car:
This means drivers will get an additional boost as they take on those two straights, including the longest straight on the F1 schedule. Another reason this race is expected to be one of the fastest on the schedule.
A final aspect that will contribute to the speed? The surface and width of the circuit. As this is a street layout, the surface is being redone ahead of the race to smooth out any bumps that were present on the Vegas streets. While drivers will be racing down just one side of the strip, they will still have between 12 and 15 meters to work with, in contrast to other street circuits like the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which sees drivers contend with portions of the track that might offer half that space.
When you add up all these elements, the result can come down to one word.
And that might make for a true spectacle under the lights.
“I think that’ll make it an exciting race because it’s not a very, I think from a driver point of view, difficult race track and usually that means great racing because there’s less separation between the cars, because there’s less corners to separate from, so to speak,” said Brown to me last month.
“So I think it’s gonna be awesome.”