Motorsport: Vegas F1 too big a gamble for the fans
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Two previous races were spectacularly unsuccessful
The amateurish, embarrassing kerfuffle that is the political manoeuvring and battle for power (for that read “egotism” or “conceited arrogance”) around the method of qualifying for a Formula 1 Grand Prix rumbles on.
By the time you read this the situation may be settled, but equally probably will not be.
Kimi Raikkonen, never one to shy away from saying what he thinks, puts it well when he says: “People from the outside must look at us and think, what stupid people, what are they doing?”
I reckon that is spot on.
Leaving that chimps’ tea party aside, a smile was brought to my lips recently when Bernie Ecclestone suggested that there may well be a Las Vegas F1 Grand Prix in the near future. A little bit back to the future here, I think, as the “Gambling Capital Of The World” was host to two spectacularly unsuccessful GPs in 1980 and 1981.
The races took place in the Caesars Palace Hotel car park.
A real car park this was, billiard-table smooth with a 3.5km track made from 1m-high concrete walls giving the drivers the impression of driving in a low-rise canyon. From the pits we could see the tops of the cars and driver’s helmets on the other side of the track.
Kimi Raikkonen in a practise round at the Bahrain circuit.
The track seemed to have been designed by somebody who had driven endlessly around a real car park, up and down the rows looking for an empty spot before driving around the outside of the carpark to look again. It was uninspiring, simple, but really quite quick and, worryingly for the drivers, run in an anti-clockwise direction. That was unusual for the times.
The expected heat and, with the race held in a time where driver fitness was not held in the same high regard it is these days — in fact, a beer and a cigarette was more common than any fitness trainer — meant driver fatigue and neck muscles unused to the strain of working in the opposite direction would be a problem.
We had driven down to Nevada from the previous race at the wonderful Ile Notre-Dame circuit in Montreal. Being our first visit to this City of Lights, I am not sure we were prepared for the impact it was to have on us.
Arriving on the Interstate15 after many hundreds of kilometres of plain Mojave Desert, there was no real sign of the place, even when we were just a few miles away, until we crested a rise in the road. There before us, in the middle of nowhere, was this concrete and glass oasis.
The hotel rooms were enormous, as were many of the guests; slot machines stood like guards of honour on every corridor until they suddenly formed into battalion-like armies, row upon row, in cavernous, brightly lit and impossibly loud gambling floors.
Our first visit to the track demanded some form of sustenance or liquid so we set off in search of ice to keep the drinks cool in the burning 35C temperatures and a very helpful man pointed us toward a three-storey house by the side of the hotel.
We got there and searched but no ice. More searching and more questions, and we were led into said house, only to realise that we were inside the ice machine. Three storeys of ice in all its forms with a mini-Bobcat there to load it for us.
That machine wasn’t necessary as we only had puny ice buckets.
The way from hotel room to track was via the hotel breakfast room where, as soon as you sat down, a Keno card was thrust under your nose and the numbers game started.
One of our number won a couple of thousand dollars and it took some “persuasion” from all of us to convince him the money should really be shared around.
In each of the two years it was run, the race was unable to persuade the gambling population to vacate the crap tables, slots or roulette wheels to come and sit in the bleachers and watch. In fact, the events were almost invisible to the city.
This was despite the 1980 race being the decider for the F1 Drivers’ World Championship, eventually won by an exhausted and spent Nelson Piquet. In 1981 the same scenario occurred, but this time Keke Rosberg took the title.
If Ecclestone does get the race to Las Vegas, hopefully not at the expense of a traditional European race, I think he or the promoters will have an equally hard job attracting the night owls of Sin City to sit in the blistering heat of the desert afternoon watching a sport that is foreign to them.
Even IndyCar cannot sustain an event there, and no venue in the US that is not on either the East or West coasts has been able to make a success of a Formula 1 Grand Prix for long. Las Vegas is where fortunes are lost, if you are a punter, and fortunes are made, if you are a casino.
The shape of Formula 1 at this time, with investment bankers raking in the profits, is very similar to a casino, so — who knows — it may well succeed.
Then again, we fans, the punters in this case, may well lose a bit more of our fortune — that is, the heritage of the sport.
This race would be not so much a Back To The Future but perhaps, to quote the Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”