Around this time of year, the last week in March, traditionally the Formula 1 season gets underway. My childhood was spent counting down the days to the first Grand Prix in Australia. This was the first race of a 16/17 event calendar. Races would be every 2 weeks and the season would end in October.
This week Formula One management announced a race in 2023 which will take place around the streets of Las Vegas. Currently there are 23 Grands Prix on the calendar so another event would miss out or the schedule would have 24 events. Liberty Media, the owners of F1, have hinted that 25 races will be the minimum and fans and teams could expect a 30 event schedule in future seasons. A difficult prospect for team personnel.
In the 1980s and 90s the race calendar was largely focused on Europe. 12 races on the continent and 3-4 races across Japan, North and South America and Australia. Since F1 has grown in popularity cities and venues have been queuing up to host races.
Why is that?
After Bernie Ecclestone left the business the financial structure of the sport has become significantly more open.
Bernie wanted to "protect" the TV companies by not enabling any content other than what was broadcast on the weekend into the public domain. The F1 website wouldn't let you copy and paste pictures until 2018. Everything was rights restricted. The result of this was the sport being accessible to middle to latter aged people and that was reflected in the sponsors like Rolex. What kid has £5,000 to spend on a Rolex perpetual?
Now Liberty Media have changed the financial strategy and opened up the content to a younger audience via Netflix and YouTube. Chunks of the racing are available free online and for £20 a year fans can get access to F1 tv archive. This has generated demand especially across younger viewers. Look at the sponsors in F1 now - Google Android, Coca Cola and Meta.
Governments and cities want a part of this but can't commit to the billions required to build a track.
Hosting a race on a street circuit is significantly cheaper than building a permanent race facility. Similar to how a World Cup in England or Spain would be cheaper than hosting in a non-footballing nation because the stadiums are already in place and minimal costs to get them in shape are paid.
With significantly lower costs the race "in the heart of the city" does 2 things. Firstly, it brings in ticket and sponsorship money for the event. Secondly, it provides unrivalled exposure of the city itself. You can't do that with football or stadium sports. The TV audience only sees the pitch. But for F1 they see the sites and landmarks of the city as a part of the action.
With 3 races planned in the USA, and the possibility of a 24-race calendar, the rigours and stresses of a global circus will make life hard for team personnel. They already feel stretched. By adding Las Vegas to an already busy schedule the owners of Formula One are certainly taking a gamble.