F1 plans trip to Las Vegas for grand prix on The Strip

EXCLUSIVE: Ecclestone in talks about return after 32 years of race around famous streets

Formula One executive Bernie Ecclestone is in discussions about hosting a grand prix on the streets of Las Vegas, including The Strip.

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“Vegas say they are ready to go and it would be on The Strip for sure,” said Ecclestone, referring to the famous road which runs through the centre of Las Vegas and is lined with casino resorts including the Bellagio and Caesars Palace.

F1 last raced in Las Vegas in 1982 on a track in the Caesars Palace car park but it failed to get support from within the industry due to the makeshift, temporary nature of the course. A race on the streets would have more permanence and do a better job of showing off the local landmarks.

“Vegas would be a fantastic addition to the F1 calendar and would be successful for so many people involved,” said leading F1 sponsorship agent Zak Brown. “It’s a great fit for the F1 brand and would draw a lot of interest from sponsors in one of the most important strategic markets for F1 – America. Vegas as a city would benefit greatly from F1’s fan base who no doubt would spend a lot of money that weekend.”

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Bernie Ecclestone is looking to make a return to Vegas after 32 years

A senior source in the US racing scene added that F1’s track designer Hermann Tilke had visited Las Vegas several times to work on the layout of the course, showing that the project is at an advanced stage. “Tilke has made a  couple of site visits. I knew that if he had gone along there must be something to it,” said the source.

Ecclestone has been trying to bring F1 back to Las Vegas for more than 20 years and it would give the sport the shot in the arm it needs to compete in the American racing scene which is dominated by Nascar. Although F1’s television audience in the US grew by 1.7 million viewers to 11.4m last year, it still trails the home-grown single-seater IndyCar series by five per cent.

A Las Vegas Grand Prix would also double the number of F1 races in the US. In 2012, after a five-year absence, F1 returned to America with the US Grand Prix in Austin, the capital of Texas, which is next up on this year’s calendar and takes place on 2 November.

“They like their entertainment in the States so you could probably double it to two races and it would be great – maybe not right next to each other in the calendar though,” said former F1 champion Damon Hill. “I would just hope they make Las Vegas a great track. They have got to be challenging circuits. It’s great to have them in city centres but not if they are too easy.”

Tavo Hellmund, the entrepreneur who founded the US Grand Prix in Austin and the Circuit of the Americas track where it is held, said that “Vegas would be a great place for a Grand Prix and it is one of only two cities in the States that does not have to worry about cannibalising a market, since every weekend is a big weekend with a different crowd. The other being New York.” Hellmund is now bringing F1 back to Mexico City where it will race next year after a 23-year absence. Las Vegas may join it but a Grand Prix in the New York area seems less likely.

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A race on 3.2 miles of public roads in New Jersey was announced in October 2011 but has since been dropped from the F1 calendar twice as the organisers failed to raise the £63m required to finish work on the track.

“In the end there’s a  million countries that would like to have an F1 race but they can’t afford it,” said  Ecclestone. He added the sport is on track to have more races than ever regardless, as the return of the Mexican Grand Prix next year will push the calendar to its current record of 20.

In 2016 the Grand Prix of Europe in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, will be added to the schedule and Ecclestone said: “It is more likely that it will go over 20 with Baku than we lose a race.”

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