Mario Andretti: 1981 F1 Caesar’s Palace design was ‘a great go-kart course’

Mario Andretti: 1981 F1 Caesar’s Palace design was ‘a great go-kart course’

  • In 1981 and 1982, the Formula 1 Caesars Palace Grand Prix was contested on a 2.2-mile track featuring concrete barriers.
  • It was essentially a series of parallel straight lines linked by tight curves, and sent drivers in a counter-clockwise direction, generally far from Formula 1 circuits.
  • Mario Andretti, the 1978 Formula 1 champion, participated in both races in Vegas.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix scheduled for November 16-18 will not be the first time Formula 1 cars have raced under the neon glow of Sin City.

This time, we’ll be heading to Las Vegas Boulevard, one of the most famous streets in the country.

Then came the Caesars Palace parking lot, one of the least unusual locations to host the world’s most famous race cars.

Celebrating the launch of the 2023 Porchetta Bourbon

Mario Andretti finished 16th and 19th in his two Las Vegas Formula 1 races in 1981 and 1982.

Brett Carlsen//Getty Images

In 1981 and 1982, the Caesars Palace Grand Prix was contested on a 2.2-mile course featuring concrete barriers. It was essentially a series of parallel straight lines linked by tight curves, and sent drivers in a counter-clockwise direction, generally far from Formula 1 circuits.

If next month’s race along the Las Vegas Strip was expected to be a spectacle, the 1981 and ’82 races were much less so.

Mario Andretti, the 1978 Formula 1 champion, participated in both races in Vegas. He described the design as a “cool, cool go-kart race course.” Both years there was a lot of raw stuff, which is crazy. I had so much tire vibration when accelerating that it broke my rear wishbone and took me out of the race.

In fact, racing on highly synthetic tracks puts fast, powerful race cars in an environment more suitable for karts.

“There was no flow,” Andretti said. “It was very tight for the capabilities of those cars. Caesar’s Palace was right in town. There wasn’t a lot of room. You can imagine it was kind of Mickey Mouse. Like I said – perfect for a karting event.”

“The cars had a lot of power. We weren’t putting it down. We were spinning the rear tires out of the corners.”

One driver described the course as “probably the least attractive Grand Prix circuit I think I’ve ever raced on.”

Why Las Vegas? The city gained a reputation for promoting major sporting events, especially world championship boxing matches, and the races attracted new faces to Vegas casinos. Drivers and fans celebrated on the Vegas night and into the morning, and the gambling tables attracted brisk business. Caesars Palace was more than happy to play host.

“For us, just having a race in the United States was a positive thing,” Andretti said. “Formula 1 was like a gypsy at that time in the United States, there was Watkins Glen and Long Beach and then Dallas and Phoenix. It was like a one-off. At least in Las Vegas with Caesars we had two events.

In a quirk of scheduling, the 1981 and ’82 Vegas races were the final events of each season, and each race, despite its odd location, decided the world champion.

Nelson Piquet finished fifth in the ’81 race, good enough to win the championship by one point. It wasn’t a particularly impressive run to the title. Piquet, disoriented by the track layout and desert heat, vomited in his helmet during the race. Alan Jones was the race winner.

In 1982, Keke Rosberg won the Formula 1 championship, and Michele Alboreto won the race.

Other results aside, the ’82 race is noteworthy as Andretti’s final event in Formula 1. He was called up by Ferrari as a replacement driver for the injured Didier Pironi.

“It would have been great that Mr. Ferrari would consider me as an alternative,” Andretti said. “I welcomed this opportunity in every way possible. Ending my Formula One career with Ferrari meant a lot. The memories are positive.”

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