The original Las Vegas F1 race was a complete mess

The original Las Vegas F1 race was a complete mess

Streets of Las Vegas, USA October 17 Alan Jones, Williams FW07D Ford, leads Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari 126 CK, and Alain Prost, Renault R30, at the start during the Caesars Palace GP race on the streets of Las Vegas on October 17 1981 on the streets of Las Vegas, USA, photo by LAT Pictures

The Caesars Palace Grand Prix was held four times from 1981 to 1984, the first two years with F1 and the second two with CART Indy cars.

Motorsport pictures

Nelson Pique It felt like hell. Flu or something. Worse still, his neck was out of control from running counterclockwise in a high-downforce car around a newly built Formula 1 track in the desert. The man from Caesars Palace provided some relief with world champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard’s masseuse. That’s one good thing about holding the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in a casino parking lot: You can’t beat the amenities.

Preparations for the 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix came down to the wire, as the 2.26-mile circuit was built in 45 days and laid out on a 75-acre plot of parking lots and shrubbery between the Las Vegas Strip and Interstate 15.

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 15-17 October 1981 Nelson Piquet Brabham BT49C Ford Cosworth, 5th to win World Championship Ref 81lv16 World Photography Copyright

Nelson Piquet finished the 1981 Formula 1 title in this flat and dusty parking lot.

Motorsport pictures

“It was just bare concrete around a dust bowl,” says Formula 1 historian Nick Garton. “It looked like Bahrain did when they were still building it.”

However, with a 54-foot-wide track surface, 14 turns, and a 45,000-seat stadium, the track has FISA approval and is ready to go. That’s what you’d expect from a casino boss in the 1980s who could make $7 million ($23 million today) in less than two months. At that time, the Tsar’s Palace was in control of the sector. Exciting events like the Ali vs. Holmes match a year ago brought in top players, and top players brought success.

1981 Las Vegas Grand Prix Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA October 15-17, 1981 The pits and temporary circuit in the parking lot of the Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino World Photography Copyright Reference 35mm Transparency 81lv20

The parking lot where the arena once stood is now the Forum Shops at Caesars and the Mirage Casino Resort.

Clive Mason, Formula 1/Formula 1/Getty Images

The race was important for Formula 1 as well. It served as the final challenge of the 1981 season, deciding the Drivers’ Championship in a points battle that was so close it remains baffling to consider more than four decades later.

Back to Pique. In a 90-minute session, the masseur, accustomed to the boxer’s physique, slightly bruised the driver’s back. Now he feels worse than hell. Going into the race, the 29-year-old Brazilian Brabham driver was trailing Williams’ Carlos Reutemann by one point. Even before Pique’s injury, the smart money was on the Argentine beating Pique in the tournament.

The streets of Las Vegas, USA October 17 Mario Andretti with Sammy Davis Jr. and Caesars Palace Chairman Harry Wald during the Caesars Palace race in the streets of Las Vegas on October 17, 1981 in the streets of Las Vegas, USA Photo by Ercole Colombo Studio Colombo

Mario Andretti and Sammy Davis Jr. Chief Sandwich Caesar Harry Wald.

Hercules Columbus

Garton says Rotman “was the most consistent performer of the year.” “The car has been well proven and well developed. Everything was in order
“His grace.”

There is another wrinkle, a French one, named Jacques Lafitte. A few weeks earlier, Laffite, driving a Ligier, had come back from qualifying in 10th place to win the Canadian Grand Prix, collecting nine pole positions – a total of 43 points at the end of the season – and putting him in contention for the championship with Reutemann (49). And Pique (48). (At that time, championship points for places one through six were assigned as nine, six, four, three, two, one.)

Alan Jones, OS Williams FW07C, won the last race of the season and the last race before his presumed retirement, United States Grand Prix, 15th, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, 17 October 1981

Alan Jones in the Williams FW07C, a car known for “destroying interiors”.

Motorsport pictures

Before the Vegas race, Laffite angered organizers by telling Milan La Gazzetta dello Sport that the Vegas track was a “ridiculous go-kart track” and that the grand prize was a “joke”. Caesars Palace responded to the newspaper with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over “offensive and irresponsible statements,” according to the newspaper. Los Angeles Times. This appears to have put the issue to bed.

Others were more optimistic, including Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve, who, according to timesHe said the track surface was “particularly good”. Williams team boss Frank Williams praised the “absolutely fantastic circuit” which was “demanding a huge effort on both car and driver”. The truth will be told in action on race day: Saturday, October 17, 1981.

Streets of Las Vegas, USA October 17 Carlos Reutemann, Williams FW07C Ford, drives Nelson Piquet, Brabham BT49C Ford, and Mario Andretti, Alfa Romeo 179C during the Caesars Palace GP race in the streets of Las Vegas on 17 October 1981 on the streets of Las Vegas, USA, photo by LAT Pictures

Defined by miles of concrete and familiar fencing, Caesars Stadium was perhaps the least glamorous thing ever built in Las Vegas.

photography lat

On Friday, in unusually cold weather, Reutemann put his Williams team in first place, 0.174 seconds behind his teammate Alan Jones. Piquet, who is still in pain from a boxing-level massage, qualified fourth, while Laffite fell in twelfth place.

“Of the three of them, Reutman seemed to have the most control,” says Garton.

Race day brought warmer and shifting temperatures. At the start, Jones jumped into the lead at the first corner and sped off, “leaving Reutemann to drown Villeneuve, (Alain) Prost and (Bruno) Giacomelli,” Alain Henry wrote in his post-race report for Motorsport. Roitman “just went backwards,” Garton says. He landed in fifth place by the end of the first lap. Piquet dropped to eighth after a difficult start but fought hard to regain his position. Laffite finished seventh, his championship hopeful an athletic long shot.

As the race went on, the pack order fluctuated.

Streets of Las Vegas, USA October 17 Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS17 Matra during the Caesars Palace GP race in the streets of Las Vegas October 17, 1981 in the streets of Las Vegas, USA Photo by Lat Images

photography lat

“Piquet had gone up to third at one point, then dropped to sixth, then up to fourth and back down to fifth,” says Garton. “Jones had gone off the ground. Everything was in hand. People were passing each other on the track.” Then they come to get the tires and then they drive back.

Coming into the final corner on lap 75, Laffite, who needed victory (or second place if Piquet and Reutemann were out of the points) to claim the title, passed John Watson’s McLaren to take sixth place. The Argentine favorite finished on points.

1981 USA Grand Prix Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 15-17 October 1981 Nelson Piquet, Brabham BT49C Ford, 5th to win World Championship, podium, World Photography Copyright, ref 81105324A

Is there any better city on earth to throw away its power after clinching the title? No sir.

photography lat

“A completely dejected Rottman slumped home in eighth place,” Henry wrote. Motorsport“Fourth gear has long since stopped working in his Williams.”

“By rights, this should have been Rotman’s season,” Garton says. “That side of him is absolutely unprecedented. You’ve never had a world championship contender come out with a championship lead and come home having not really performed at all.

Jeff's team manager Hazel Williams holds up the pit board to inform Carlos Reutemann that if things continue like this, he will not be world champion at the United States Grand Prix, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, October 17, 1981

Williams staff used the pit board to inform Carlos Reutemann that, under the current circumstances, he would not be champion.

Motorsport pictures

“I don’t know if it’s physical, mechanical, mental or what,” Brabham designer David North says of Rotman’s result. Piquet “struggled a little bit, but fortunately for him, Reutemann, for whatever reason, really came off the boil, and so between Reutemann not performing and Piquet doing what he needed to do, we were eliminated from the tournament.”

“I remember seeing there were 33 laps to go,” Piquet said. guardian Columnist Maurice Hamilton after the race. “By then I was already finished. I couldn’t keep my head straight. I just kept going because I knew that if I was in front of Carlos I would win the championship.

Piquet crossed the finish line in fifth place, claiming his first Formula 1 championship, and then vomited in his helmet. It seems on par with the first Caesars Palace Grand Prix, which is remembered as one of the most spectacular or best Grand Prix races in Formula 1 history. Perhaps it was both.

Las Vegas, Nevada November 05 Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes drive on the demonstration course of the Las Vegas World Cup during the launch ceremony of the 2023 Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix on November 5, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada Photo by Clive Mason Formula 1 Formula 1 via Photos Getty

Clive Mason – Formula 1//Getty Images

Vegas rules racing

Despite its fictional marketing, Las Vegas is a real place. And yet, for the real people who live there, November’s Formula 1 race has been a pain.

The crew spent the summer repaving miles of the city’s most heavily used roads to Formula 1 specifications for the Las Vegas Grand Prix. This includes the part of Las Vegas Boulevard known as the “Strip”, which includes large hotels and casinos. Traffic was backed up, and patience became a challenge.

This street circuit is not a reused parking lot or a semi-approved temporary track. With a 10-year commitment to racing, the $560 million investment in this venue creates another major event on the major events calendar in Vegas. On a 39-acre plot of land costing $240 million, a four-story building stretches the length of three soccer fields, most of its 300,000 square feet dedicated to high rollers. About 105,000 race ticket holders are expected to contribute an economic impact of $1.3 billion.

Vegas can’t rely on sin alone to attract visitors anymore. There are now more than 500 tribal casinos in the United States, sports gambling is available on apps, and Americans don’t need a deal buffet to overeat. So Las Vegas re-engineered itself around events.

One lesson from history is that even in November, it’s hot in Nevada. So, as is the case with the Formula 1 races in scorching Saudi Arabia and sweltering Singapore, the Las Vegas Grand Prix will be held at night. Expect the valley of huge hotels to be lit up to impress.

Formula 1 has also evolved from an ad hoc set of racing into a sleekly marketed sport. The 3.8-mile, 17-turn Vegas course is designed to capitalize on local icons.
The long straight road down the Strip means cars must travel at over 200 mph past the Wynn, Bellagio, and Caesars Palace. Hot passing opportunities may be located in the braking area at the end of that straight near the Aria Resort. Fans won’t be stuck in a featureless paved hellhole searching for a potty.
-John Burley Hoffman

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