After five wins in a row for the unstoppable Max Verstappen and Red Bull combination, will the all-conquering team take the jackpot in Vegas?
The last race to disrupt the Dutchman’s run of form was held at a street circuit, and rivals will be hoping that a battle on the boulevard will be enough to upset the apple cart and win a landmark event.
Ahead of one of the most difficult-to-read races of the season, we take you through what might be facing the teams in Nevada.
What will the Las Vegas GP be like?
One of the most anticipated inaugural events on the schedule for some time, Formula 1 is set for 50 laps around one of the most iconic settings in the world.
The sport last rolled into town in 1982, which was the second season of a two-year spell at the Caesars Palace hotel. Returning to the calendar for 2023, today’s cars will race past the same landmark as part of a much longer street circuit, which has had extensive work completed – including a brand-new pit building – to ensure it has the right infrastructure to stay on the schedule.
The track layout went through numerous designs before it was finalised and the event is initially penned into the F1 schedule for three seasons, but this is believed to be extendable to ten years if all parties are satisfied with how things have gone.
It will be a vibrant event, with promises of wide-ranging entertainment in a city that parties 24 hours a day. Despite one of the quirks of the Las Vegas GP being that it takes place on a Saturday night, the result is that European audiences will be facing the Sunday morning wake-up times normally reserved for the Australian GP, and many anticipate that it will be worth the effort.
What are the characteristics of the Las Vegas track?
The organisers eventually decided on a 6.2-kilometre, 17-turn layout, which runs in an anti-clockwise direction. The track is the second-longest on the calendar after Spa-Francorchamps and features some of the highest speeds of the season.
It’s designed to be fast and furious, featuring some of the longest straights in Formula 1, which are punctuated by big, overtake-inducing braking zones. The almost-2km long Las Vegas Boulevard straight should feature slipstreaming and overtaking akin to the Azerbaijan GP.
A few of the ‘corners’ on the circuit are flat-out turns, meaning that there will only be around six or seven braking zones on the track, and teams anticipate using very low downforce setups to maximise the long straights. However, the inclusion of some chicanes and some moderately low-speed corners will demand strong traction on the corner exits.
Turn 1 will be an area of interest for many, not least for the side-by-side action it could create on the opening lap. A pit exit which feeds fairly quickly onto the racing line should make for intriguing battles through the pit stops, and a curved starting grid will be a quirky feature of the Las Vegas event.
Teams will head into the event with many unknowns, including the track surface. Although many parts of the temporary circuit have received fresh tarmac suitable for F1 racing, the engineers will be curious to see how well the bumps have been ironed out of the Sin City circuit.
Perhaps the biggest technical talking point of the weekend is going to be the very cool temperatures and, more specifically, what effect they will have on the Pirelli tyres.
Despite the Las Vegas track being a high-speed circuit, the tyres will not be undergoing many high-stress moments. There are lots of long straights where the tyres will be experiencing bigger temperature drops, which could cause a problem for the drivers as they hit the big braking zones.
Tyre graining, where the compound breaks away due to excessive sliding on the track surface, might be an issue here.
As a result, Pirelli will be bringing the softest, grippiest available compounds to Nevada, and increasing the tyre temperatures to deal with temperatures only seen on the colder pre-season testing days.
These cooler temperatures, expected to be in the single digits (Celsius), will be more of a blessing for the drivers and cars, who have had to deal with hot, energy-sapping races in Mexico and Qatar in recent weeks.
The cars should require fewer openings in the bodywork to reduce temperatures, which is likely to improve the aerodynamic efficiency, although teams will still need to ensure that critical parts stay in the optimal performance window.
Who is expected to do well at the Las Vegas Grand Prix?
This race could come down to which team can master the colder conditions. If a team is unable to work their tyres properly and avoid their car sliding around, then their drivers are in for a world of pain. Eyes will be on the likes of Ferrari and home racers Haas to see if their tyre issues transfer over to Las Vegas.
Teams who have occasionally complained about drag issues, like McLaren and Mercedes, may struggle with the very high-speed straights, but the development curve demonstrated by both teams might mean that these factors aren’t complete show-stoppers for them.
Ferrari’s one-lap pace at venues such as Baku, Singapore and Mexico City might make them qualifying contenders once again, but the aero efficiency of Red Bull’s RB19 might be once again too much to resist.
Having excelled at fast street circuits like Baku and Jeddah earlier this season, might Las Vegas be the perfect scene for a Sergio Perez redemption arc which sees him clinch second in the standings, and therefore securing Red Bull’s first one-two in the Drivers’ Championship?
Fernando Alonso’s podium in Brazil has reignited hopes that Aston Martin can make a late fightback against the in-form McLaren team.
With Aston finally nailing the right setup to return to battling for strong points finishes, Alonso has expressed optimism at continuing their revival in the final two races of the season.
Williams have been eyeing up this event for some time and may see it as their final chance to fend off a late threat from AlphaTauri for P7 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Even before the recent upgrades brought to the AlphaTauri AT04, the car seemed somewhat competitive at Monza, but the team were hampered by a pre-race retirement for Yuki Tsunoda.