Plans for Las Vegas Grand Prix rev up

Las Vegas sign Image copyright Getty Images

Formula 1 is gearing up for a new addition to its calendar that would be perhaps the glitziest race in the 66-year history of the sport - a Grand Prix on the streets of Las Vegas.

This weekend F1's attention is focused on the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, but behind the scenes a race of a different kind is taking place.

Plans for a Grand Prix in Las Vegas have hit top gear, as organisers have revealed that a Chinese conglomerate has agreed to commit the £100m needed for the race to get the green light.

They add that Las Vegas could appear on the calendar as soon as next year, giving F1 a record 22 Grands Prix.

The showpiece event would rival even F1's flagship, the Monaco Grand Prix, as it would see cars hurtling down the world-famous Strip, past landmark casinos like the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A Las Vegas race would take in the view of casinos like the Bellagio

A race on the streets of Las Vegas is a long-time dream of F1's chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, but it has failed to get the green light so far as local organisers struggled to secure funding.

In March Ecclestone joked that the race contract hadn't been signed as "the trouble is the pen. The organiser hasn't got a pen."

However, American entrepreneur Farid Shidfar, founder of organising group P2M Motorsports, says this is no longer a roadblock as he has an "agreement in principle" with a Beijing-based conglomerate.

"They are very close to Las Vegas and have got businesses in media, sport, technology and entertainment, so they are a massive conglomerate.

"They came to us out of the blue late last year, because of the initiatives they are involved with in the state of Nevada, and we have been in due diligence since then. The benefits they will derive are very strategic so that's why they are very excited about it."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Organisers say they have designed a racetrack that is partly on the Las Vegas Strip

It is the latest in an accelerating number of Chinese investments in overseas sports. Investors from China already have minority stakes in several football clubs including Manchester City, Atletico Madrid and New York City FC, while Chinese electronics retailer Suning announced on Monday that it had bought a 68.55% stake in Inter Milan.

F1's previous race in Las Vegas was a nail-biter in 1982 that handed the title to Keke Rosberg, father of current championship leader Nico.

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1982 Las Vegas Grand Prix: Rosberg takes the title

Keke Rosberg needed to finish in the points (which were then awarded to the top six finishers) to claim his first championship. His closest competitor, McLaren's John Watson, needed to win the race and his rival to finish out of the points in order to take home the title.

Watson was known for his incredible starts and accelerated into third place from ninth on the grid. To win he needed to pass the Tyrrell of Michele Alboreto and former champion Alain Prost, who was hampered by tyre vibrations.

Alboreto and Watson passed the Frenchman on laps 51 and 54 respectively, of the 75-lap race.

Unfortunately for Watson, he could not overtake Alboreto and his second place finish handed the championship victory to Rosberg, who finished the race fifth.

Despite being a thrilling climax to the season, the race failed to get support from within F1 due to the makeshift nature of the course, which was in the Caesar's Palace car park. The sport won't repeat this mistake.

"We have successfully designed a racetrack which is partly on the Las Vegas Strip and does not impact any resort," says Peter Wahl, managing partner of F1's track designers Tilke.

"The track definitely has its own character and shall provide drivers high-speed challenges with different sharp corners. Best part, the track is designed to host large numbers of spectators, and I can't wait to see the first car fire up. I believe the Vegas race will become one of the highlights of the F1 calendar."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Could Nico Rosberg soon be taking his rivalry with Lewis Hamilton on to the streets of Las Vegas, the scene of his father's championship winning race?

P2 Motorsports co-founder Russell Dixon says "the race will cost investors nearly $150m (£103m) including hosting fees".

Farid Shidfar adds he is still fielding calls from other interested parties. However, he says that the state needs to boost its efforts in order to get the race off the grid.

"The key party in terms of making this happen is the state. It's not the investor. The investor is happy to proceed so long as there is some formality about the contribution from the state."

It is important as the only revenue that organisers receive from F1 races tends to come from ticket sales. Revenue from television broadcasts, trackside advertising and corporate hospitality during the race is generally retained by F1 itself, which also receives the hosting fees.

Ticket sales cover the running costs of a Grand Prix while governments foot the hosting fees as the races promote their countries to F1's 400 million television viewers and typically generate annual economic impact of about £200m.

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Image caption The Monaco Grand Prix currently has the reputation for the most glitz and glamour

Funding usually comes from central government, but in some countries, such as Canada, the contribution comes from local authorities. The same is true in the US where the state of Texas pays around £14.5m annually to organisers of a Grand Prix in the capital of Austin, which is currently the only F1 race in the country.

According to Shidfar, "the [Nevada] government is showing interest in putting money in," as F1 would also help to reverse declining gaming revenues in Las Vegas.

Last year Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval commissioned a study for economic diversification in the state that recommended a F1 race as it would attract a high number of international visitors. Sandoval has also written to Ecclestone to offer "support and interest in bringing Formula One Grand Prix to the world famous Las Vegas Strip".

Shidfar says "the resort community has shown interest in helping subsidise this" as it would boost their bookings and gambling takings. He adds that at a meeting of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in 2014, "every major resort unanimously voted in favour of carrying out F1 racing on the Strip."

They may soon get their wish as he adds: "There has been discussions of 2018, but it could be as early as 2017. We need roughly 14 months to prepare for this race."

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