The 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix wasn’t the first time the FIA and Vegas hooked up to put on a show of Formula One racing in the hope of a big payday. Hosted by a Vegas giant, the stakes were high, with a championship title to play for. A new champion would take the crown, but for Caesars the F1 game was a bust.

The first Las Vegas Grand Prix took place on a flat, smooth, repetitive 2.2 mile circuit built in a sandy car park at the back of Caesars Palace Hotel. It was 1981, The opening ceremony featured a baton twirling marching band, and Tom Jones doing a lap of the circuit in a Roman chariot. The Race Director, Paul Newman, yes, that Paul Newman, gave a nice speech to the crowd who had each paid $50 to $250 for a seat. The race took place on a Saturday as the hotel needed to use the track for parking on Sunday.

It was the last race of the season and a three way shootout for the title between Nelson Piquet,in a Brabham- Ford, Carlos Reutemann, in a Williams- Ford. and Jacques Lafitte, in a Ligier -Matra. There were multiple permutations as to how one of these drivers could claim the championship with the odds favouring Reutemann, who had flown in early, and enjoyed the benefit of taking pole.

credit Luthar Spurzem
Williams FWO7C

Hailed by the FIA and Vegas as a TV spectacular, Des Lynam introduced the British TV coverage. After the haunting strains of Fleetwood Mac and ‘The Chain’,  Murray Walker and James Hunt (two British legends (for three different reasons) provided the commentary.

The sun beat down from a cloudless blue sky. The stands were rudimentary and lived up to their name as bleachers. Hospitality fan zones and trackside corporate dining wasn’t really a thing. A hotel room at the back of Caesars Palace was probably a shrewd if less visceral choice. It gave a birds eye view of the race in luxury air conditioned comfort, with the bonus of being an arms length from the mini bar.

credit Eric Verplanken
Piquet Brabham Ford

Credit Hans Van Dijk
Ligier Matra

The race was run anti clockwise. Carlos Reutemann had a poor start and his Williams team mate, Alan Jones, took the lead from second place. Reutemann continued to fall back through the pack with gearbox issues, enabling Piquet to close and pass him. Piquet suffered miserably with neck pain as the turbo ground effect cars swooped through the corners. Alan Jones was first past the chequered flag for his last ever Grand Prix victory. Prost took second and Bruno Conmelli claimed third in an Alfa Romeo ( fat chance of that in 2023) ‘Our Nige’ came home 4th for Lotus having started ninth. Elsewhere, a chap called Slim, who played the drums for Abba, just failed to qualify for the race in his ATS Ford.

Credit f1 TV

Piquet hung on in fifth to win the championship by a point. After the race, he was physically sick from heat exhaustion. He would later get treatment for his strained neck from Sugar Ray Leonard’s Physio/masseur. The race ran at a loss for Caesars Palace. Despite an aggressive promotion campaign, gamblers were not drawn to the casino for a strange European racing event. F1 returned the following year for a final time. In both years the attendance failed to top 38000. The circuit hung on for national events for two more years then disappeared under a construction site.

About The Author

Steve Swanson

Steve turns any opportunity to write about cars into a roadtrip. It's seen him ride shotgun in a Bentley Blower with Clive Cussler, and cross paths with automotive YouTubers in Canada and the US. His work has been published in Magneto, Classic Cars, Classic American and some magazines that no MotorPunk reader has ever heard of. When he's not writing or driving you can find him kicking tyres at seedy auctions and hawking junk optimistically described as Automobilia

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