When Formula One makes its long-awaited Las Vegas debut next month, it promises some of the most spectacular images in all of sport.
The sight of 20 cars racing down the Strip, illuminated by the floodlights over the track and the neon signs against the night sky, sparks flying at speeds of more than 200 mph, is the sort of glamor F1 has dreamed of.
This will not be F1’s first night race. But with the five red lights scheduled to go out at 10 p.m. on Saturday night, the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix will set a record for the latest start time in F1 history — creating a challenge for the paddock and a conundrum for many of the American fans whose passion got the race off the ground.
Why Las Vegas picked 10 p.m.
The earliest time a session starts in Las Vegas is 8:30 p.m. for FP1 on Thursday and FP3 on Friday. Both FP2 and qualifying start at midnight, meaning qualifying and the race will technically start on the same day. Sunrise is just before 6:20 a.m. over the race weekend, at which point many within the paddock will be starting to think about sleep.
Start times are always chosen to suit as many stakeholders and F1 fans as possible. For Las Vegas, the added task of turning a major thoroughfare into a race track and taking over one of the world’s entertainment capitals made finding the right balance extra challenging.
Renee Wilm, the CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, told The Athletic the 10 p.m. start time was “very much a compromise following multiple conversations with all the local stakeholders in Las Vegas.”
“We really tried to triangulate what was a good time for the locals,” Wilm added. “We want to be a good neighbor in Las Vegas. We’re here to race for many decades to come.”
Unlike other shows or sporting events held in stadiums or arenas, the LVGP requires closing off major streets, starting around 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and reopening them to traffic by 4 a.m. each day. (Monaco operates in a similar fashion.)
Wilm felt the scheduling of the grand prix fit in with other major events hosted in Las Vegas. “When you think about some of the later shows or even boxing matches, and other events, it’s very common to have a later start time for a show when you have dinner first,” she said. “Here, everyone will be enjoying our dinner at our track.”
For a city renowned for its night life, starting the race so late will be in keeping with the Vegas vibe.
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How teams and drivers will adapt
The teams and the drivers will likely eat dinner much, much later. By the time all the post-session debriefs are complete, paddock personnel will be hunting for food in the middle of the night. The hardest workers are likely to drift towards breakfast service starting at their hotels.
At all night races, teams offset their schedules to align with the local timezone. Singapore is typically the most extreme case, when most operate on European hours despite an eight-hour time difference. They make similar adjustments for Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which start at 8 p.m. local time.
“It’s just strange,” said Williams driver Logan Sargeant. “You’re on a completely offset sleep schedule, going to bed at 3 a.m. and sleeping as long as you possibly can. It’s a bit weird.
“We’ll be going to bed super late and waking up super late. You just have to, (because) if not, you’ll just be tired by the time qualifying comes around, and that’s not ideal.” Sargeant said his team had “put a lot of emphasis on sleep stuff this year,” meaning he had no concerns about getting in the right rhythm.
Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg agreed that it would be “a similar case to Singapore” where “you just offset your day,” but jokingly suggested a bolder solution: “I never sleep. It’s overrated.”
What it means for fans back home
Sleep could be overrated for F1’s diehard fans eager to tune in to one of the most-hyped races in the sport’s recent history — especially those whose fierce interest helped make a race in Las Vegas possible in the first place.
The decision to start the race at 10 p.m. was made with F1’s “legacy fans on the other side of the Atlantic” in mind, according to Wilm. The race will start at 6 a.m. in the UK and 7 a.m. in Europe, making it comparable to the wake-up for Australia or Japan.
“We wanted to make sure they can get up with a cup of coffee and watch the race, just like we do here in America for the European races,” Wilm said.
“It became very much just kind of factoring all of these concerns in, and we arrived at the 10pm start time as the best of the available options.”
But the 10 p.m. PT kickoff means a brutally late start for the half of Americans who live in the country’s eastern time zone.
So there’s a sense of irony in the 10 p.m. start time for Las Vegas: A large proportion of the American fans whose fervent interest in F1 helped make the race possible will be in one of the worst timezones to watch the race live.
On every level, Las Vegas will be a race unlike any we’ve seen before in F1 history. No event has been so hyped up or seen so much raw investment or support from F1, nor is anywhere else likely to be quite so visually spectacular.
The 10 p.m. start time means Las Vegas will be a night race like no other — but from a time management perspective, it could also be one of the most challenging events F1 teams and fans have ever faced.
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(Lead image: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images; Design: Eamonn Dalton/The Athletic)