Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix Evaluates First Race, Plans For 2024


Silvia Bellot, Senior Director of Operations for the Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix was so focused on dealing with the challenges of the epic F1 event on the streets of Las Vegas, she had little time to soak it all in.

“It was a good challenge,” she said. “We were all very excited, but as the race came closer and closer, we all became very busy.

“For myself, I didn’t have a chance for it to all sink in everything that was going on until after the race was over. When the checkered flag was out, the entire department that worked with us was cheering and celebrating.”

But when the race was over, and she had a chance to return home and watch the race, she was overcome with emotion.

“As soon as I saw the helicopter shot from Las Vegas Grand Prix, the Strip circuit, I couldn’t stop crying,” Bellot recalled during last Friday’s Epartrade Race Week seminar. “At that specific moment, I realized how big it was what we did. When you are in between all the action and making sure everything runs to the minute, to the second, and everything is ready, unfortunately you don’t have that time to realize how big it is what you are doing.

“When I saw the images for the first time, I couldn’t believe what this team here at the Las Vegas Grand Prix put together.

“It was the biggest race, ever, and I think everybody would agree with that.”

What Bellot and her team accomplished was unimaginable.

They were able to successfully take over one of the world’s great entertainment and gaming destinations and transform Las Vegas into the most memorable street circuit in Formula One history.

The streets of Monte Carlo may have the history and the prestige as the home of the Monaco Grand Prix, but the November 18 Formula 1 Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix raised the stakes of Formula One to a level it has never experienced.

The night race against the spectacular backdrop of Las Vegas was stunning for its location. But the racing on the street course was probably the best action in any Formula One Grand Prix in recent years.

Bellot and her team had to overcome unexpected challenges.

The first practice was halted for hours when the concrete framing for a water valve on the street cracked on the street circuit, damaging two of the expensive F1 machines drive over it. Ferrari estimated the damage to its cars at over $2 million.

The first practice session was cancelled after just eight minutes and the second practice session was delayed by 2-1/2 hours with every single manhole investigated and repaired by race stewards on the entire 3.8-mile street circuit.

Track crews worked through the night and by the time the drainage cover issue was resolved, what followed was the latest Formula One practice session in history, ending at 4 a.m. local time in front of zero fans, who were told to evacuate the grandstands at 1:30 a.m. because of staffing and logistical reasons.

The 2:30 a.m. local time start for practice was the latest in Formula One history.

From that point forward, however, the event not only endured, but flourished.

The sight of The Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard illuminated in lights with 105,000 fans encircling the facility was spectacular.

It was truly a show-stopping event in a city that is a worldwide destination for entertainment.

“It was the biggest challenge for all of us, not just for the team that I work for but also for the event, commercially and operationally,” Bellot explained. “It was the biggest race and probably the biggest sporting event in 2023. There was a lot of thought put into it, effort, and a lot of work behind the scenes. We were very happy and proud of the product that we delivered.

“It was 100 percent entertainment. There was a lot of entertainment off track, but we could also see on Saturday night a lot of entertainment on track as well. For some skeptics, it was a bit unexpected, but we knew we would deliver a really good race.

“As you can see from the comments from the F1 teams and drivers, they are very, very happy and looking forward to coming back to Las Vegas in 2024.”

Bellot, a native of Barcelona, Spain who was the first female Race Steward in Formula One history in 2011, is one of many women in motorsports that are leading the sport into the future.

Her interest in racing began with her father, who was involved in European rallies for most of his life and was a race official.

There was always a race on TV at her home, whether it was motorcycle racing, Formula One or the Dakar Rally.

When Bellot turned 16, she took an exam to be a track marshal. After spending a few years as a track marshal in Barcelona, she became an F1 Race Steward.

“In 2011, it was the first time a woman was a steward at an F1 race,” she recalled. “Luckily, that was me. It was a great experience.”

She would later spend two years working in the United States for Carlin Racing in IndyCar. She returned to the FIA as race director for Formula 2 and Formula 3.

Bellot joined the Qatar Grand Prix in 2021 to help organize that event and it gave the background and experience to take on the biggest challenge in Formula One history – the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix.

“I thought organizing a race in eight weeks in Qatar in 2021 was a challenge, but here in Vegas, it was something much, much bigger,” Bellot said. “Anyone who thinks it is easy closing an area downtown in one of the biggest cities is absolutely wrong. It’s a big, big challenge. But also, closing one of the most entertaining, crowded streets in the world like Las Vegas Boulevard is a completely another level.

“As you can imagine, there is a lot of planning involved. This is not a project that happened overnight. It took a lot of planning especially from the group of architects that designed close to 100 different track layouts. They decided to go to the current one because the Las Vegas Grand Prix and Liberty Media thought this would be the best option to showcase the city but also to show good racing here in Las Vegas. There was a lot of planning behind that, even before I joined the company. After that, as the new company started growing there was more attention for detail.

“One of the most important things and one of the items that gave us success in the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix was getting surrounded by those specialists in motorsports. We worked very closely with our project manager that designed this amazing building with the LED F1 logo on the top of it. The companies that we were involved with gave us the best results.

“As far as race preparations, we were really focused on making sure the building, the paddock and the track was up to FIA and F1 standards. They are quite high standards. It is much more challenging on a street circuit than a permanent track. We also made sure we had the right people as marshals, officials and the track was ready to go when we had the safety car test on Thursday morning.”

One of the biggest challenges for the Las Vegas Grand Prix is 20 percent of the track layout was on private property, including a large portion of the track at The Sphere. That left 80 percent of the race course on public roads.

“As you can imagine, setting up a track on Las Vegas Boulevard is a challenge in itself,” Bellot said. “One of the challenges we had to work against was setting up the track. As I said, 80 percent of the track was on public roads. We had to agree with Clark County, Nevada that we would facilitate daily operations for the people living in Las Vegas and Clark County.

“For everyone that was living here, we had 37 different areas we had to open and close every day. This was a big challenge, as you can imagine. There were a lot of pieces we had to move every day. That was a really big part of the job that we did. As we got closer to the weekend, we got better and better and we were closing the streets ahead of schedule in order to guarantee the best spectacle possible.”

The track layout was both practical and entertaining, exceeding the expectations of the most ardent Formula One optimist.

“There were several things that made the racing really good,” she explained. “The first one, going into a new track, the unknown is the biggest factor. Teams spend a lot of time in the simulator, but until they reach a track and actually see what the grip level is they will find on the asphalt, what the temperatures are and what the track looks like, I think the unknown gave us a good start. Instead of the teams all the data and then making minor adjustments, it was the other way around.

“The teams were reacting. They had to react to how the track was, what the temperatures were and the asphalt. That is one of the main points that made the weekend very exciting, specifically the race.

“A few other items that were interesting was the position of the pole position of the grid. The pole position was just 200 meters from Turn 1. On a normal track, it’s 250 meters, but with the layout at Las Vegas, the leader or the pole position was closer to Turn 1 and that allowed for mistakes as we could see from Max Verstappen getting in to Turn 1 and forcing Charles Leclerc off track. Also, we saw various spins like Fernando Alonso not expecting the corner that early and making a mistake there. For the start of the race, having the grid closer to Turn 1 was a plus.

“The DRS zones helped a lot, especially the one through Turns 4 and 5 and the second one on the Las Vegas Boulevard towards the end from Turn 14 to Turn 15. The second DRS zone was perfectly designing. Sometimes when you watch racing, the zone is either too long or too short. I think it had the perfect length to allow the brave drivers, the ones that really thought they could do it, to overtake in that Turn 14 and 15 corner. I think that made the race very, very exciting. Charles Leclerc overtaking on the last lap was one of the highest moments of the race weekend.

“There were also two factors that helped deliver a really good race. The first one was a concern for some, but it was the lower temperatures. Formula One normally travels to really warm countries so it was unexpected for them to come to Las Vegas and realize it was a bit colder than usual. That lower temperature helped with less degradation that allowed the drivers to go even faster and go for it and not have to preserve the tires and race harder.”

The debut was stunning and successful, even with a few unexpected bumps in the road. But Bellot and her staff are already promising bigger things for the 2024 Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix.

“Everybody thinks Year One is the difficult one because everything is new, but in Year Two everybody expects perfection,” Bellot said. “In the next few months, what we will have to do in the Las Vegas Grand Prix is a lot of debrief, work with our partners, and deliver an even better event in 2024.

“We are very excited about it. We are going to have many more surprises for 2024. Right now, we are debriefing to make sure we deliver an even better race in 2024. It would be towards the end of the season next year, so we have some time to work on it. There will be a lot of surprises. We want to make sure we keep Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Grand Prix the capital of entertainment, not just in the United States, but also in the F1 circuit.

“Now, we have our inaugural race over and everybody here in Las Vegas and Clark County will understand what is involved. We’ve been putting a lot of effort to explain to the properties and to explain to our partners what is involved, but now that everybody had the chance to experience the Las Vegas Grand Prix and what F1 can deliver, we will have much more support than we had this year. We had amazing support this year, but having the first race on our backs will create an even bigger event in 2024.

“There is going to be more fun things to come, and everybody will be excited in the future. We will deliver again the best entertainment of the F1 circuits.”


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