FFinally, Formula One has arrived on the Strip with the The Las Vegas Grand Prix will take place in the early hours of Sunday morning. 41 years after the sport’s last visit to the city when it didn’t make it past the Caesars Palace parking lot. Those 1981 and 1982 races are just a footnote in F1 history, no trace of the circuit remains, but at least one driver still has fond memories.

The 1980s reunions couldn’t be more of a contrast to the all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that F1 has put on in the heart of the city this weekend, including a huge straight down Las Vegas Boulevard, the Strip, with all the points of reference. , the fountains of the Bellagio, Caesars, the Venetian, Paris, which provide the backdrop that F1 wanted for its exhibition event.

In 1981 there was no collective agreement to host the race between the casinos like this year, nor the approval of the city, so the circuit was squeezed into the parking lot of Caesars Palace and its adjacent land, which gave rise to the event . name of the Caesars Palace GP. The casino had taken four years to negotiate hosting the race and had spent a lot of money to build the track, but its space limitations offered an uninspiring fare.

The result, a flat, 14-turn, 2.2-mile counterclockwise track that looped back and forth on itself, was aesthetically dull and lacked character or even landmarks. The city was not at its best with the race held on a Saturday afternoon in grueling heat and unflattering conditions: Las Vegas certainly looks better at night.

The relentless series of corners without real straights or even fast corners punished the cars but also the drivers. Alan Jones, who had won the world championship with Williams in 1980, would dominate it that first year, when it was the last race of the season and the decisive one of the championship.

“It was very hot and exhausting, and there were so many corners that a lot of people were suffering with neck pain, and I was one of them,” Jones says. “For the last six or seven laps, I would take a left turn and my head would fall to the right and I would have to wait for the next right turn to get back up.”

Jones could not challenge for the title in that race, but the Australian, now 77, wanted to win, in what at the time was going to be his last F1 race, having announced that he would retire at the end of the race. season. He also felt no inclination to do any favors for his teammate Carlos Reutemann, who was competing with Nelson Piquet for the drivers’ title.

Reutemann led by one point, but the Argentine had reneged on a prearranged agreement in the second race of the season in Brazil, winning at the expense of Jones. After qualifying in second place, Jones took the lead from the start and didn’t look back, confidently leading Alain Prost in the Renault by 20 seconds.

Reutemann, who had started from pole, suffered problems with his gearbox after the third lap and Piquet overtook him on lap 17. The Argentine was left out of the points and Piquet took fifth position and the two points he needed for the title.

Alan Jones leads the start of the 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix
Alan Jones leads the start of the 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix. Photography: David Phipps/Motorsports Images

Piquet got out of his Brabham and was harassed, then fainted from heat exhaustion. Jones had no love for the Brazilian after their title battle the previous year and remembers his antics in Las Vegas as overly dramatic. “In terms of fatigue and heat, it’s funny that when the race stops and you get out of the car, everything goes back to normal,” he says. “Of course, Piquet kept going, fainted and screamed for medical help…”

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Many don’t remember the race fondly, but Jones believes the reunion deserves a little better. “I don’t know who there are who can criticize it, probably all the weird experts who have never raced a car in their life,” he says. “I have raced on circuits as narrow as those in Europe. “It was quite technical to run.”

Jones always took his craft seriously and had not succumbed to the temptations of the city until he stepped out of the car as a winner. “He was there to do a job and that was 100% what he had to do,” he says. “So I didn’t enjoy some of the benefits, well, not until that night. “I can’t say what I did, but we had a little party.”

The race lasted another year. He had not attracted the expected attention and was losing money. The site of the track is now the Forum shopping center, part of Caesars Palace, but the last victory of Jones’ career at least remains firmly imprinted in memory.

“There were a lot of people, a good atmosphere, I enjoyed it a lot, I enjoyed everything. Above all winning it,” she says wryly.

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