Formula 1 has had cold events before, most notably in Germany 2020, when ambient temperatures were around 50 degrees all weekend.
The record low temperature for a Formula 1 race was 41 degrees in Canada, in 1978.
This year's F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix could see temperatures below 50 degrees come race time.
The Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit layout is not exactly a Suzuka, Japan or a Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, but the event itself will still pose challenges for teams and drivers.
Autoweek provides an insight ahead of cars taking to the streets in the desert.
The Cold Weather
Formula 1 typically races in warmer climates, chasing the sun where possible, but Las Vegas will be at the opposite end of the spectrum. Remember, race time is 10 p.m. local time in Vegas (1 a.m. ET) on Saturday.
Qualifying one night earlier will even take place later.
While daytime temperatures could be in the high 60s—a rather pleasant temperature—that could be as low as the high 40s by the time track activity takes place at night. That will cool the track surface, which will of course not be warmed by sunlight, either.
Formula 1 has had cold events before, most notably in Germany 2020, when ambient temperatures were around 50 degrees all weekend, while the record low was 41 degrees in Canada, in 1978. Preseason testing used to take place in Europe in the winter months, meaning the very start and end of running often happened in chilly conditions. It is nonetheless unusual.
It means the tires will be toward the lower end of their working range, the grip will be lower, and there will be a greater risk of silly-looking mistakes. That often happens in slippery conditions, or in cool conditions after a Safety Car period, when temperature evaporates from the tire and leaves drivers almost as passengers.
Keeping heat into the tires, while ensuring they don’t suffer from graining, will be a big challenge, especially due to the circuit’s layout. High-energy corners are best to put heat through tires, but Las Vegas has very few of these, with the situation accentuated by the lengthy straights, along which the tires will cool further. That will also be seen, too, in other areas of the car, such as the brakes.
“Qualifying is going to be a real big interest I think for everyone to try and get the tire to work in that temperature,” said Williams driver Alex Albon.
Pirelli has already nominated the three softest compounds from its five-compound range.
Said Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin: “If the track is down in single figures (less than 10 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Farenheit), that's often a region where you go winter testing, you do a run, it's very difficult for the tires to either get them switched on, or there may be graining and things. And then sometimes you just wait until it warms up a bit. So actually going to have to sort of race and qualify in those conditions, it will be interesting.”
The track surface also remains a big question mark. While drivers have tested the track on a simulator, how it exactly responds to Formula 1 cars will not be known until they creep out of the garage for Friday practice.
For example, during the COVID-disrupted 2020 season, Formula 1’s return to Istanbul Park was characterized by a track surface that offered such little grip—even in the limited dry conditions—that drivers were seconds off the simulated pace, and teams struggled to understand the best way of setting up their respective cars.
Las Vegas’ track evolution will be high through the weekend, as is always the case on new surfaces, while the complete lack of any support races means it’s down solely to Formula 1 to lay down the rubber. Teams will have to be on the ball during the closing stages of each qualifying session not to be the wrong side of the cutoff.
“I think from the initial (appearance), it all looks onto a more low-drag, high-efficiency circuit,” said Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack. “And then we have to see how the surface is and what tires we get, and then the temperature will be very, very important. I think from what I've heard so far it will be one of the coldest events that we have had so far in the evenings. And if this is true then we have to see how we cope with it. But it's the same for everybody, so we can mix the cards.”
Nonetheless the layout, with its long straights, should in theory be promising for Saturday night’s spectacle.
“I think it will be good for racing, it was very long straights with big braking zones so I do expect that it will be a good track for racing,” said Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
The Event Schedule
Formula 1’s decision to schedule the event on a Saturday night provides its own differences.
The usual build-up from media day shifts to Wednesday, with practice on Thursday, and qualifying on Friday.
The race itself has a start time of 10 p.m. PT—the latest start time in F1 history—while second practice and qualifying are both scheduled for midnight local time, as Thursday trickles into Friday, and Friday slips into Saturday, respectively.
Formula 1 even recently had to undertake checks of its timing and scoring systems to ensure there were no bugs that would reset the order at midnight, a time of day when track activity has never before taken place.
While Formula 1 is accustomed to twilight races and night events, the latest so far has been the original Singapore, now joined by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which begin at 8 p.m. local time.
It means sleep patterns will be shifted to waking up mid-afternoon and going to sleep in the morning, presenting a further challenge for those traveling from Europe. Some teams have provided each member of the team with specific sleep hours for the long journey across in order to adapt as best as possible. A time change of eight hours will feel more like 14 or 15 with the shifted operating hours.
“Yeah it’s just strange,” said Williams driver Logan Sargeant. “You’re on a completely off-set sleep schedule, going to bed at 3 a.m. and sleeping as long as you possibly can, it’s a bit weird.
“In the end we’ll be going to bed super late and waking up super late. You just have to, as if not you’ll just be tired by the time qualifying comes around, and that’s not ideal.”