Inside The High-Octane Spectacle Of Formula One’s Las Vegas Grand Prix

A thrilling race and celebrity motorsports fans including Rihanna, Mark Wahlberg, Michael B. Jordan and Sofia Vergara made for the buzziest F1 weekend yet.

The air is festive on the outdoor terrace of LPM, the swanky Mediterranean-vibed restaurant continents away from the ripe gold lemons and plump olives of the Côte d’Azur. At The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ newest foodie destination, the Strip’s glowing football field-sized billboards blast a rainbow of colors onto our thinly sliced beef tartare and sizzling escargot; the place feels decidedly otherworldly.

Then comes the airstrike: the incoming screaming electrified V6 of a Formula One car at full gallop. Everyone dining pauses mid-bite as if a T-Rex smashed through the door, staring wide-eyed. What is that? A Mercedes-AMG powerplant coming? Perhaps the Honda-powered Red Bull Racing motor of Sergio “Checo” Perez?

Every table stands and runs to the balcony edge, and when the sound hits a fever pitch we see the black Alfa Romeo of one Valterri Bottas wrapping around a corner towards us. Of course, you think, hearing the famously high-pitched scream of Modena. It’s a Ferrari engine.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix has officially begun. And while many are calling it the “inaugural” LVGP, that’s not quite right, as the Caesars Palace Grand Prix ripped through Sin City in 1981 and 1982. That original course crisscrossed a parking lot and potholed asphalt, so casual fans can be excused for not knowing such a calamity ever happened. So let’s just pretend this is the first LVGP, as Paris Hilton and oh-so-many celebrities indicate across their social wavelengths.

The foundation has been established for an annual phenomenon unrivaled by most other GPs. 

This Las Vegas Grand Prix did not disappoint in regards to pure spectacle. When now three-time World Driver’s Champion Max Verstappen said the race was “99% show, 1% sporting event,” he might have meant it as a slight. But as the tens of thousands of F1 fans who migrated to the Nevada desert testify, this was one of the best Grands Prix of the year.

And while there were definite missteps for F1 owner Liberty Media’s $500 million investment, the most expensive ticket on the season’s 24-race calendar, the foundation has been established for an annual phenomenon unrivaled by most other GPs. Consider the scorchingly fast 3.85-mile street track whose 17 turns carry viewers across Vegas landmarks; the late-Saturday night checkered flag; and renowned Vegas luxury and hospitality; all contributing to a truly singular Formula One experience.

And the race itself? A nail-biter for valuable podium positions (after Max’s dominating first-place finish, of course), thrilling viewers. Any doubts first cast by early practice-run troubles dissipated like mist in the hot desert sun. By the time Justin Bieber waved the checkered flag for Verstappen as he crossed the finish line, the Dutch racer could be heard shouting “Viva Las Vegas! Viva Las Vegas!” to his crew— clearly erasing his early aspersions about the race.

The weekend was stuffed nonstop with marquis headliners; sleep was difficult to find. After our dinner at LPM we sprinted to The Chelsea theater to catch Jack Harlow perform. Immediately after Harlow walked off the stage we rushed to Zouk Resort World to face the impossibly long cue hoping to see Travis Scott lay waste to the E11even popup with a barrage of anthems.

The following afternoon Michelob Ultra shepherded us through Fort Knox-like security to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Williams Racing paddock, where before the race a parade of celebrities like Brad Pitt, Patrick Dempsey, Lupita Nyong’o, Sir Rod Stewart and Cara Delevigne would pass through.

Following that we caught a sneak peek of Williams’ and Michelob Ultra’s upcoming Lap of Legends documentary during a dinner at Cathédrale in Aria. Meanwhile famed cognac Louis XIII hosted highly-coveted tastings, with the likes of Diplo, Olivia Palermo and Valentina Ferrer, at their first-ever pop-up retail boutique at the Wynn.

Without question the most opulent perch for watching the actual race, however, was the Bellagio Fountain Club, positioned on top of the hotel’s famed dancing waters. The sprawling space took over two months to build and prepare for 3,600 nightly guests, who are waited on by a staff of 500.

For the $11,300 ticket price guests feasted on dishes prepared by some of the best chefs on Earth, live and in person: Mario Carbone, David Chang, José Andrés, Michael Mina, Masaharu Morimoto, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and more. One could find A-listers like Eva Longoria, Jeremy Renner, Mark Wahlberg, Davante Adams and Sofía Vergara glued to the fences watching the F1 action scream past the long straight.

When three-time World Drivers’ Champion Max Verstappen finally crossed the checkered flag, the top three racers celebrated here at the Bellagio Fountain Club. And the iconic waters danced a specifically choreographed number for the podium trio of Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez as they festively sprayed champagne into the warm desert night.

“We invested considerable thought into designing an experience that would deliver the level of opulence and hospitality synonymous with Bellagio, despite only being used three nights per year,” MGM Resorts VP of Citywide Events Strategy Andrew Lanzino told Maxim after the race. 

“We’re now brainstorming ideas about what we can evolve the  Bellagio Fountain Club to make it an even more spectacular experience next year.”

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Maxim magazine.