“We celebrated a little”: Alan Jones reminisces about his Formula One triumph in Las Vegas.
After a 41-year gap, Formula One has finally returned to the Strip in Las Vegas for the Grand Prix on Sunday morning. It’s been four decades since the sport last visited the city, where the race was held in the Caesars Palace car park. Although those races in 1981 and 1982 are now just a footnote in F1 history and the circuit no longer exists, there is still one driver who holds fond memories of them.
The meetings in the 80s could not stand in greater contrast to the all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza F1 has put on through the heart of the city this weekend, including an enormous straight down Las Vegas Boulevard, the Strip, with all the landmarks, the Bellagio fountains, Caesars, the Venetian, Paris, that provide the backdrop F1 wanted for their showcase event.
In 1981, there was no consensus among the casinos to hold the race, unlike this year where a collective agreement was reached. Additionally, there was no approval from the city, so the circuit was forced to be set up in the Caesars Palace car park and surrounding land, giving the event its title of the Caesars Palace GP. It took the casino four years to secure the race and they invested a significant amount of funds into constructing the track, but due to limited space, the race lacked excitement.
The outcome was a monotonous, 14-loop, 2.2-mile circuit that went in a counter-clockwise direction and repeated itself. It lacked visual appeal, without any distinct features or recognizable landmarks. The timing of the race, held on a hot Saturday afternoon, did not showcase the city in its finest light. Las Vegas is definitely more stunning at night.
The unrelenting succession of bends without any significant straight sections or high-speed turns were challenging for both the vehicles and the drivers. In 1980, Alan Jones, who had claimed victory for Williams in the world championship, would conquer it in its debut year as the ultimate race of the season and the determining factor for the championship.
Jones recalls how the intense heat and constant turns caused many people, including himself, to experience sore necks during the race. He describes struggling with his head falling to one side during left turns, only to have to wait for a right turn to bring it back up again.
Jones did not have a chance to win the title in that race, but the 77-year-old Australian was determined to come out on top. It was said to be his last F1 race, as he had announced his retirement at the end of the season. He had no desire to help his teammate, Carlos Reutemann, who was competing with Nelson Piquet for the drivers’ championship.
Reutemann was in the lead by one point, but he did not keep his promise in a previously arranged agreement during the second race of the season in Brazil. As a result, he won at Jones’s expense. Despite starting in second place, Jones quickly took the lead and maintained it throughout the race, confidently finishing ahead of Alain Prost in the Renault by a margin of 20 seconds.
Unfortunately for Reutemann, who had secured the pole position, his gearbox began to malfunction on the third lap. This allowed Piquet to overtake him on the 17th lap. As a result, Reutemann fell out of the point standings and Piquet was able to secure fifth place and the two points necessary for him to claim the title.
Piquet got out of his Brabham car and was immediately surrounded by a crowd. However, he soon fainted due to heat exhaustion. Jones, who had previously competed against Piquet for the championship, remembers Piquet’s behavior in Las Vegas as exaggerated. He notes that once the race ended and Piquet got out of the car, he seemed to recover quickly. Despite this, Piquet continued to make a scene, fainting and calling for medical attention.
Although the race is not often looked upon favorably, Jones argues that it should receive more recognition. He dismisses the critics as inexperienced armchair experts and points out that he has competed on similarly challenging tracks in Europe. He also notes that the race required a high level of technical skill.
Jones remained focused on his craft and resisted the distractions of city life until he emerged from the car as the victor. He explains, “My goal was to complete the task at hand with 100% dedication, so I refrained from indulging until that night. I cannot disclose the specifics, but we did have a celebratory gathering.”
The competition endured for an additional year, but did not generate the expected interest and was financially unsuccessful. The location of the racetrack is now occupied by the Forum shopping center, which is a part of Caesars Palace. However, Jones’s final victory remains vividly remembered.
“He dryly states that the event had a large audience and a pleasant atmosphere. He thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, especially emerging as the winner.”