LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Grand Prix got off to a bumpy opening when first practice for the $500 million Formula One race was halted nine minutes into the session Thursday night because Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed a water valve cover which seriously damaged his Ferrari.
This caused the interruption of first practice, a 2 1/2 hour delay before second practice to repair the track, and all spectators were removed from the viewing areas before the 90-minute session which ended at 4 a.m. local time – the deadline for F1 to return the roads to Las Vegas commuters.
“I’m really sorry to the fans that this happened, but I think we can put on a great race,” Red Bull driver Sergio Perez said.
The FIA said Sainz hit the concrete frame around the cover moments after the cars took to the track during the high-profile return to Las Vegas. After Sainz stopped and examined his damaged car, the governing body ordered all cars to leave the track so they could inspect the entire circuit.
Several drainage covers had to be sealed before the second practice, which was originally scheduled for midnight but didn’t start until 2:30 a.m. Friday. An hour earlier, track organizers had asked all fans to leave “for logistical reasons for our fans and staff.”
Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur said after the abbreviated first practice that what happened to Sainz was “simply unacceptable” and said Sainz would not be able to take part in the second practice. Ferrari changed the chassis during the long break and Sainz was able to get on track for the extended 90-minute session. But, due to the repairs to the Ferrari, the FIA decided that Sainz would be given a 10-place grid penalty.
Ferrari saved the day as Charles Leclerc and Sainz scored a one-two finish in the second practice session.
At a press conference after the first practice, the moderator attempted to question Vasseur about the “big picture” and Vasseur refused to change the subject.
“This one is good, I don’t need to have a bigger picture than this,” Vasseur said. “We had a very difficult FP1. It will cost us a fortune. We (expletive) the session for Carlos… we have to change the chassis of the car, tune the car, okay? The show is the show and everything is going well but I think it’s just unacceptable for F1 today. You would be upset in my situation.
The moderator makes a second attempt and Vasseur says: “Can I leave now?” Can you ask Toto a question? as he gestured to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
Wolff became equally prickly when asked if the abbreviated session – Alpine’s Sainz and Esteban Ocon were left with damaged cars – was an embarrassment to F1’s return to Las Vegas for the first time in ’41 years.
F1 and its ownership group Liberty Media are promoting the race themselves and have spent half a billion dollars on the spectacle on the Las Vegas Strip. Saturday night’s race is the third F1 stop this season in the United States, more than in any other country.
“It’s not a black eye. It’s nothing. It’s Thursday evening, we have a free practice session which we don’t do. They’re going to seal the pipe covers and no one will talk about it tomorrow morning,” Wolff said.
When a reporter said the stoppage would not be overlooked – thousands of fans poured out of the stands as the track was being repaired – Wolff became visibly angry.
“It’s completely ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. FP1, how dare you even try to speak ill of an event that sets a new standard for everything? » asked Wolff. “You are talking about a (offensive) pipe cover that was undone. This has already happened. It’s nothing. This is FP1.
“We shouldn’t complain. The car is broken. It’s really a shame for Carlos. It could have been dangerous, so between the FIA and the track, everyone has to analyze how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again. But when we’re talking about a sports black eye on a Thursday night, no one watches that on European time anyway.
It made for a troubling start to the race in which F1 returned to Las Vegas for the first time since it was run in 1981 and 1982 on a course consisting mostly of the Caesars Palace parking lot. F1 and Liberty were determined to make this year’s race an extravaganza, but the hype was tempered by expensive tickets, exorbitant hotel rates that overwhelmed many new American fans and locals simply furious over months of disruption to build the route.
The 3.85-mile (6.2-kilometer) street circuit uses much of the Strip and passes several Las Vegas landmarks on the 17-turn layout. With much of the course open to traffic during the day, the FIA was only able to inspect the track and approve it for racing early Thursday morning, after the course was closed overnight. It appears that the initial inspection began around 3:30 a.m.; FIA rules require a track to pass an inspection one day before cars hit the track.
Although Vasseur said “donations” were the only thing that would calm him down after the Ferrari was damaged, he joined three other team principals in praising the event and the efforts of Liberty and the team. F1 for their efforts.
“I think the spectacle is mega and I’m very happy with what Liberty has done around the race and I think it’s a huge step forward for F1, and we need to separate the spectacle side and the sporting side “, did he declare. “The show is mega. I don’t want to mix it up and say this, sorry for the expression, but they did it (expletive) athletically because they put on a show.
Wolff added: “As Fred said, in the end it’s a mega spectacle, it’s going to set a new standard for the sport and that’s important. And then we have track action and a drain cover that came undone. This is nothing new and it can happen. It’s a completely new circuit.
Team principals noted there had been similar incidents, most recently in 2019 in Baku when George Russell ran over a manhole cover during the first practice. In 2016, Nico Rosberg crashed into a manhole cover in Monaco and the plate flew off and hit Jenson Button’s car, causing significant damage to Button’s McLaren.