On one of the sport’s most embarrassing days, the billion-pound-generating race — which was meant to take the sport to new heights in the tricky American market — saw first practice cancelled after just eight minutes due to a loose cover on the bulb-lit Strip, before the action restarted two-and-a-half hours later.
It was F1’s lowest point here since the US Grand Prix of 2005, when tyre safety fears resulted in just six cars starting and validated the criticism of world champion Max Verstappen, who called the new and supposedly gleaming spectacle ‘99 per cent show and one per cent sport’.
The setback was a major blow to F1 owners Liberty Media, who have spent £500million on the landmark race, the first on the famous Strip, and a return to Las Vegas after 41 years.
This latest mess unfolded when Carlos Sainz dislodged a ‘water valve cover’ on Sin City’s streets, wrecking his Ferrari chassis in the jolting 200mph impact. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso narrowly missed the errant lid, but Alpine’s Esteban Ocon caught it. A red flag was waved — the action suspended at 8.49pm local time — and an inquest began.
The abandonment of the first practice session and delay to the second marked an farcical start to the sport’s move to Las Vegas
CCTV footage showed Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz hit a loose manhole cover causing pricey damage and wreaking havoc on the track
Work immediately began to secure the manholes before the next session was able to start
Fans, who had paid between £400 and £100,000 for three-day tickets, booed the decision to stop proceedings. Tens of thousands left over the next few hours.
‘Get those goddamn cars out there,’ screamed one disgruntled fan. Several spectators were turfed out of the stands. This was blamed on a lack of security provision, brought about by labour laws, according to an F1 spokesman.
Some of the crowd refused to go immediately, only to be moved on by police. F1 declined to confirm what compensation, if any, fans would get for witnessing, in many cases, just eight minutes of action.
In another blow to Liberty, there were far fewer fans in the stands than the sell-out 100,000 anticipated for each of the three days of the weekend.
Urgent repairs were performed on 30 suspect manhole covers on the Boulevard, part of the 3.8-mile track that will stage Sunday’s race to the backdrop of landmarks such as the Venetian, Bellagio and Caesars Palace.
The remedial work was to ensure the second practice session, which was delayed from midnight to 2.30am and extended from one hour to 90 minutes, could go ahead, as it finally did.
For a while it was unclear whether there would be any resumption all night.
Stefano Domenicali, the chief executive of Formula One, held urgent meetings with team principals as concrete and fast-drying resin was poured in to secure manholes.
Locals had driven along the streets as part of their day-to-day activities before they were closed a couple of hours before first practice started.
Sainz required a new chassis, as did Ocon. Both took part in the second session.
‘Carlos hit something on track and he didn’t know what it was,’ said clearly frustrated Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur.
Sainz was later handed a 10-place grid penalty for the necessary modifications to his Ferrari
30 manhole covers in total were filled up against the clock but many fans saw just eight minutes of practice
‘It is just unacceptable for F1.’
A statement from race organisers read: ‘There is no higher priority at a Formula One race than the safety and security of drivers, fans and staff alike.
‘Following last night’s incident involving a water valve cover, the Las Vegas Grand Prix, F1 and FIA decided to take extra precautions to ensure the integrity of the track prior to the resumption of racing.
‘These additional measures required multiple hours to fully complete, which led to a significant delay in the race schedule.
‘Given the lateness of the hour and logistical concerns regarding the safe movement of fans and employees out of the circuit, LVGP made the difficult decision to close fan zones prior to the beginning of Practice Two.
‘With a full round of practice successfully completed, LVGP looks forward to providing a safe and entertaining race weekend for all.’
When racing finally finished, Charles Leclerc led Sainz, who takes a 10-place grid penalty, by 0.157 seconds in a Ferrari one-two with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third.
Verstappen was sixth and Lewis Hamilton ninth.
Sainz’s grid penalty was for exceeding power unit components after hitting the manhole cover on first practice — an unfortunate turn of events to say the least.
‘The stewards note that if they had the authority to (cancel the penalty due to) mitigating, unusual and unfortunate circumstances, they would have done so, however the regulations do not allow such action,’ a statement added.
Back on the track for the remainder of the session, Sainz finished second-fastest behind team-mate Charles Leclerc
Max Verstappen claimed he learned ‘nothing new’ about the track following the day’s practice
‘I learned nothing new,’ said Verstappen of practice. ‘It is not the best track I have known.’
Liberty spent £250,000 on the pit and paddock complex alone ahead of this inaugural race.
The length of three American football pitches, it is a permanent building, with Liberty devoted to 10 years in Las Vegas.
The decade could hardly have got off to a worse start.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Daily Mail