F1: Water valve cover on Las Vegas Grand Prix course halts first practice
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tempers flared at the Las Vegas Grand Prix after the first practice of the $500 million race was halted nine minutes into the session Thursday night because Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a water valve cover that badly damaged his Ferrari.
The FIA said Sainz hit the concrete frame around the cover. It took another 11 minutes for the governing body to call all cars off track so it could inspect the entire circuit.
The start of a second practice scheduled for midnight Thursday was delayed, and Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur raged that the “just unacceptable” incident would keep Sainz from participating.
As the moderator of a post-practice news conference attempted to ask Vasseur about the “bigger picture,” Vasseur refused to change the topic.
“I’m not sure the topic for me today. We had a very tough FP1 that is going to cost us a fortune,” he said. “We (messed) up the session for Carlos. We won’t be part of the FP2 for sure, we have to change the chassis for the car. It is unacceptable for F1. You would be upset in this situation.”
The moment Carlos Sainz hit a drain cover on the Las Vegas strip, causing FP1 to be cancelled 👀 pic.twitter.com/KIMbuZoteY
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) November 17, 2023
The moderator made a second attempt and Vasseur said: “Can I leave now? Can you ask Toto a question?” as he motioned to Mercedes principal Toto Wolff.
Wolff grew equally as prickly when asked if the abbreviated session — both Sainz and Esteban Ocon of Alpine were left with damaged cars — was an embarrassment for 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 down the Las Vegas Strip.
“That is not a black eye. This is nothing. We are Thursday night, we have a free practice session one that we’re not doing. They are going to seal the drain covers and nobody is going to talk about it tomorrow morning,” Wolff said.
When a reporter interjected that the stoppage would not be overlooked — thousands of fans poured out of the grandstands as the track was being repaired — Wolff grew visibly angry.
“It’s completely ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. FP1, how can you even dare try to talk bad about an event that sets a new standard to everything?” Wolff demanded. “You’re speaking about a (freaking) drain cover that’s been undone. That has happened before. That’s nothing. It’s FP1.
“We shouldn’t be moaning. The car’s broken. That’s really a shame for Carlos. It could have been dangerous, so between the FIA and the track needs to analyze how we can make sure that this is not happening again. But talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening, nobody watches that in European time, anyway.”
A statement from F1 Las Vegas said “a single water valve cover … failed.” They added that F1, FIA and local engineers were working to resolve the problem, and the second practice scheduled for midnight was not expected to begin before 2 a.m. local time.
It has made for a troubling start to the ballyhooed race in which F1 returned to Las Vegas for the first time since it ran in 1981 and 1982 on a course that mostly consisted of the Caesars Palace parking lot. F1 and Liberty were determined to make this year’s race an extravaganza, but the hype has been tempered by expensive tickets, exorbitant hotel rates that outpriced many new American fans, and locals simply furious by the months of disruptions to build the course.
The 3.85-mile (6.2 kilometer) street circuit utilizes a large portion of the Strip and passes several Las Vegas landmarks on the 17-turn layout. Because much of the course is open to traffic during the day, the FIA was not able to inspect the track and approve it for racing until early Thursday morning after the course had been closed overnight. It appeared the initial inspection began around 3:30 a.m; FIA rules require a track to pass inspection one day before cars are on track.
Even though 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 F1 for their efforts.
“I am still convinced it is a mega event and we have to continue,” he said.
Added Wolff: “It’s like Fred said, this is a mega spectacle. It’s going to set a new standard for the sport and that’s important. We had track action and then a drain cover became undone.”
The team principals noted there have been similar incidents, most recently in 2019 at Baku when George Russell ran over a manhole cover in the first practice. In 2016, Nico Rosberg ran over a manhole cover at Monaco and the cover flew up and hit Jenson Button’s car, causing extensive damage to Button’s McLaren.
Ocon on Thursday night suffered a similar fate when his car was damaged as he passed Sainz on the track. He thought he hit the dislodged cover.