Las Vegas — Tempers flared at the Las Vegas Grand Prix after first practice of the $500 million race was halted nine minutes into the session Thursday night because Carlos Sainz Jr. crushed a car valve cover water which seriously damaged his Ferrari. The FIA said Sainz hit the concrete frame around the lid. It took another 11 minutes for the governing body to call all the cars off the track so they could inspect the entire circuit.
The start of second practice scheduled for midnight on Thursday was delayed and Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur was furious, saying the “simply unacceptable” incident would prevent Sainz from taking part. Ferrari had to replace the entire chassis and other components and was summoned to speak to F1’s stewards to determine whether the repairs would result in a penalty.
Video captured by fans and traffic cameras showed a fountain of sparks flying from Sainz’s Ferrari as it briefly continued on the track after the collision. A group of fans watching from inside near the section of track where the accident occurred looked shocked and let out a sigh as they saw the car drive by with something clearly wrong.
As the moderator of a post-practice news conference attempted to question Vasseur about the “big picture,” Vasseur refused to change the subject.
“I’m not sure what the topic is for me today. We had a very difficult FP1 which is going to cost us a fortune,” he said. “We (spoiled) the session for Carlos. We definitely won’t make FP2, we have to change the chassis of the car. It’s unacceptable for F1. You would be upset in that situation.”
The moderator made a second attempt and Vasseur said: “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.
“It’s not a black eye. It’s nothing. It’s Thursday night, we have a free practice session that we won’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 while the track was under repair – Wolff became visibly angry.
“This is 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’re talking about a (damn) drain cover being undone. This has happened before. It’s nothing. It’s FP1.”
“We shouldn’t complain. The car is broken. It’s a real shame for Carlos. It could have been dangerous, so between the FIA and the track we have to analyze how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again. But talk here about a sports black eye on a Thursday night, no one watches that on European time anyway.”
A statement from F1 Las Vegas said “only one water valve cover… failed.” They added that F1, the FIA and local engineers were working to resolve the problem, and that second tests scheduled for midnight were not expected to start until 2 a.m. local time.
It made for an unsettling 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 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 could calm him 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 that this is a mega event and that we must continue,” he said.
Wolff added: “It’s like Fred said, it’s a mega spectacle. It’s going to set a new standard for the sport and that’s important. We had some action on the track and then a cover drain has come undone.”
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.
Ocon suffered a similar fate on Thursday evening when his car was damaged as he overtook Sainz on the track. He thought he had hit the dislodged cover.