Emotions ran high at the Las Vegas Grand Prix following an incident during the initial practice session of the $500 million race.
The session was abruptly halted nine minutes in when Carlos Sainz Jr. inadvertently ran over a water valve cover, causing severe damage to his Ferrari.
The FIA attributed the damage to Sainz hitting the concrete frame surrounding the cover. Subsequently, officials took another 11 minutes to call off all cars from the track for a comprehensive circuit inspection.
The start of the second practice, slated for midnight Thursday, faced delays due to the incident. Ferrari’s team principal, Fred Vasseur, expressed vehement frustration, labeling the situation “utterly unacceptable” and lamenting that it would prevent Sainz from further participation.
Ferrari undertook extensive repairs, including replacing the entire chassis and other components, and was summoned to discuss with F1’s stewards to ascertain potential penalties.
Both fan-recorded videos and traffic cameras captured when Sainz’s Ferrari emitted a shower of sparks as it briefly continued down the track post-collision.
A group of spectators watching from an indoor area near the crash site appeared visibly shocked, audibly gasping as they witnessed the visibly damaged car whizzing past.
During the post-practice news conference, the moderator tried to steer the conversation toward the broader perspective, but Vasseur remained fixated on the immediate challenges.
“I don’t think that’s the focus for me today. FP1 was extremely challenging and will cost us dearly,” he remarked. “We messed up Carlos’s session, and there’s no chance we’ll make it to FP2. We need to overhaul the car’s chassis, which is unacceptable in F1. Anyone would be frustrated in our position.”
Despite a second attempt by the moderator, Vasseur expressed his desire to exit the conversation. “Could I step away now? Perhaps direct your question to Toto?” he suggested, gesturing towards Mercedes’ principal, Toto Wolff.
Wolff, too, displayed a similar level of discontent when questioned about the abbreviated session—a situation that led to damaged cars for both Sainz and Esteban Ocon of Alpine. The return of F1 to Las Vegas after 41 years was marred by this incident, prompting inquiries about the embarrassment it might cause.
F1 and its controlling entity, Liberty Media, have taken on the responsibility of promoting this race, investing a staggering half a billion dollars into the spectacle along the Las Vegas Strip.
During the Thursday night practice session, Wolff dismissed the mishap, brushing off concerns about the drain cover incident. “That’s no big deal. We’re on Thursday, and this practice doesn’t hold much weight. They’ll fix the drain covers, and by tomorrow morning, no one will even remember this,” he remarked.
When questioned by a reporter about the significant interruption caused by the incident, Wolff’s frustration became evident. “This is utterly absurd. FP1 – how can anyone criticize an event pushing boundaries?” he retorted. “Talking about a loose drain cover? It’s happened before, it’s nothing. We should focus on the real issue here, like the safety concerns for Carlos. That’s where the attention should be.”
F1 Las Vegas released a statement attributing the problem to a failed water valve cover. They assured that F1, FIA, and local engineers were actively working on a solution, but the second practice, initially scheduled for midnight, was expected to be delayed until 2 a.m. local time.
This hiccup marked a challenging beginning to the much-anticipated race, marking F1’s return to Las Vegas after more than four decades. Despite efforts to create an extravagant event, the race faced criticism due to high ticket prices, steep hotel rates that alienated many potential American fans, and local discontent over the disruptions caused during the course’s construction.
The 3.85-mile street circuit, winding through significant landmarks along the Strip, faced scrutiny due to limited inspection time. FIA regulations necessitated the track’s approval for racing one day before cars hit the track, prompting an early morning inspection on Thursday after the course’s overnight closure. Inspection procedures began around 3:30 a.m., with the track needing to pass scrutiny before cars could officially race.
Despite Vasseur’s insistence that only “donations” could appease him following the damage to Ferrari, he and three other team principals lauded the event and commended Liberty and F1 for their efforts.
“I remain convinced it’s a spectacular event that must go on,” he affirmed.
Wolff chimed in, echoing Fred’s sentiment, calling it a grand spectacle that sets a new benchmark for the sport. He pointed out the sequence of on-track action preceding an incident where a drain cover came loose.
The team principals highlighted similar past incidents, citing examples such as George Russell encountering a maintenance hole cover in Baku’s 2019 practice and Nico Rosberg’s encounter at Monaco in 2016, which led to damage on Jenson Button’s McLaren when the cover struck his car.
Thursday night saw Ocon facing a similar fate as his car suffered damage while overtaking Sainz on the track. He suspected colliding with the dislodged cover.