Formula One’s £500 million race in Las Vegas got off to an embarrassing start as first practice was called off after just eight minutes due to a loose manhole cover, with one team principal describing the incident as “unacceptable”.
Fans, some of whom had paid thousands of dollars to be there, booed as the session was halted after just a handful of laps when Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz stopped on track on the Strip.
Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur was incandescent, saying it was “unacceptable” for Formula One to experience such an issue on the opening night of such an important race, and adding there was no way Sainz would be appearing in FP2 – assuming it goes ahead – as they would now need to change the Spaniard’s chassis.
“It’s just unacceptable for F1,” Vasseur said, refusing to answer any questions about the event itself and how important it was for the sport.
“I’m not sure that’s the topic for me today,” he added. “We f----- up the session for Carlos and we won’t be part of FP2 for sure because we have to change the chassis.” Vasseur added that the incident would cost his team a fortune.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon also hit the loose cover, with his team reporting they would have to change the chassis entirely due to damage.
The FIA, Formula One’s governing body, said it would need to check all manhole covers around the circuit before making a decision on FP2. Second practice was due to start at midnight local time (8am GMT).
A spokesperson said: “Following inspection, it was the concrete frame around a manhole cover that has failed. We now need to check all of the other manhole covers, which will take some time.
“We will be discussing with the local circuit engineering team about the length of time it will take to resolve and will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”
There were already embarrassed faces at Formula One with many of the grandstands around the Las Vegas circuit sparsely attended for the first session of the weekend, which began at 8.30pm local time (4.30am UK time).
Formula One is promoting the Las Vegas race itself, having invested £500million of its own money to make the race happen.
Ticket and hotel prices for the first F1 grand prix in Las Vegas in over 40 years are eye-watering, with some hospitality passes costing over $150,000 for the race weekend.
In Las Vegas’ defence, is not the first time a drain cover has caused problems on an F1 track. First practice at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix also cancelled after George Russell’s Williams hit a drain cover and was badly damaged. The same thing happened in Monaco in 2016.
The Las Vegas circuit had been signed off following a high-speed test at around 2am on Wednesday. But as Williams team principal James Vowles pointed out, the downforce, and therefore “suction”, generated by a Formula One car, is on a different level.
A joint statement from F1 and the Las Vegas Grand Prix organisers read: “After inspection by Formula 1 and the FIA, a single water valve cover on the Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit failed during the first practice session. The FIA, F1 and local circuit engineering teams are actively working to review and address the issue.
“We will provide an update on the race schedule as soon as possible. During this review period, all tickets, food and beverage and entertainment options will continue to be honoured, and we remain focused on providing our patrons with a great experience.
“We appreciate the collaboration of the relevant event operations staff to ensure a safe and orderly egress of patrons if they choose to leave.”
McLaren team principal Zak Brown and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff both defended the promoter, with Brown dismissing any suggestion that “corners were cut”.
“It would be unfair to say corners were cut,” the American said. “It’s an unfortunate incident. Somehow they got it wrong. For now they just need to focus on fixing it. But they’ve spared no expense on the entire event.”
Wolff, meanwhile, briefly lost his cool after a journalist asked how much of a “black eye” this was for the sport given what is at stake.
“That is not a black eye,” he said. “This is nothing. We are on a Thursday night, a free practice session one that we’re not doing.
“They’re going to see about the remaining drain covers, and nobody is going to talk about that tomorrow morning anymore.”
When another journalist interjected to suggest it was embarrassing, Wolff exploded: “It’s completely ridiculous! Completely ridiculous! How can you even dare to talk back about an event that sets the new standards to everything?
“And then you are speaking about a f------ drain cover that’s been undone, that’s happened before? That’s nothing, it’s FP1.
“Give credit to the people that have set up this grand prix, that have made this sport much bigger than it ever was. Have you ever spoken good about someone, or written a good word? You should about all these people that have been out here.
“Liberty has done an awesome job, and just because in FP1 a drain cover has come undone we shouldn’t be moaning.
“The car is broken, that’s really a shame. For Carlos, it could have been dangerous. So between the FIA, the track, everybody needs to analyse to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“But talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening … nobody’s watching that on European time anyway.”