The Las Vegas Grand Prix encountered a rocky start as the inaugural practice session for the $500 million Formula One race came to an abrupt halt after just nine minutes on Thursday night. The cause was a water valve cover damaged by Carlos Sainz Jr., leading to a 2 1/2-hour delay for track repairs and the evacuation of all spectators before the 90-minute session, which concluded at 4 a.m. local time to meet the deadline for returning the roads to Las Vegas commuters.
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez expressed regret for the inconvenience to fans but remained optimistic about the upcoming race. The FIA reported that Sainz collided with the concrete frame surrounding the cover shortly after cars hit the track for the highly anticipated return to Las Vegas. Following the incident, all cars were ordered off the track for a comprehensive circuit inspection.
To address the issue, multiple drainage covers had to be sealed before the rescheduled second practice, originally slated for midnight but beginning at 2:30 a.m. on Friday. An hour before the session, organizers instructed fans to leave, citing logistical considerations. Ferrari’s team principal, Fred Vasseur, criticized the situation, deeming it “unacceptable.” Despite changing the chassis during the extended break, Sainz received a 10-place grid penalty from the FIA.
However, Ferrari managed to salvage the day with Charles Leclerc and Sainz securing the top two positions in the second practice session. During a news conference, Vasseur focused on the immediate impact, refusing to entertain broader discussions. Despite questions about the incident’s impact on F1’s return to Las Vegas after 41 years, both Vasseur and Mercedes principal Toto Wolff downplayed its significance.
Wolff dismissed the notion that the stoppage was a setback, emphasizing that it occurred during a Thursday night practice session and wouldn’t overshadow the event. He expressed frustration with criticism, asserting that such incidents had happened before and were part of the sport. Wolff called for a thorough analysis to prevent similar occurrences in the future but urged against portraying it as a black mark on the sport.
The Las Vegas Grand Prix, marking F1’s return to the city after four decades, aimed to be a spectacle. However, challenges such as high ticket prices, expensive hotel rates, and local discontent due to disruptions during the course’s construction tempered the initial excitement. The 3.85-mile street circuit, utilizing a significant portion of the Strip, received FIA approval early Thursday morning after being closed overnight for inspection.
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Despite the setback, team principals, including Vasseur and Wolff, praised the overall event and the efforts of Liberty Media and F1. They emphasized the distinction between the show and the sporting side, acknowledging the spectacle’s positive impact while addressing the technical challenges that marred the initial practice session. Similar incidents in the past were cited to contextualize the situation, emphasizing the need for ongoing efforts to enhance safety measures.