F1’s first taste of the Las Vegas Grand Prix has been little more than a disaster after the first practice session was brought to an end just seven minutes in after Carlos Sainz’ Ferrari struck a manhole cover.
The drivers were already struggling with the cool conditions making grip low.
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While Sainz’s teammate Charles Leclerc was on top of the time sheet, not much had been learned by the teams and it would be a frustrating day as the drivers attempt to learn the new track on the F1 calendar.
So after FP1 was cancelled after seven minutes, now FP2 has been delayed as the local engineering team have to check all the valve covers.
If the drivers can’t get out on track before 2.30am local time (9.30pm AEDT) the session will have to be cancelled as some public roads will have to be reopened at 4am local time (11pm AEDT).
Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle called it “embarrassing”.
Vision on board with Sainz saw the Spaniard hit a bump really hard and let out a groan before immediately being told “Stop the car, engine off”.
The FIA confirmed it was a concrete frame around a manhole cover that broke Sainz’s floor.
Sainz appeared uninjured but didn’t appear very happy with the issue.
Sainz wasn’t the only person to be dealt the frustrating blow with Esteban Ocon’s Alpine garage confirming that he had also damaged his floor with the same manhole cover.
Alpine confirmed that they would have to “change the chassis on Car #31 due to damage from a suspected drain cover on track.”
Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz said it was unlikely that either driver would be able return for the second practice session with just three hours between sessions.
“Now we know the manhole has cost Alpine a chassis and we believe it has cost Sainz one as well,” he said.
“That means neither will make FP2 as it takes more than three hours to get a new chassis ready.
“The mechanics are dismantling the gearbox and if that’s okay they can bolt that onto the new chassis when it gets into the garage. But it’s quite a lot of work to do.”
Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur was furious over the incident and said it was “f**ked up”.
“What he said is that I think I hit something on track and he didn’t know exactly what it was,” he said.
“The situation is that we damage completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery. I think it’s just unacceptable.
“We had a very tough FP1 one that will cost us a fortune. We f**ked up the session for Carlos.
“We won’t be part of the FP2 for sure because we change the chassis of the car. Okay, the show is the show and everything is going well but I think of just unacceptable for the F1 today.”
Alpine team boss Bruno Famin said that there was still hope Ocon would participate in the night session, though he was no certainty.
“Not totally impossible, we may not be ready if the issue takes a bit longer. It could be possible, maybe a possibility,” he said.
“It is quite bad, we have to change the chassis and the floor. We have to take the car into pieces. Quite challenging.”
Fans, as well as Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle, are concerned this could spell an early end to the weekend.
“That’s it for today,” Brundle declared.
“Fixing that, checking everything else that’s out there and fixing that and letting it dry and making sure it won’t come out again, is a big job.
“That’s a very, very big issue if there are other areas like that around the track.”
It continues what has been a tumultuous star for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which has seen street closures across the Vegas strip.
But while it was expected to be a showcase event for the sport which has gained popularity in the US and around the world on the back of Netflix’s Drive To Survive, the event is still not sold out with expensive tickets, while there have been reports of hotels slashing prices to encourage last minute attendees.
With the F1 website reporting that three-day grandstand ticket prices start at over $3000, Aussie Daniel Ricciardo called for the sport to remember the sport needs fans.
“I guess, like all things, you need a balance,” Ricciardo said.
“I did hear some entry-level prices; I’m well aware that not everyone can afford those. I would love that everyone can have the option to attend.
“Obviously, I’m not the business behind the sport, but maybe it’s, I don’t want to say it’s my ignorance, but I would still love that a general admission is affordable for anyone, whatever job they are.
“Of course, if there’s then some crazy packages, and that people want to spend that money, all good, so be it, but I guess I don’t like to hear that ‘we would have loved to have come but we simply couldn’t afford it’.”
Even the glitzy events in the lead up to the Grand Prix have been slammed with World champion Max Verstappen saying the event was “99 per cent show and one per cent sporting event” and said the street track was “not every interesting”.
“For me you can all skip these things,” the Red Bull driver said when asked about an introduction ceremony where drivers emerged from giant boxes on the pit straight to be introduced to the crowd. “It’s not about the singer, it’s just standing up there, you look like a clown.”
Other drivers including McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz had questioned the amount of commercial commitments that drivers have had to undertake around the race.
The comments, after a glitzy opening ceremony with a drone show and performance from Australian singer Kylie Minogue, are unlikely to have pleased F1’s American owners Liberty Media, who are also promoters of the Vegas race.
But Hamilton said that the growth the sport in the United States was a welcome development and praised the American investor and Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali.
“I hear there are a lot of people complaining about the direction that Stefano and Liberty has gone. But they are doing an amazing job,” the Mercedes driver said.
“The sport continues to grow. It is a business and you will still see good racing here. It is a country to tap into and really captivate the audience,” he said.
Hamilton said there was clearly a buzz around the event.
“Everybody I know in Hollywood is coming and there will be a lot of business going on this weekend,” he said.
“It will be a good spectacle to watch, even for those back home who have never been to Vegas. They will get to learn what it is all about.”
Originally published as ‘What a disaster’: Practice cancelled after seven minutes in Las Vegas farce