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Vegas off to a bad start as dislodged drain cover halts practise

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz become the first Vegas casualty after having his car's underside damaged 20 minutes after the green flag dropped.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix suffered an embarrassing first night when the opening practice on the new circut was abandoned after just nine minutes on Thursday because of a loose drain cover.

Not the start wanted

Carlos Sainz was forced to a stop in his Ferrari after hitting the cover, resulting in a red flag and damage to the front of his car on what should have been a triumphant return for F1 to Vegas after two races in 1981 and 1982.

Video footage showed sparks flying from the bottom of Sainz’s car after it hit what organisers called a “water valve cover”. After some delay organisers announced that the session would not be resumed.

“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,” the governing FIA said in a statement.

Vegas Grand Prix halted by loose drain cover during first practise
Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur listens to his technical team after Carlos Sainz suffered an accident during the first practice session for the Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix. Race stewards cancelled the practice after the accident to inspect the track. The session was cut short after ten minutes due to a loose drain cover, according to FIA officials. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

A second practice session was scheduled for midnight local time but was delayed as course workers carried out urgent checks and repairs.

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Adding to the public relations damage, fans at the track were left unclear about when that session would take place. The FIA later said the aim was to start at 02h00 with an extended session lasting 90 minutes.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had posted the fastest lap with a time of 1:40.909.

Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur, who was clearly angry in a news conference, said there was no chance of Sainz taking part in the second session.

“We damaged completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery. I think it’s just unacceptable,” he said.

“It cost us a fortune. We won’t be part of FP2 for sure. I think it’s just unacceptable for F1 today,” he added.

‘How can you even dare?’

In a heated press conference, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff reacted with fury to a question from a reporter about whether the incident was a “black eye” for the sport’s organisers.

“That is not a black eye, this is nothing. We are on Thursday night, we have a FP1 that we are not doing, they are going to seal the rain covers and nobody is going to talk about that anymore tomorrow morning,” said the German.

Vegas Grand Prix halted by loose drain cover during first practise
Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari being returned to the pits running over a loose drain cover during the first practise session. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

“It’s completely ridiculous. How can you even dare trying to talk bad about an event that sets new standards in everything? You are talking about a drain over that has been undone, that has happened before and is nothing,” he said.

“Between the FIA and the track, everybody needs to analyze how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again, but talking about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening, nobody watches that in European time anyway,” he added.

Esteban Ocon’s Alpine also suffered damage and the team were forced to begin changing the chassis on his car.

Verstappen and Norris unimpressed

Yesterday, newly crowned three-time champion, Max Verstappen, described the event as being all about the show and without real meaning.

t’s 99 precent show and one percent sporting event,” said the Dutchman, when asked to evaluate the return of the sport to Vegas after a 41-year absence.

“Not a lot of emotions to be honest. I mean I don’t like… I just want to always focus on the performance side of things, I don’t like all the things around it anyway,” he said.

“I know of course there are some places that you know (it is) part of it, but let’s say it’s not my interest,” he added.

Asked for his opinion on the street track, which will take the drivers down the famous Vegas ‘strip’, Verstappen was blunt.

“Yeah, not very interesting…it’s just not many corners to be honest,” he said.

hen he was asked if he would at least be looking forward to Sunday’s race, Verstappen’s lack of enthusiasm was again evident.

“No. No, but I’m looking forward to trying to do the best I can, but I’m not looking forward to this,” he said, pointing to the hospitality areas above the paddock.

Verstappen said he hadn’t talked to the F1 organisers about his views but said he doubted his views would have an impact on them.

“I don’t know. I guess they still make money if I like it or not, so it’s not up to me. But I’m also not going to fake it,” he said.

“I just always voice my opinion in positive things and negative things, and that’s just how I am. Some people like a show a bit more, I don’t like it at all,” he said.

“I grew up just looking at the performance side of things, and that’s how I see it as well. So for me, I like to be in Vegas, but not so much for racing,” he added.

McLaren’s British driver Lando Norris struck a similar tone to Verstappen and said he didn’t like the glitzy opening ceremony.

“I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing these types of things like we did earlier. It’s not what I enjoy doing, I know a lot of this stuff is just part of it and I’m not saying anything against it.

“I do this job because I want to come and drive and race cars and I’ve never been the biggest fan of doing these types of big events and shows and things like that.

“I guess it’s part of the job and it’s a business and….that’s how it has to run in the end of the day,” he said.

Vegas has its fans

But veteran Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, a two-time world champion, said an exception should be made for Vegas.

“I have to say that I think places like this one, with the investment that has been done and the place that we are racing, I think it deserves a little bit different treatment and a little bit extra show (like) we did today,” he said.

In agreement with Alonso’s sentiments, seven-times champion Lewis 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,” said the Mercedes driver.

“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,” he said.

“It is a big show for sure, and it is never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe over time, the people in this community will grow to love the sport,” he said.

‘Saturday’ race

The first F1 race to take place on a Saturday since the 1985 South African Grand Prix, the main event will be televised on Sunday morning in Europe and also South Africa.

Additional reporting by Charl Bosch

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