The opening practice session for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was abandoned after only eight minutes after Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari was struck with a severe and dangerous impact by drain cover. More than one drain cover was understood to have been dislodged and the FIA had to check the safety of all them across the street circuit to confirm their integrity.
The incident was an embarrassing opening to the race Formula One’s owners are organising and promoting themselves with the aim of building the sport in the US – a market in which it is eager to expand. The costs of putting on the meeting in the heart of Las Vegas are believed to reach as much as US$700m. F1 described the incident as the failure of a “water-valve cover”.
Sainz was on the main straight heading down Las Vegas Boulevard – the Strip – where the cars reach speeds of over 200mph when his car visibly suffered a major hit from below in the section approaching the Bellagio casino. He ground to a halt next to a marshal post shortly afterwards.
Pictures of the underfloor of the car showed it had sustained major damage and the drain cover was seen to be have been dragged completely clear from the concrete surround that is intended to hold it in place.
“It is just unacceptable,” said a furious Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur.
“It cost us a fortune. I think it’s just unacceptable for F1 today.”
The session was stopped three minutes after the incident for safety reasons.
An FIA 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.”
The Alpine of Esteban Ocon is also understood to have taken damage from a drain cover. Free practice two finally got underway after repairs to the street circuit at 2.30am local time, 10.30am GMT. The length of the session was extended to 90 minutes but took place behind closed doors with fans told to leave the grandstands due to late running with staff due to finish.
When the opening session had been stopped booing broke out in the grandstands on the start-finish straight, where weekend tickets at the very cheapest end of the spectrum cost $1,700. There were no support races and F1 had done no previous running on the track because of the limitations imposed by closing the roads of the city.
To add to Ferrari’s fury, Sainz has been hit with a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s GP after requiring a new engine due to the damage caused by the incident.