Former Formula 1 Champion Jenson Button told us that he expected drivers to be challenged by Las Vegas’s “tricky conditions,” but we doubt he could have imagined what happened Thursday night.
On Thursday night, in the first eight minutes of the first practice session for the race, a water-valve cover came loose and struck a number of cars on the track, The Athletic reported. The cover hit Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari at almost 200 miles per hour, and also damaged Esteban Ocon’s Alpine and Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo. Formula 1 had to call off the session altogether to make sure there were no other safety concerns.
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“It’s just unacceptable for F1 today,” Fred Vasseur, Ferrari’s team principal, said. Adding insult to injury for Ferrari, the damage to Sainz’s car is so severe, the power unit needs to be replaced, which runs afoul of race regulations. Thus Sainz has received a penalty and will have to start the race 10-spots back of where he’ll qualify tonight. Ferrari appealed the decision and was denied.
The water-valve incident shut down F1 preparations for more than five hours. When Free Practice 2 began, it was two hours later than had been planned, and ended up running for 90 minutes rather than the scheduled 60. Luckily, the second session went off without any newsworthy accidents.
But fans who stayed up late to watch the practice sessions weren’t as fortunate. Police asked spectators to leave due to “logistical considerations” and union employees having timed out of work, according to The Athletic. Even certain areas where tickets had been selling for up to $50,000 for the weekend went dark. Die-hards who weren’t willing to give up found other areas where they could see the track, including riding escalators up and down to catch a glimpse of the action.
“The Las Vegas Grand Prix, F1 and the FIA decided to take extra precautions to ensure the integrity of the track prior to the resumption of racing,” race organizers said in a statement released Friday. “These additional measures required multiple hours to complete, which led to a significant delay in the race schedule … Given the lateness of the hour and the logistical concerns regarding the safe movement of fans and employees out of the circuit, LVGP made the difficult decision to close the fan zones prior to the beginning of Free Practice 2.”
The practice-session hullaballoo certainly isn’t the way F1 wanted the Las Vegas Grand Prix to begin. The race, which has cost more than half a billion dollars to put on, has faced criticism from those in and outside the industry that it’s more spectacle than sporting event—including a sharp rebuke by reigning world champion Max Verstappen, who criticized the opulence of the event while adding, “Let’s see how long fans also like this.”
While team principals have pushed back against those concerns, Thursday night’s incident doesn’t instill confidence in many. They’ll just have to wait and see how the rest of the weekend shakes out.
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