Disgruntled fans, some of whom had spent thousands of pounds on tickets, slammed Formula One’s “ridiculous” decision to ask them to leave the circuit at 2am, after they had waited almost six hours to watch some action on a farcical opening day at the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
After months of hype, the first practice session for the £500 million race was just eight minutes old when Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari stopped on track, having “sucked up” a loose water valve cover, destroying his chassis and sending sparks and plumes of smoke up into the air.
FP1, which had started at 8.30pm local time (04.30 UK time), was immediately red-flagged, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon having also hit the cover. Eleven minutes later it was called off completely as the FIA, F1 and local circuit engineering teams set to work inspecting and securing all covers on the circuit.
As marshals raced against time to get second practice under way, Formula One and Las Vegas Grand prix organisers tried to pacify fans, issuing a joint statement saying that “all tickets, food and beverage and entertainment options would continue to be honoured” during the review period.
However, by the time the track was deemed ready for an extended 90-minute second practice session it was 2.30am local time (10.30am UK time), and fans who had hung around for nearly six hours had already been ordered to leave the circuit.
“Ridiculous, I waited four hours,” one fan told Sky Sports F1 on his way out. “They gave us some hope and said at 2am that we’d have [FP2] but nothing happened. Now they’re telling us to leave.”
“People spent their money for nothing,” added another.
Formula One will be hugely embarrassed by the disastrous start to the weekend, especially as it came just 24hrs after world champion Max Verstappen had criticised the race, describing it as “99 per cent show, 1 per cent sporting event”.
Formula One is promoting the Las Vegas race itself, having invested £500m of its own money to buy and develop the land and paddock complex. But despite saying it anticipated 100,000-plus capacity crowds every day, many of the grandstands around the circuit were sparsely-attended for the first session of the weekend.
The high rollers who pay for Paddock Club passes are likely to be particularly miffed at being turfed out.
Ticket and hotel prices for the first Formula One grand prix to be held in Las Vegas in over 40 years are eye-watering, with some hospitality passes costing over $150,000 for the race weekend.
— F1 Las Vegas (@F1LasVegas) November 17, 2023
Fans are unlikely to be offered refunds.
Reaction among teams and drivers was varied.
Ferrari’s team principal Fred Vasseur was absolutely furious in the aftermath of Sainz’s crash, describing it as completely “unacceptable” that the water valve covers had not been properly secured in advance, and complaining that the damage would cost his team “a fortune”.
His mood would have worsened when Sainz was handed a minimum 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race due to a change of chassis, combustion engine, battery and control electronics unit.
But Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, launched an impassioned defence of Formula One and its owners Liberty Media, denying the cancellation of FP1 was a “black eye” for the sport.
“That is not a black eye,” he said. “This is nothing. We are on a Thursday night, a free practice session that we’re not doing. They’re going to see about the remaining drain covers. And nobody is going to talk about that tomorrow morning anymore.”
The Austrian even lost his temper with one journalist who described that assertion as “absolute rubbish”, pointing out that similar manhole cover failures had happened in the past in Azerbaijan and Monaco.
“How can you even dare to talk back about an event that sets the new standards to everything? And then you are speaking about a f------ drain cover that’s been undone, that’s happened before? That’s nothing. It’s FP1.
“Give credit to the people that have set up this grand prix, that have made this sport much bigger than it ever was.
“Liberty has done an awesome job, and just because in FP1 a drain cover has come undone we shouldn’t be moaning.
“The [Ferrari] is broken, that’s really a shame. For Carlos, it could have been dangerous. So between the FIA, the track, everybody needs to analyse to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“But talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening...nobody’s watching that on European time anyway.”
Las Vegas Grand Prix FP2: as it happened
12:19 PM GMT
Max Verstappen speaks
It was slippery out there. I have had better tracks in my life. There’s nothing new I discovered but we just get on with it. I think the soft [tyre] over one lap was good. Seemed like the soft was struggling on a long run and even the medium is not straightforward on a long run so there’s still lot to be done.
12:17 PM GMT
Sir Lewis Hamilton speaks
It’s so fast and it’s great to race out there. P1 wasn’t great but they sorted it out. When we’re all out on similar tyres we’re not far off. It’s massively challenging, even though they have the long straights there’s not many places to overtake because the grip and the tow is so low. Lots of degradation. Everyone’s struggling with jetlag but I feel great. I watched a movie during he break and I feel great.
12:14 PM GMT
George Russell speaks
I’ve had four naps today, I don’t know what time it is and I’m looking forward to getting some sleep
12:05 PM GMT
What goes on in Vegas at 4am, stays in Vegas
Here’s the chequered flag:
11:54 AM GMT
Leclerc is back out with five minutes to go
On medium tyres so it’s unlikely he will beat his time set on softs.
11:48 AM GMT
Scandalous treatment by the organisers
— Anonymous Monkey (@AnonymousMonk16) November 17, 2023
11:46 AM GMT
Leclerc still fstest with 15 mins to go
The McLarens are really struggling, back in 11th and 14th.
11:37 AM GMT
Alonso puts in another stunning lap
To move into second five-tenths behind Leclerc, but then locks up the front tyres and heads into the run-off zone.
11:31 AM GMT
Standings with 30 mins left
11:26 AM GMT
If you were wondering about the Red Bulls
Wonder no more. Verstappen has juts stormed into the lead taking the baton from Sainz both on their new set of softs.
Hand on, Leclerc has set the benchmrk beneath 1.36 with 1.35.696, Verstappen six-tenths behind.
11:24 AM GMT
Only six0hundredths split the top three
As David Croft points out Fernando Alonso is the only driver on the grid who was alive for the last LVGP and has juts taken first place after a stunning lap on softs.
11:20 AM GMT
How they stand with 40 mins to go
HAM + 0.006
11:11 AM GMT
Soft tyres push Hamilton up to second
He;s now only three-hundredths of a second behind Leclerc in first and Verstappen still in fourth three-tenths behind.
11:05 AM GMT
Verstappen locks up on turn 12
On new soft tyres but recovers. How they stand:
10:59 AM GMT
Sainz's accident notwithstanding ...
He was quick in his hastily rebuilt car, running first currently with 1.36.984. Here he is on his first run of P2:
Carlos Sainz goes quickest in FP2 so far, AMAZING work by Ferrari to get his damaged car back out on track 🔴👏 pic.twitter.com/vyfZUcX2Hb
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) November 17, 2023
10:57 AM GMT
Sainz's penalty confirmed
It’s 10 places on the grid. Surely that was a result of force majeure:
CONFIRMED 🚨| Carlos Sainz will receive a 10-place grid penalty for using his third energy store of the season. pic.twitter.com/5ibDmu9BLa
— Ferrari News 🐎 (@FanaticsFerrari) November 17, 2023
10:56 AM GMT
Alex Albon and Williams
Who look very quick on the straight with a speed of 199mph have just climbed into third, three-tenths of a second behind Verstappen. His team-mate Logan Sargeant, below, is back in ninth, 1.3sec behind.
10:50 AM GMT
There have been spins and skids from Stoll, Alonso and Magnussen and the slippery track is causing problems at the chicane following turns seven, eight and nine.
10:48 AM GMT
Verstappen moves past the Ferraris
Leclerc leads Sainz by two-tenths of a second but both ae now headed by Max Verstappen at 1.38.209, a tenth of a second quicker than Leclerc.
10:45 AM GMT
McLaren have solved their problems
Zak Brown says they had to adjust cooling and ride height but Piastri and Norris will be back on track in a jiffy.
10:43 AM GMT
The drivers are on soft tyres
Martin Brundle notes that with the grandstands deserted it’s giving him flashbacks to lockdown races. David Croft laments the lack of fans and wonders why they couldn’t find a way to keep them in the stands to reward their patience and loyalty.
10:40 AM GMT
Sainz goes quickest
Four hours after shattering his chassis and damaging his battery, Carlos Sainz’s leads FP1 with 1.39.891, a tenth of a second quicker than his team-mate Charles Leclerc managed first time round.
Norris’s problem seems to be worse than a software issue as his crew rapidly dismantle his car.
10:38 AM GMT
Verstappen sets benchmark
Max Verstappen’s Red Bull crosses the line at 1:41.905, Charles Leclerc managed a second quicker in the eight minutes of FP1.
10:36 AM GMT
Norris is called back in
He tells his team he’s in limp home mode and is instructed to come into the pits. Seems to be stuck in second gear.
10:33 AM GMT
A shower of sparks from the back of Max Verstappen
But nothing to worry about.
10:31 AM GMT
Right we kick off with both McLarens
Piastri and Norris take to the track.
10:26 AM GMT
And the constructors
10:26 AM GMT
A reminder of how the drivers stand
10:14 AM GMT
If you're watching on Sky
Prepare for some sleep-derivation delirium from the Keith Richards of F1:
Breaking news - we’re going back on track!!!
FP2 starting in 20 minutes - tune in to @SkySportsF1 LIVE now….
Will be awake for 22 hours by the end of the session - who knows what will come out of my mouth at that’s stage 🤷🏽♂️🤷🏽♂️#VegasGP pic.twitter.com/40ykLuz6re
— Karun Chandhok (@karunchandhok) November 17, 2023
10:08 AM GMT
Marshals have turfed the fans out of the stands
Grandstands now being closed as there aren’t sufficient stewards to ensure safety and security.
This sport is nothing without the fans and the F1 is doing their best to ensure fans know they are the lowest priority.#f1 #LasVegasGP pic.twitter.com/zs5GBJIVKO
— TheF1Grandstand (@TheF1Grandstand) November 17, 2023
10:01 AM GMT
Another 15 minute delay announced
F1 announces that it will now start at 2.30am PT (10.30am GMT).
09:59 AM GMT
Now Sainz faces a penalty
Stewards say they have no discretion to waive the sanction despite him damaging his car on an object beyond his control. It was not force majeure ... nonetheless both Sainz and Ocon will be able to take part in P2.
— Fastest Pitstop (@FastestPitStop) November 17, 2023
09:57 AM GMT
It was said earlier that they have to reopen the Strip to the public at 4am (noon GMT) so how late could this conceivably start if they miss 2.15am?
2.15am, by the way, isn’t an official start time. That’s still TBC …
09:51 AM GMT
The moment Sainz hit the cover in P1
— Autosport (@autosport) November 17, 2023
09:48 AM GMT
Further 15 minute delay
Practice 2 will now start at 10.15am GMT, 2.15am PT.
09:44 AM GMT
Yet another farce – fans sent home after seeing eight minutes
F1 sends fans home before Practice 2:
— Autosport (@autosport) November 17, 2023
Some poor souls had been sitting in the cold until the early hours and have now been stopped from watching Practice when it eventually starts:
09:37 AM GMT
Work continues on the track
Las Vegas have got Fawlty Towers’ O’Reilly on the job ...
08:58 AM GMT
Latest: Practice 2 to start at 10am
Practice 2 is expected to commence at 2am local time in Las Vegas.
This is subject to local circuit engineering team completing the necessary works on the track.
The session will be extended to 90 minutes.#F1 #LasVegasGP
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 17, 2023
07:48 AM GMT
Preview: Race to fix manhole cover problems
Formula One was dealt a hugely embarrassing blow after first practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was abandoned.
The running under the lights of the Las Vegas strip was suspended when Carlos Sainz broke down in his Ferrari with just eight minutes on the clock.
And then 11 minutes later, at 8:49pm local time, it was announced the session would not be resumed – it emerged Sainz’s failure was caused by a loose manhole cover – and the start to second practice scheduled for midnight (8am GMT) would be delayed until at least 2am (10am GMT), if run at all.
Television replays showed Sainz being jolted in his cockpit as the cover struck the underneath of his machine as he approached 200mph on the Las Vegas Boulevard.
Esteban Ocon also smashed into the debris – against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, Bellagio and Venetian hotels - causing significant damage to his Alpine.
Ferrari described the damage to Sainz’s car as “extensive”, while Alpine said Ocon will require a new chassis.
Ferrari team principal Frederic Masseur said: “He [Sainz] said I hit something on track, and he didn’t know what it was. It is just unacceptable for F1.”
An FIA spokesperson said: “Following an inspection, a concrete frame around a manhole cover 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 we will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”
Speaking on Sky Sports, Martin Brundle, said: “That’s it for today from my experience.
“Fixing that and checking everything else, letting it dry and making sure it won’t come out again is going to be a big job.
“Theoretically, they are going to re-open the Strip [for public use] after the F1 practice sessions. That is a very, very big issue if there are other areas like that around the track.”
The problems of loose manhole covers at street venues is not a new one in the sport.
Jenson Button struck a dislodged drain in practice in Monaco in 2016, while George Russell also ran over a drain cover in Azerbaijan four years ago.