Track officials repair an area of track surrounding a drain as seen from the McLaren VISTA during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jared C. Tilton – Formula 1 | Formula 1 | Getty Images
Formula 1’s return to Las Vegas was thrown into chaos as the opening practice session was cancelled after just eight minutes of action due to a broken drain cover damaging Carlos Sainz’s car.
With F1 returning to Las Vegas for the first time since 1982 on an all-new circuit, a red flag was thrown by the race director Sainz’s Ferrari suffered significant damage having run over the damaged part of the track on the main straight.
Ocon’s Alpine then suffered damage under the red flag when it hit the scattered debris left by the Sainz incident.
A further 11 minutes passed before a decision taken to cancel the session, with second practice subsequently pushed back two hours from its scheduled start time to 10am. It has also been extended by a third to run to 90 minutes.
An FIA statement had earlier 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.”
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Speaking in the team principal’s press conference immediately after the session, Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur described the incident as “unacceptable” while confirming damage to Sainz’s monocoque, engine, and battery.
Alpine, meanwhile, confirmed that the chassis would need to be changed on Ocon’s car.
The other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was top of the timesheet when the session was halted, but the extremely limited running offered next to no clue as to what the running order will be for the remainder of the weekend.
The incident does not mark the first time in recent history that an F1 session has been halted by such an issue.
First practice at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was cancelled when George Russell’s Williams hit a drain cover and was damaged.
The opening session at this season’s Canadian Grand Prix was also called off after just four minutes due to issues with the circuit’s CCTV.
Wolff launches impassioned defence of Vegas GP organisers
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff offered an impassioned defence of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which is the first event that the owners of F1 commercial rights, Liberty Media, has organised and promoted itself.
Wolff reacted angrily to being asked whether the event had been “a black eye” for F1.
He said: “That is not a black eye, this is nothing. We are Thursday night, we have a free practice session one that we’re not doing.
“They’re going to seal the drain covers, and nobody’s going to talk about that tomorrow morning anymore.
“It’s completely ridiculous, completely ridiculous. FP1 – how can you even dare trying to talk bad about the event that sets the new standards, new standards to everything.
“And then you’re speaking about a drain cover that’s been undone. That has happened before, that’s nothing. It’s FP1.
Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) during the 1st free practice prior to the Las Vegas Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Las Vegas Strip Circuit in Nevada.
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“Give credit to the people that have set up this Grand Prix, that have made this sport much bigger than it ever was.
“Have you ever spoken good about someone and written a good word? You should about all these people that have been out here. Liberty has done an awesome job and just because in FP1 a drain cover has become undone, we shouldn’t be moaning.
“The car is broken. That’s really a shame for Carlos. It could have been dangerous. So between the FIA and the track, everybody needs to analyse how we can make sure that this is not happening again.
“But talking here about the black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening, nobody watches that in European time anyway.”