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Las Vegas F1 race stumbles out of the gate after canceled practice

A loose drain cover damaged a driver’s car and caused the cancellation of the first practice session for Saturday night’s Formula One race in Las Vegas, an inauspicious start for a buzzy event that already is facing a number of questions.

The problem was discovered when driver Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari suffered damage after going over the drain. Race officials then had to inspect all the drain covers along that portion of the course and decided to cancel the rest of Thursday night’s first practice session.

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“After inspection by Formula 1 and the FIA, a single water valve cover on the Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit failed during the first practice session,” F1 and Las Vegas Grand Prix Inc. said in a joint statement.

“The FIA, F1 and local circuit engineering teams are actively working to review and address the issue.”

The night’s second session was delayed by 2½ hours so repairs could be made and did not begin until 2:30 a.m. Friday. The session lasted only 90 minutes because racers must be off the course by 4 a.m. to make way for Las Vegas commuters (much of the 3.85-mile course, which traverses a large portion of the Las Vegas Strip, is open to traffic during the day to minimize disruption).

Ferrari changed the chassis on Sainz’s car and he was able to take part in the second practice session, but the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) assessed a 10-point grid penalty because of the alterations.

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“We had a very tough FP1. This will cost us a fortune,” an agitated Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur told reporters. “We [expletive] the session for Carlos … we have to change the chassis out of the car, to set up the car, okay? The show is the show and everything is going well but I think it’s just unacceptable for F1 today. You would be upset in my situation.”

Esteban Ocon of Alpine also came out of the session with a car damaged by the drain, but Mercedes principal Toto Wolff tried to play down the problem ahead of the race.

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“It’s completely ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. FP1, how can you even dare try to talk bad about an event that sets a new standard to everything?” Wolff said. “You’re speaking about a [expletive] drain cover that’s been undone. That has happened before. That’s nothing. It’s FP1.

“We shouldn’t be moaning. The car’s broken. That’s really a shame for Carlos. It could have been dangerous, so between the FIA and the track and everybody needs to analyze how we can make sure that this is not happening again. But talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening, nobody watches that in European time, anyway.”

Loose manhole covers have caused problems on a few previous occasions, most recently in 2019 when George Russell ran over a manhole cover in the first practice in Baku, Azerbaijan.

From Sin City to America’s sports capital

F1 and its ownership group Liberty Media have spent $500 million on the Las Vegas race, which has caused much grumbling from Las Vegas residents over the disruptions to their commuting patterns. Ticket prices on the secondary market have plunged for a number of reasons, including expected chilly weather and the fact that Las Vegas hotel prices have skyrocketed this weekend. Plus, the race is mostly meaningless in terms of the overall F1 season, as Max Verstappen wrapped up the championship weeks ago.


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