The script writers of a fictional story about the biggest new F1 race in Formula One history would not have dared to imagine the reality that was to occur as the F1 cars hit the track at the much hyped Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend. With the track lights turning night into day around the famous ‘strip’ the cars finally hit the circuit after days of promotional events and global media attention.
Then nine minutes in, the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz ground to a half causing a red flag given the location of his car in the. Middle of the 1.9km back straight. A minute later the FIA announced the practice session was cancelled and would not resume.
Furious Ferrari boss responds
Tens of thousands of fans had taken their seats expecting an hour of track action but they were to be disappointed as it became quickly evident a loose drain cover had come lose and hit Sainz’s Ferrari causing a huge amount of damage.
The Ferrari boss, Fred Vasseur, was furious when asked about his driver’s reaction to the shocking incident.
“He said that he had something on track and he didn’t know exactly what it was. The situation is we damaged completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery and I think it’s just unacceptable.”
“We had a very tough FP1, this will cost us a fortune. We f***** up the session for Carlos. We won’t be part of FP2 for sure, we have to change the chassis and two-thirds of the car. Okay the show is the show and everything is going well, but I think it’s just unacceptable for F1 today.”
Ocon’s Alpine damaged too
Fred Vasseur believes given the resources required to develop a new Formula One circuit, the final preparations and safety checks performed by the FIA were “unacceptable.”
The Ferrari of Carlos Sainz has used all of its allowable battery packs for the season and should it be damaged beyond repair requiring a new unit, then the Spaniard will take a grid drop for the race – no matter how unfair this appears.
Sainz was not the only car to suffer from the dislocated drain cover as Esteban Ocon in his Alpine was unaware of the the debris on track which he hit on his cool down lap returning to the pit lane.
Formula One’s owners Liberty Media have poured eye watering amounts of money into the Las Vegas event which has been promoted relentlessly since the start of the season. When it was suggested to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff that the problem after nine minutes of running was a complete embarrassment to the sport, he derided the idea stating “this is nothing.”
Angry Wolff decries “f***ing drain cover”
“That is not a ‘black eye’ – this is nothing,” he said. “We are [on] 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,” claimed Wolff.
The Mercedes boss reacted angrily to the idea that F1’s reputation was tarnished beyond repair.
“It’s FP1,” he retorted. “How can you even dare trying to talk bad about an event that sets new standards to everything?
“You’re speaking about a fucking drain cover that’s been undone, that has 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.”
Praise for an “awesome job”
Toto continued with unbridled praise for F1’s owners and the flag ship Las Vegas event.
“Liberty has done an awesome job and just because in FP1 a drain cover has become undone, we shouldn’t be moaning,” Wolff continued.
“The car is broken – that’s really a shame. For Carlos, it could have been dangerous. So between the FIA and the track and 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,” concluded Wolff in dismissive fashion.
Loose drain covers nothing new to F1
Loose drain covers have been an issue previously for Formula One and similarly in Baku 2019, George Russell suffered a hit from such an item in FP1 which was then also cancelled immediately while the 360 other surrounds were checked.
Jenson Button took a hit going up the hill in Monaco back in 2016 as a rolling metal grate struck the front right hand side of his car. At the time the cars did not have the halo protection for the drivers and Button remarked he was “lucky it wasn’t a foot further from the ground.”
Williams team principal James Vowles echoed his former boss’s views saying: “Judge us by what happens when the chequered flag falls on Saturday, rather than what’s just happened in the last hour.”
Vasseur praises “mega show”
Despite being baited to criticise Formula One and its extravagant Las Vegas spend, the Ferrari boss explained he had no reason to believe the efforts in promoting the event had compromised safety.
“I think you don’t have to mix everything,” he said. “I think that the show is mega and I’m very happy with what Liberty did around the race.
“It’s a huge step forward for the F1 and we have to separate what is the show and the sporting side. The show is mega, I was in the Paddock Club yesterday when they did the ceremony and it was something that I never saw before.”
Practice two delayed and extended
Practice two is delayed indefinitely as the midnight deadline came and went with no word from the FIA as to the progress of their checks. However, the circuit must be re-opened for public traffic at 4am local time which means should FP2 be rescheduled it will need to being no later than 02:30 local time.
Should FP2 be extended to 90 minutes to compensate the teams and drivers from lost track time, then a 2am start to the session must be delivered.