He Las Vegas Grand Prix had a bumpy opening when the first practice of the $500 million prize Formula 1 The race was stopped nine minutes into Thursday night’s session because Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a drain cover that severely damaged his Ferrari.

This caused the first practice to be aborted, a 2.5-hour delay before the second practice for track repairs, and all spectators were removed from the viewing areas before the 90-minute session which ended at 4. am local time, the deadline for F1 to begin. return the roads to Las Vegas Travellers.

“I’m very sorry for the fans that this happened, but I think we will be able to have a great race,” said Red Bull driver Sergio Pérez.

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The FIA ​​said Sainz hit the concrete frame around the water valve cover moments after the cars hit the track in the much-hyped return to Las Vegas.

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After Sainz stopped and examined his damaged car, the governing body ordered all cars off the track so the entire circuit could be inspected.

Work is carried out on a sewer after the first free practice session for the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix on Thursday night.

Nick Didlick/Associated Press

Multiple drain covers needed to be sealed before the second practice, which was originally scheduled for midnight but did not begin until 2:30 a.m. Friday.

An hour earlier, track organizers had told all fans to leave “due to logistical considerations for our fans and our staff.”

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur fumed after the abbreviated first practice saying what happened to Sainz was “simply unacceptable” and said Sainz would not be able to take part in the second practice.

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Ferrari changed the chassis during the long break and Sainz was able to take to the track for the extended 90-minute session. But, due to the Ferrari’s repairs, the FIA ​​ruled that Sainz would receive a 10-place grid penalty.

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Ferrari saved the day when Charles Leclerc and Sainz finished 1-2 in the second practice session.

During a press conference after the first practice, the moderator attempted to ask Vasseur about the “big picture” and Vasseur refused to change the subject.

“This is a good one, I don’t need to take a broader view than this,” Vasseur said. “We had a very tough FP1. This will cost us a fortune.

“We have (expletive) the session for Carlos… we have to change the chassis of the car, set up the car, okay? The show is the show and everything is going well, but I think that nowadays it is unacceptable for F1. “You would be upset in my situation.”

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The moderator made a second attempt and Vasseur said, “Can I go now? Can you ask Toto a question? while he made a gesture to the director of Mercedes, Toto Wolff.

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Wolff became equally testy when asked if the shortened session (both Sainz and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon were left with damaged cars) was an embarrassment to F1’s return to Las Vegas for the first time in 41 years.

F1 and its ownership group, Liberty Media, are promoting the race themselves and have spent $500 million on the show on the Las Vegas Strip. Saturday night’s race is F1’s third stop this season in the United States, more than any other country.

“That’s not a black eye. This is nothing. It’s Thursday night, we have a free practice session, one that we are not going to do. “They are going to seal the drain covers and no one is going to talk about it tomorrow morning,” Wolff said.

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When a reporter chimed in that the stoppage would not go unnoticed (thousands of fans poured out of the stands while the track was being repaired), Wolff became visibly angry.

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“It’s completely ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. FP1, how can you dare to speak ill of an event that sets a new standard for everything? Wolff asked.

“You’re talking about a (expletive) drain cover that’s come undone. That has happened before. That’s nothing. It’s FP1.

“We shouldn’t be complaining. The car is broken. That’s really a shame for Carlos. It could have been dangerous, so between the FIA ​​and the track and all of us we need to look at how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“But talking here about a black eye in sport on a Thursday night, no one sees that on European time anyway.”

It was a worrying start to the much-hyped race that saw F1 return to Las Vegas for the first time since it was run in 1981 and 1982 on a circuit that consisted largely of the Caesars Palace parking lot.

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F1 and Liberty were determined to make this year’s race a spectacle, but enthusiasm has been tempered by expensive tickets, exorbitant hotel rates that overwhelm many new American fans and locals simply furious at the months of disruptions to build track.

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The 3.85-mile (6.2-kilometer) street circuit uses a large portion of the Strip and passes several Las Vegas landmarks on a 17-turn layout.

Because much of the circuit is open to traffic during the day, the FIA ​​was unable to inspect the track and approve it for racing until the early hours of Thursday morning, after the circuit was closed overnight.

The initial inspection apparently began around 3:30 am; FIA rules require a track to pass inspection one day before the cars are on the track.

Although Vasseur said “donations” were the only thing that would calm him after the Ferrari was damaged, he joined three other team principals in praising the event and the efforts of Liberty and F1 for their efforts.

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“I think the spectacle is mega and I am very happy with what Liberty did in the race and I think it is a big step forward for F1, and we have to separate what is the spectacle and the sporting side,” he said.

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“The show is mega. “I don’t want to mix everything up and say that, sorry for the phrasing, but they did it (expletive) on the sports side because they made the show.”

Wolff added: “As Fred said, in the end this is a mega show, it will set a new standard for the sport and that is important. And then we have track action and a drain cover that has come undone. It’s not new and that can happen. “It is a completely new circuit.”

Team managers noted there have been similar incidents, most recently in 2019 in Baku, when George Russell ran over a manhole cover in the first practice.

In 2016, Nico Rosberg ran over a manhole cover in Monaco and the cover flew off and hit Jenson Button’s car, causing extensive damage to Button’s McLaren.

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