LAS VEGAS — Formula One’s $500 billion Las Vegas Grand Prix got started in farcical circumstances as a loose drain cover caused the abandonment of the first practice session.
Only eight minutes into the session, Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari stopped on the track, triggering a red flag.
It appeared the Spaniard had driven over a loose drain cover on the road, which would have damaged the underside of his car.
As a clear safety risk, and because the clock of a practice session does not stop ticking down during a red flag, the time it would take to fix the drain cover meant the session was called off.
Other drivers, like reigning world champion Max Verstappen, were told to avoid debris as they followed Sainz through the same part of the track.
Alpine soon confirmed it will have to change the chassis on Esteban Ocon’s car for damage at the same place of the circuit.
“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.”
It is a nightmare start to F1’s controversial race, which the sport has spent $500 million dollars on in a rare deal that sees it be the promoter of the event.
Having annoyed locals through the construction of the circuit, it is one of the worst outcomes F1 could have had.
The cancellation of the session means one of the three hours set aside to drivers has gone.
The governing FIA later confirmed it was the concrete frame around a manhole cover that failed. Track marshals need to check all the other manhole covers, which they said “will take some time.”
That means the second practice session, due to take place at midnight, is in doubt.
A similar incident occurred ahead of the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, when George Russell’s Williams was damaged by a loose manhole cover.