Just when Formula 1 appeared to be out of the woods after its
shambolic night in Las Vegas, the promoter made things a whole lot
worse – if that is even possible following the farcical scenes. In
a statement released on Twitter at 04:53 local time, 53 minutes
after the heavily-delayed and extended FP2 finally finished, there
was no mention of an apology to the fans turfed out of the
grandstands at 01:30, or a refund or even a review into a night
that made headlines of all the wrong kinds. Now, it must be said
that problems with drains and manhole covers on temporary street
tracks is nothing new. That needs to be made abundantly clear. A
similar situation occurred in practice for the 2019 Azerbaijan
Grand Prix when George Russell’s Williams clattered into a loose
drain between Turns 2 and 3. It’s happened in Monaco as well so
this is firmly not a ‘Las Vegas problem.’ What actually happened on
the Strip was that the concrete frames around water valves were
literally ripped from the road thanks to the powerful forces under
the car. Fernando Alonso did extremely well to avoid hitting the
dislodged drain three-quarters of the way down the Strip, but
Carlos Sainz was not so lucky. At nearly 200mph, he thumped into
the valve and his SF-23 was destroyed. The monocoque was an
effective write-off as was the battery and energy store. For taking
a third ES of the season, the stewards had no choice but to award
him a 10-place penalty as there was no escape clause in the rules
for him to avoid the sanction. Vasseur defends promoter The
ejection of fans could not be helped as security staff were only
contracted to work until a set time, with no provisions for
overtime with their unions, so the fans who had stayed were given
the short end of the stick and shown the door – including the
five-figure hospitality guests. A Grand Prix in Las Vegas, along
the Strip, is a magnificent achievement by all involved. To have
Formula 1 cars flat-out at over 200mph along one of the most famous
backdrops on the planet is remarkable, but that does not mean the
event is not liable for criticism and must be dealt with as if this
happened at any other race. It is a point Ferrari boss Frederic
Vasseur made – as he seethed over what had happened to Sainz. “The
situation is that we damaged completely the monocoque, the engine,
the battery and I think it’s just unacceptable,” Vasseur told media
including RacingNews365. “This will cost us a fortune. We f****d up
the session for Carlos. “You don’t have to mix everything. 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 F1 but we have to
separate what is the show and the sporting side. The show is mega.
It is not because you are doing this that you don’t have to do the
job on the sporting side and so on. I think it’s two separate
things. “I don’t want to mix everything and to say that hey did
sh*t on the sporting side because they did the show. It’s not true.
You can do the show and do a good job on the sporting side. It’s
two separate things.” The stakes could not be higher On the
sporting side, the traditional high-speed test from the Safety Car
was carried out, but a Mercedes road car is not the same as a
Formula 1 machine. Would the problems with the valve covers have
been caught sooner and not risked Sainz and Esteban Ocon’s lives
had this been done? Who knows. F1 also caught a lucky break that
this happened during Free Practice 1 and not the Grand Prix itself.
The fall-out of the Las Vegas Grand Prix being abandoned mid-way
due to a loose drain cover would have been nuclear and the rain
that followed could have echoed F1’s darkest day in the US –
Indianapolis 2005. That ‘race’ shredded the image of F1 in the
United States, and the recovery is now in its final stages, 18
years on. F1 would not be in Vegas in the first place if the green
shoots of recovery weren’t there. But make no mistake, this was a
farcical night for F1 and the Las Vegas Grand Prix. F1 has promoted
the event as the “greatest spectacle in the world.” This will blow
over after the embarrassment clears of a dreadful Thursday/Friday.
If the race is a thriller and the remainder of the weekend goes off
without a hitch, then this will just go down as ‘one of those times
the drain came up’. If it happens again or yet more farcical scenes
with the track follow, that would be the ultimate humiliation given
all the money, time and resource poured into the event.
Appropriately for Las Vegas, the stakes could not be higher.
Perhaps though, it was Williams’ boss James Vowles who summed it up
best. “Judge us by what happens when the chequered flag falls on
Saturday, rather than what’s just happened in the last half an
hour.” Judge, jury and the court of public opinion will do exactly
that once the dust settles on the weekend and the circus
globe-trots to Abu Dhabi next week.

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