F1 tries to recover from embarrassing first day in Las Vegas

JENNA FRYER Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – Formula One expects to hit the Strip, like many other visitors to Vegas who blow a big bankroll soon after their arrival.

The elite motorsports series has gambled $500 million on a new event in Sin City promoted for the first time by F1 and owner Liberty Media. But it must be recovered now after the opening night debacle in which the first practice was destroyed only nine minutes when Carlos Sainz Jr. ran. over a water valve cover on the temporary street course.

It severely damaged his Ferrari – Sainz said he even damaged his seat – and caused F1 to close the course to inspect the entire 3.85 mile (6.2 kilometer) temporary street circuit.

Nine minutes. Those who spent got to know exactly how much nine minutes of practice on Thursday night.

By the time the next practice started, 2 1/2 hours late at 2:30 am, those in attendance had been ordered to leave the fan viewing areas. F1 ran a 90 minute session until 4am – when the streets were due to return to the city for morning commuter traffic.

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F1 President Stefano Domenicali and Renee Wilm, CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, issued a joint statement Friday night to explain Thursday night’s events because “this is important for those new to racing to understand.”

The statement said the organizers were acting out of concern for safety workers and security officers who were to work all weekend. They also said F1 was fighting a federal law over the amount of time transport workers could return spectators to hotels “where buses can legally and safely drive”. They also said that the hospitality team must start preparing for the coming days.

“We know this was disappointing. We hope our fans will understand based on this explanation that we had to balance many interests, including the safety and security of all participants and the fan experience over the entire race weekend,” the statement said. “We’ve all been to events, like concerts, games and even other Formula 1 races, that have been canceled due to factors like weather or technical issues. It happens, and we hope people will understand.”

The executives promised in the statement that steps had been taken to ensure that the event ran smoothly for the rest of the weekend. They also said Thursday ticket holders can get a $200 credit at the LVGP gift shop.

“We know this is going to be a great event,” they said. “With that let’s get back to racing.”

It is not so easy to move on for Sainz.

An angry Ferrari team initially said he would not be able to take part in the second practice. But Ferrari used the long delay to prepare a new car for him, so he took to the track and was second, with his teammate Charles Leclerc, at the end of the session.

But Ferrari’s heroic effort will be punished with a 10-place grid penalty for Sainz on Saturday night. Penalty because he ran over a drain cover on the Las Vegas Strip, something completely out of his control and very dangerous considering he went into his seat?

As the governing body FIA has no mechanism to not penalize a team that makes major changes to cars during a race weekend, Sainz was of course penalized.

It was a laughable start to a highly hyped race that began to deteriorate even before F1 arrived.

Locals were furious at the disruption during the months-long construction of the course, tickets were prohibitively expensive and also available at reduced prices on the secondary market, hotels are more than average for American fans, and a specific focus was on the scheduled times on the road. for the European audience.

Three-time world champion Max Verstappen has hailed the event as “99% show, 1% sporting event” and thinks the overall spectacle is superb. The race is the third stop this year in the United States, more than any other country, as F1 and Liberty tried to take advantage of the new popularity of the series driven by the Netflix documentary series “Drive to Survive”.

Las Vegas is the most expensive race to attend on the 24-event schedule.

For those efforts, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was among the team principals who praised F1 and Liberty despite Thursday night’s valve cover debacle.

“We judge what happens when the checkered flag falls on Saturday, rather than what just happened in the last half hour,” said Williams head James Vowles.

Even Fred Vasseur, the head of Ferrari who was furious about the incident, defended F1.

“We know it’s a sporting event, we know this can happen. You can have a bad FP1,” he said. “Now we have to recover on the weekend, that we are going to find solutions. I am still convinced that the event is ​​mega for F1.”

Wolff was very passionate in his defense of the event and the F1 and Liberty effort. He was rude to a reporter who challenged him when he insisted that no one would still be talking about the shutter cover on Friday morning.

“It is completely ridiculous, completely ridiculous! FP1, how can you even dare to talk badly about an event that sets new standards, new standards with everything,” said Wolff. “And then you’re talking about a (expletive) drain cover that’s not done, that’s happened before. That’s nothing.

“Give credit to the people who set up this grand prix, who have made the sport so much bigger than it’s ever been. Saoirse has done a great job. And just because there’s an undone drain cover in FP1, we shouldn’t to be crying … talking here about a black eye for Thursday night sport. Nobody sees that in European weather anyway.”

If they are not watching in Europe, then why was the event held late on Thursday night? Certainly not for the American audience – at least not for those who were present. But even those lucky enough to come to Las Vegas this weekend had to crowd into the few sections of fencing on the Strip to catch a glimpse of the cars that were praying before sunset.

F1 tried Friday night for a better show, with practice and a midnight qualifying session.

It should only get better, one might expect.

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