Formula One is hoping to turn its luck around on the Strip, like so many other Las Vegas visitors who blow a big bankroll on arrival.
The elite global motorsports series placed a $500 million gamble on a new event in Sin City promoted for the first time by F1 and owner Liberty Media. But it now must recover after an opening-night debacle in which the first practice was ruined just nine minutes in when Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a water valve cover on the temporary street course.
“Judge us by what happens when the checkered flag falls on Saturday,” asked Williams team principal James Vowles.
When Sainz bottomed out on the drainage valve minutes into Thursday night’s first practice, it caused extensive damage to the underbody of his Ferrari and Sainz said the piece broke through far enough to damage his seat. F1 then closed the course to inspect the entire 3.85-mile (6.2 kilometer) circuit that utilizes a long portion of the Strip.
Those who spent who-knows-how-much got exactly nine minutes of practice Thursday night.
By the time the next practice started, 2 1/2 hours late at 2:30 a.m., those in attendance had been ordered to leave fan viewing areas. F1 ran a 90-minute session until 4 a.m.. when preparations had to begin to re-open the streets to morning commuter traffic.
F1 President Stefano Domenicali and Renee Wilm, CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, issued a a joint statement Friday night to explain the debacle because “this is important for those who are new to racing to understand.”
The statement did not offer an apology for Thursday night. A second statement from the LVGP offered a $200 credit to Thursday-only ticket holders — most sales have been three-day packages — to be spent at the official merchandise store. The gestures only further angered fans already feeling ripped off.
The statement from Domenicali and Wilm said organizers had to close to spectators out of concern for safety workers and security officials who still had to work the rest of the event. They also said F1 was up against federal law regarding the amount of time transport workers taking spectators back to hotels “can legally and safely drive buses.” They added that hospitality staff needed to begin preparing for the next two days of activities.
“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 whole race weekend,” the statement said. “We have all been to events, like concerts, games and even other Formula 1 races, that have been canceled because of factors like weather or technical issues. It happens, and we hope people will understand.”
“We know this is going to be a great event,” they said. “With that let’s get back to racing.”
It’s such a laughable start to an extremely hyped race that had started to sour even before F1 arrived.
Locals have been furious over disruptions during the months-long building of the course, tickets have been outrageously expensive and also available at reduced prices on a secondary market, hotels have outpriced average American fans, and the scheduled on-track times have been specifically targeted to the European audience.
Three-time reigning world champion Verstappen has blasted the event as “99% show, 1% sporting event” and thinks the entire spectacle is totally over the top. The race is the third stop this year in the United States, more than any other country, as F1 and Liberty tried to capitalize on the series’ new popularity driven by the Netflix “Drive to Survive” documentary series.
Las Vegas is the most expensive race to attend on the 22-event schedule.
For those efforts, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was among the team principals who applauded F1 and Liberty despite the valve cover debacle Thursday night. And so was Fred Vasseur, the head of Ferrari who was irate over the incident, defended F1.