The Las Vegas Grand Prix suffered an embarrassing first night when the opening practice on the new circuit was abandoned after just nine minutes on Thursday because of a loose drain cover.
Carlos Sainz was forced to a stop in his Ferrari after hitting the cover, resulting in a red flag and damage to the front of his car on what should have been a triumphant return for F1 to Vegas after two races in 1981 and 1982.
Video footage showed sparks flying from the bottom of Sainz’s car after it hit what organisers called a “water valve cover”.
After some delay organisers announced that the session would not be resumed.
“Following inspection, it was the concrete frame around a manhole cover that has failed. We now need to check all of the other manhole covers, which will take some time,” the governing FIA said in a statement.
A second practice session was scheduled for midnight local time but was delayed as course workers carried out urgent checks and repairs.
Adding to the public relations damage, fans at the track were left unclear about when that session would take place. The FIA later said the aim was to start at 2:00am with an extended session lasting 90 minutes.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had posted the fastest lap with a time of 1:40.909.
Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur, who was clearly angry in a news conference, said there was no chance of Sainz taking part in the second session.
“We damaged completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery. I think it’s just unacceptable,” he said.
“It cost us a fortune. We won’t be part of FP2 for sure. I think it’s just unacceptable for F1 today,” he added.
In a heated press conference, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff reacted with fury to a question from a reporter about whether the incident was a “black eye” for the sport’s organisers.
“That is not a black eye, this is nothing. We are on Thursday night, we have a FP1 that we are not doing, they are going to seal the rain covers and nobody is going to talk about that anymore tomorrow morning,” said the German.
“It’s completely ridiculous. How can you even dare trying to talk bad about an event that sets new standards in everything? You are talking about a drain cover that has been undone, that has happened before and is nothing,” he said.
“Between the FIA and the track, everybody needs to analyze how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again, but talking about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening, nobody watches that in European time anyway,” he added.
Esteban Ocon’s Alpine also suffered damage and the team were forced to begin changing the chassis on his car.
A similar incident occurred at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix when George Russell, then racing for Williams, had his car hit by a loose manhole cover and the first practice session was cancelled.
Thursday’s opening practice was the first time the new circuit had been raced upon.