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Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023

F1's farcical Las Vegas Friday risks similar course to Indy 2005

The scenes in Las Vegas on Thursday night into Friday morning made for uncomfortable viewing - and flashbacks to Indianapolis 2005. It's not quite there yet, but the die has been cast and the warning is there.

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To news overview © XPBimages

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."

			© RN365/Michael Potts
	© RN365/Michael Potts

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.

F1 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix RN365 News dossier


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