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Fans forced to leave F1 practice session; vouchers offered

Updated November 17, 2023 - 5:49 pm

After an hourslong delay, the second round of Las Vegas Grand Prix practice commenced at 2:30 a.m. Friday, but fans weren’t in the stands to witness it.

A water valve cover coming loose on the track and damaging multiple vehicles, including Carlos Sainz’s Team Ferrari car, led to officials having to ensure the dozens of other covers were securely in place before F1 cars could again hit the 3.8-mile circuit.

With that process taking 2½ hours to complete, Formula One, its governing body (the FIA) and grand prix officials decided it was best to close off the grandstands and hospitality areas ahead of the later-than-scheduled practice round.

“There is no higher priority at a Formula 1 race than the safety and security of drivers, fans and staff alike,” a joint statement issued early Friday from race officials said. “Given the lateness of the hour and logistical concerns regarding the safe movement of fans and employees out of the circuit, LVGP made the difficult decision to close the fan zones prior to the beginning of Free Practice 2.”

The usual Las Vegas Valley Water District valve covers were replaced along the track before the practice round by race officials with their own covers that met Las Vegas Grand Prix specifications, a person with knowledge of the situation told the Review-Journal. The new valve covers were installed by Las Vegas Paving, and the previous water district covers will be reinstalled after race weekend, the person indicated.

Fan who remained in the spectator zones at 1:30 a.m. were forced to leave after catching less than 10 minutes of F1 cars on the track.

Among the spectators Thursday were Nevada residents who purchased specially priced $200 tickets that were only made available to locals.

Race officials extended an olive branch to affected fans late Friday afternoon, sending out emails with $200 voucher codes to the Las Vegas Grand Prix official shop. The vouchers were made available to all attendees of the practice session, regardless of what they paid, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

In a joint statement by Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali and Las Vegas Grand Prix CEO Renee Wilm, the decision to clear everyone out by 2 a.m. was done in interests of safety, security and staffing needs.

“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 joint statement read. “We have all been to events, like concerts, games and even other Formula 1 races, that have been cancelled because of factors like weather or technical issues. It happens, and we hope people will understand.”

To ensure they’re ready Friday and Saturday in the case an incident delays events, race officials bulked up staff, transportation and hospitality, the CEOs said.

“We are excited about the racing today and thank our entire team and our fans for their support,” the statement said. “We know this is going to be a great event. With that let’s get back to racing.”

Las Vegas resident John Megna and his two adult children were seated in the Sphere grandstands Thursday evening, where they each paid $2,258 for three-day race tickets. To only catch a few minutes of F1 drivers practicing before being forced to leave left a bad taste in Megna’s mouth, calling it “an absolute disaster for the fans.”

After seeing only nine minutes of the 120 minutes of scheduled practice, fans who remained in the stands at that point attempted to stay even after announcements telling them to clear out were played over the speaker system. That announcement began at 1:28 a.m. By 1:45, a standoff of sorts ensued, as fans who were aware that practice was planned to restart at 2 a.m. wanted to stay to view what they paid to see.

“All the fans were kicked out prior to the second practice session,” Megna said via email. “Most fans wouldn’t leave after announcements were made, so police were used to clear the stands.”

Megna also said all the bathrooms were locked as fans made their way out of the area.

“Many people commented that this would be like the Raiders or Golden Knights playing for five minutes, then stopping, kicking all the fans out and then resuming play,” Megna said.

The single practice was extended to 90 minutes in length to make up for session one being cut short to keep race weekend on schedule for the final two days of racing action.

“With a full round of practice successfully completed, LVGP looks forward to providing a safe and entertaining race weekend for all,” the joint statement said.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill called the incident “disappointing.” Hill also pointed out that although officials always hope for the best, they plan for the worst, with a team of experts ready to address any issue, like they did the water valve situation Thursday night into Friday morning.

“So there are crews and materials out here to repair anything that would come up,” Hill said. “We understand the importance of this event to Las Vegas and to Formula One. So all of those contingencies have been anticipated, and there are numerous crews out here to get to work on this.”

Despite the issues, Megna and his children will be back Friday night for practice session 3 and qualifying, this time with his wife joining the group with hopes the experience is much more enjoyable.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life and feel that this disastrous start is an embarrassment to F1 and Las Vegas and complete robbery of all the fans in attendance,” Megna said.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on X.

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