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‘Unacceptable’: Formula One finishes 2nd practice after track issue

Updated November 17, 2023 - 4:30 am

The Las Vegas Grand Prix got back on track early Friday.

The first practice for the Formula One race ended abruptly Thursday as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. was forced to stop in the third sector just eight minutes into the session, bringing out red flags, after his car was damaged.

Race stewards announced the session was not going to be resumed, as FIA, the governing body for Formula One, cited a problem with a manhole cover on the track.

However, any concerns about the state of the track for Saturday’s race seemed to be eased early Friday when the second practice session went off without a hitch — albeit after a 2½-hour delay.

Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari teammate of Sainz, posted the fastest lap of the second practice at 1:35.265. Sainz was second, +0.517 behind, and Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin was third, +0.528 back.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the three-time reigning Formula One champion who has won 17 of 20 races this season, was sixth, 0.918 behind.

In the first practice, Sainz’s car was damaged after running over a manhole cover.

“Following an FIA inspection, it was found a concrete frame around a manhole cover had failed during (free practice one),” Formula One said in a statement posted on X. “The FIA are commencing checks on all other covers across the circuit.”

A second practice scheduled for midnight was delayed until 2 a.m. Friday, and the session was extended 30 minutes (originally scheduled for an hour). The practice was later moved back again to 2:30 a.m. and eventually got underway.

Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur called the incident “unacceptable” multiple times during his pre-scheduled press conference after the first practice.

He said Sainz wouldn’t participate in the second practice because the team needed to change the monocoque chassis, engine and battery of the car after the incident, but the repairs ended up being made in time for Sainz to participate.

Still, because Sainz exceeded the limit on power unit components when his car underwent repairs, he will be given a 10-spot penalty in qualifying, which is scheduled for Friday night. The race is at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Vasseur initially refused to answer questions from the moderator that weren’t about the damage to his car. He said the team will discuss whether to petition for another party to cover the costs of the incident, an important factor in Formula One’s cost-cap era in which in-race damage counts against a team’s allowed expenditure per season.

Sainz’s Ferrari wasn’t the only car damaged by the manhole cover. Alpine announced it changed the chassis on Esteban Ocon’s car “due to damage from a suspected drain cover on track” on its X account. Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu also reportedly suffered damage.

Manhole covers impacting races isn’t new in Formula One, particularly at street circuits. The cars get their speed from the high levels of downforce they generate, and are strong enough to rip manhole covers out of the road.

George Russell, driving for Williams at the time, ended a practice session during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2019 after a manhole cover broke, and world champion Jenson Button ripped a drain cover loose during a practice session during the Monaco Grand Prix in 2016.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff acknowledged Formula One needs to learn from the incident and make sure it doesn’t happen again. However, he refused to consider it an indictment of the Las Vegas Grand Prix as a whole.

“Talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening,” Wolff said, “nobody watches that in European time anyway.”

Vasseur agreed and said he still believes the race is good for the sport. He added the entertainment factor and the sports side must be taken care of equally, but said he didn’t believe any shortcuts were taken in track construction because of the added spectacles.

“I was very convinced before (free practice one) that the event was mega for Formula One,” Vasseur said. “And I’m still convinced.”

Before the stoppage in the first session, Leclerc recorded the fastest lap at 1:40.909, though five drivers weren’t able to record lap times before the session ended. Haas drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen finished second and third, respectively.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on X.

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