The Las Vegas Grand Prix is the biggest new event Formula 1 has held in decades. It is a dream come true for its promoters at F1, an organization that successfully shut down one of the most famous stretches of road in the world for a marquee race. Unfortunately, the first day of running was more like a nightmare.
The weekend's first practice session started normally, with drivers out on the new circuit for warm-up laps that seemed to go to plan. That ended abruptly when Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a drainage cover that destroyed his Ferrari on contact. Debris from the crash also destroyed the chassis of Esteban Ocon's Alpine. After a red flag and an FIA investigation of the track surface, the session was canceled. Even though Formula 1's own track prep mistake destroyed the car, Sainz was still given a ten-place grid penalty for going past allotted part replacements after the crash.
Organizers spent the next few hours identifying every other drainage cover on the surface. A delay to the second free practice session, originally scheduled for midnight, was only announced at 11:00 PM. Drainage covers were paved over during the break in an attempt to get the track ready for a delayed practice session at 2:00 AM local time, four hours later than the scheduled start time for Sunday's race. Further delays pushed that to 2:30 AM.
By the time free practice 2 actually ran, it had been six hours since the Sainz incident. Some loyal fans stuck around, but they were asked to leave at 1:30 AM due to "logistical considerations." Since the track has installed barriers meant to keep non-paying fans from seeing the track, they did not have the option to catch the practice session through the usual open sight lines outside of the ticketed area that a fan might expect at a street circuit. Effectively, the day's only full-speed session was run without any way for fans to watch in person.
The on-track dramas are the latest troubles in what has been a difficult start for the high-profile event. Away from the track, hotels initially listed for a nightly rate of $899 are going for $18 a night and an Outback Steakhouse with a view of the track simply decided to close early.
The drivers in the event are not impressed, either. Red Bull's Max Verstappen, already less than happy with the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event, was asked if he enjoyed the track itself. He simply responded "No."
Free practice 3 is set to run as scheduled tonight at 8:30 PM, followed by qualifying at midnight. If the track repairs can hold up, the weekend should get back on track with a pair of normal sessions.
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