F1 cancels first Las Vegas practice after 8 minutes due to loose drain cover

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LAS VEGAS — Formula One’s opening practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was called off after just eight minutes due to a loose drain cover on the Strip that caused damage to the cars Thursday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • At least three cars sustained damage in the opening minutes of first practice in Las Vegas due to a loose manhole cover on the Strip.
  • The session was suspended when Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari stopped after hitting the loose cover. Esteban Ocon and Zhou Guanyu’s cars were also damaged.
  • It was ultimately called off so race officials could conduct a full check on the other manhole covers around the track.

What happened

After over half a billion dollars of investment and over 18 months of anticipation, it took just eight minutes for F1’s momentum to be stopped in its tracks.

As the cars completed their early laps in FP1, a number of drivers were dealing with bumps along the Strip — but it was a loose manhole cover that ultimately led to the session being canceled.

Whenever F1 races on street tracks, measures are taken to ensure the manhole covers are welded down. The downforce generated by the F1 cars means they can be sucked up if they are not properly kept down.

The loose cover caused a significant amount of damage to at least three cars. Sainz was the one who stopped at the side of the track, causing the red flag that stopped the session. But the chassis on Ocon’s Alpine was also broken by the loose drain cover, forcing Alpine to take a new one.

All the teams were seen checking the floors of their cars once they’d returned to the garages to see if any damage had been sustained. The session was kept under a red flag for 11 minutes before race control decided not to resume the session.

F1’s governing body and regulator, the FIA, confirmed it was “the concrete frame around a manhole cover that has failed” and caused the damage, meaning it must now check all the other manhole covers around the track. “We will be discussing with the local circuit engineering team about the length of time it will take to resolve and will update with any resultant changes to the schedule,” said an FIA spokesperson.

Second practice in Las Vegas is due to begin at midnight PT (3 a.m. ET), giving officials three hours to get the necessary fixes in place so the cars can safely navigate the circuit on time.

A nightmare start for Formula One

Las Vegas has been the most-hyped race in recent F1 history — so for things to unravel so quickly was really the worst possible outcome for the sport.

There were boos in the grandstands when it was announced the session would not resume. Given the significant amount of money fans have spent to attend, it’s understandable why they would be so upset and disappointed.

The FIA signed off on the track ahead of the race for all of the required safety measures. But there were some issues it could not have anticipated until the cars hit the track at speed for the first time, such as the possibility for loose manhole covers.

It is not the first time we’ve had this kind of issue in F1. Loose manhole covers do happen from time to time on street tracks, notably in practice for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix when George Russell hit one in his Williams, destroying the underside of the car.

But as F1 bids to draw in the eyes of the sporting world this weekend, to only get eight minutes of running before a major issue to emerge is a serious setback.

Required reading

(Photo: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

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