In their many visions of what a Las Vegas Grand Prix would look like, Formula 1 could not have pictured this.
A water valve cover would prove to be the very real spanner in the works of F1’s plan that had long been in the making. From there, it was mess of their own making. Delayed start times that were delayed again, a closed off fan zone and paddock members paying thousands of dollars only to be kicked out before the cars returned to the track.
Shutting a street like the Strip down is naturally going to come with its own challenges. Monaco is the obvious comparison but that is a venue where racing is steeped in its history. Not to mention the principality draws around 250,000 tourists a year. Vegas on the other hand recorded 38.8 million last year and an average of 88,000 a day.
In the city of big fights, it is clear that Formula 1 had to roll with a few of the punches to get the race off the ground but one area that was previously thought untouchable was safety.
Of course, it is not the first time a drain cover or something similar has caused a significant moment in Formula 1. George Russell hit one during FP1 of the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix while Jenson Button was lucky to avoid serious injury after his similar incident in Monaco in 2016.
But from an optics point of view, this is one of the worst things that could have happened to F1. Just eight minutes of practice were played out before the first yellow flag was waved and considering the sky high prices fans have paid for a seat in the grandstand, you are looking at a cost of several hundred dollars per minute of action for some of them.
F1, who unique to Vegas are also the promoters of the race, have said tickets will be part of their review process but previous incidents like the rained off 2021 Belgian Grand Prix do not inspire much hope for the paying fans.
Speaking of cost, the usually good-humoured Fred Vasseur could hardly hide his rage as he spoke of the bill coming his team’s way.
The Ferrari boss labelled the incident as “unacceptable” which, without special dispensation, will have a considerable impact on the team’s cost cap.
“The situation is that we damage completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery. I think it’s just unacceptable,” Vasseur said.
“We had a very tough FP1 one that will cost us a fortune. It f**ked up the session for Carlos.
“Okay, the show is the show and everything is going well but I think it’s just unacceptable for the F1 today.”
He was joined by Toto Wolff who initially tried to make light of the situation only to launch into an angry tirade after suggestions it was a “black eye” for Formula 1.
“It’s completely ridiculous!” he shouted. “Completely ridiculous, FP1, how can you even dare try to talk bad about an event that sets the new standards to everything? And then you’re speaking about a f***ing drain cover that’s been undone. That has happened before! That’s nothing, it’s FP1!”
But Formula 1 needed a perfect start to a race weekend that has already faced plenty of backlash from both within the paddock and away from it.
So the question becomes, could this have been avoided? Valtteri Bottas’ venture out on the track was the first time a Formula 1 car, or indeed any single seater, had driven the circuit meaning it was very much a case of stepping into the unknown and the concrete surrounding of a water valve is not something factored into the team’s simulators.
In the past, a previous event needed to be held on the track for it deemed to be F1 worthy but, ironically, that was binned off for the Caesars Palace Grand prix, so when a car that has a unique aero design flew over the drain at 200mph, it is little wonder something odd occurred.
The time constraints with F1 borrowing the Strip also means there are no support races this weekend so even basics like checking flags and procedural work was left to just the Safety Car.
But considering the investment poured into the race, surely something as simple as checking the manhole covers and making sure the track is safe should have been high on the to-do list?
Reports suggest the extent of the damage to Carlos Sainz’s car was such that the asphalt was visible through the floor of the cockpit and both his and Esteban Ocon’s runners were written off.
Of course, track safety does not fall under F1’s jurisdiction but rather the FIA’s and no doubt more will come as to how this catastrophic oversight occurred but Formula 1 simply did not need this at a time when they were hoping to prove a lot of people wrong.
In truth, it has hard to think of how the day could have gone worse for both Formula 1 and the FIA. F1 promised an event to rival the Super Bowl but instead found their footballs deflated.
The weekend is by no means unsalvageable but with the knock on effect of a missing practice session impacting on the competitive action and that is before you even get to reputational damage, F1 needs a Hail Mary to rescue their prized asset.