F1 team bosses react to Las Vegas circuit problems after Carlos Sainz scare

Thomas Maher
Fred Vasseur and Zak Brown speak during the Las Vegas Grand Prix team boss press conference.

Fred Vasseur and Zak Brown speak during the Las Vegas Grand Prix team boss press conference.

Carlos Sainz’s scary incident during FP1 in Las Vegas has led to tough questions being asked about the circuit build.

Just nine minutes into the first practice session for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Sainz was driving at top speed along the fearsomely long back straight when his car was thrown into the air by a drain cover that was sucked up by the ground effect under the Ferrari.

The damage was eye-opening, writing off the chassis, engine, and hybrid components, while Sainz was unhurt in the incident as he pulled his car to the side of the track. With extensive repairs needed around the circuit to make sure drains are secure, the rest of FP1 was called off while FP2 was delayed by two-and-a-half hours.

Fred Vasseur won’t point fingers despite fury over incident

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur couldn’t hide his fury during the team boss press conference as he started the session in fiery form.

“The situation is that we damage completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery. I think it’s just unacceptable,” he said.

“We won’t be part of the FP2 for sure because we change the chassis of the car. Okay, the show is the show and everything is going well but I think it’s just unacceptable for the F1 today.”

Vasseur asked if he could leave the press conference, but had calmed down by the time the press conference turned to the on-site print journalists for further questioning.

One of the questions focused on the thoughts of the team bosses on whether any corners had been cut with regard to sign-off on the brand-new circuit and its facilities, with more emphasis being put on the glitz and glamour by Liberty Media rather than the nitty-gritty of ensuring circuit safety.

“I think you don’t have to mix everything,” Vasseur said.

“I think that the show is mega and I’m very happy with what Liberty did around the race. It’s a huge step forward for F1 and we have to separate the show and the sporting side.

“The show is mega. I was in the Paddock Club yesterday when they did the ceremony and it was something that I never saw before – perhaps in Magny-Cours 2008!

“I think it was clear it was something mega for F1. But it’s not because you are doing this that you don’t have to do the job on the sporting side. I think it’s two separate things.

“I don’t want to mix everything and to say ‘OK, they did s**t – sorry for the expression – on the sporting side because they did the show”. It’s not true. You can do the show and do a good job on the sporting side. It’s two separate events.”

Pointed out to him that the circuit inspection had only taken place on Wednesday after an initial delay until Tuesday, Vasseur said he was still too upset to criticise the process too much.

“As you can understand, I’m a bit upset and I don’t want to draw any conclusion at this moment,” he said.

“For sure, it’s difficult to understand but it is like it is. I think we’ll have time to discuss this and try to improve the system later on. But I’m still a bit shocked and I prefer, in this condition, to stay quiet.”

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James Vowles: Failures not caused by a lack of diligence

Also appearing in the press conference, McLaren boss Zak Brown expressed his empathy for the issues Ferrari had encountered, but said it would be premature to point to a lack of caution as being a contributing factor in the incident.

“Anytime you have an incident, first we have to fix it. Then look back and go, ‘How did it happen?'” he said.

“Whether that’s a track issue, or a problem you have with your car or whatever the case may be, I think it would be unfair and quick to judge that corners were cut. This has happened before, it’s happening in Baku [2019], it happened back in sportscar racing in Montreal many, many years ago. So it’s an unfortunate incident.

“I don’t think it’s because effort wasn’t put in or corners were cut. It’s just somehow they got it wrong. Right now, we just need to focus on fixing it, and then look back and go, ‘How did we get it wrong?’ I’m sure it was an engineering-related issue that they’ll get solved. But they’ve spared no expense on the entire event. So I think they just got it wrong.”

Williams’ James Vowles pointed out that F1’s oldest street race, Monaco, has had similar issues – even in recent years, and despite their decades of experience. The change to ground-effect aerodynamics has also vastly increased the upward suction as cars drive over the covers.

“My perspective is… this happened in Monaco, if I remember correctly, a circuit that has had cars running on it for many, many years. The point is these cars are generating huge amounts of suction underneath now,” he said.

“The picture of the failure that I saw is not something that there was a lack of diligence to it. It’s an amount of force they weren’t expecting. I’m confident we’ll get everything sorted.

“I don’t think it’s at all cutting corners. I think that there was an intention here to make this an incredible show – that’s been done. But we also want to make sure we get all the details right, go back through, and understand what we can do to make sure when we do add new events, we get this right from here onwards.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, who had expressed his fury with a journalist for pointing out the negative side of the incident, wouldn’t be drawn further on the topic: “All have summarised what I would have said.”

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