Furious F1 bosses show Vegas is bigger than drain cover drama – MPH

Mark Hughes

The Las Vegas GP action got off to a poor start after Carlos Sainz's Ferrari hit a drain cover, but F1 team bosses have emphasised they still fully support the show

Eric Vasseuer Ferrari Las Vegas GP 2023

Vasseur aired his displeasure with loose street furniture

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It was just a pesky drain cover. But with an F1 underfloor pulling an uplift of over 2-tons at 150mph, the effect it had on Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari as it came up was devastating. The whole chassis of the car was destroyed, the power unit and the battery probably too. Thankfully, Sainz was unhurt. Just nine minutes into the new Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend and the show stopped. Esteban Ocon was just cruising back to the pits under the red flag Sainz’s incident had created when he too caught the dislodged piece of the cover – destroying the Alpine’s chassis too.

Sure, it was an embarrassing start to the new event after the huge publicity surrounding it, the half-billion dollar investment F1 has made into making it happen, the absolute halo event of Liberty Media’s development of the sport. But to equate such a hiccup – which we’ve seen many times before (Malaysia, Monaco, and Baku) – with some underlying flaw in the concept of the event is a non-starter.

Loose drain cover Las Vegas GP 2023

Wolff argues drain cover issues are irrelevant in neon light of bigger picture

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So it was perhaps unfortunate that the already-scheduled team principals’ press conference was shortly afterwards and featured Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur, still in a high state of agitation. “The monocoque, the engine, the battery are destroyed,” he said. “I think it’s completely unacceptable.” Asked about his thoughts on the spectacle of the event, his response was: “This is not a topic for me today. We had a very tough FP1 which will cost us a fortune, ****ed the session for Carlos, he probably won’t be able to do FP2. The show is the show and everything is going well but this is unacceptable.”

After his colleagues answered a few questions, giving him a chance to calm down, even Vasseur was able to decouple the incident from the merit of the event. “The show is mega and I’m very happy with that aspect,” he said. “It’s a huge step forward for F1. But we have to separate what is the show and the sporting side. The show is mega. I was in the paddock club yesterday when they did the starting ceremony and it’s something I’ve never seen before, something mega. But just because you are doing this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing the job on the sporting side and I don’t want to mix everything and say they ****ed the sporting side because they were doing the show. No, it’s two separate issues…. I’m still convinced the event is mega for F1. But Carlos hit a metal part at 220kp/h and it could have been much worse.”

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When asked if this whole incident was a black eye for F1, it was Toto Wolff’s turn to get angry. “This is nothing! It’s Thursday night, we lost a practice session. They’ll fix the drain covers and no-one will be talking about it by tomorrow. It’s completely ridiculous. How can you even dare to attack an event which sets new standards to everything. Speaking about a ****ing drain cover which has come undone! In FP1. Give credit to the people who have set up this grand prix who have made this sport much bigger than it ever was. Liberty have done an awesome job. We shouldn’t be moaning about a drain cover. The car is broken, that’s really a shame, it could have been dangerous, we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again but talking about it being a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening. Come on!”

The very fact that such hopes rest upon this event in taking F1 to a yet-higher level of global profile probably explain why tensions were running so high. Sure, it’s a very show-biz event. More so than any other grand prix. But that doesn’t mean we’re leaving Silverstone, Spa or Suzuka behind. F1 has always evolved and continues to do so. A drain cover isn’t going to change anything.