LAS VEGAS GP – Charles Leclerc fastest in limited first practice abandoned after Carlos Sainz suffers huge damage from drain cover
Charles Leclerc was fastest in the first ten minutes before first practice was abandoned for the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver set a 40.909 during the first twenty minutes going two and a half seconds faster than the Haas duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.
The session was stopped after Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz came to a halt on The Strip between the Bellagio and Paris hotels on the Strip, his onboard camera showing that his Ferrari had apparently been rendered immobile by a bump in the road.
TV cameras later appeared to show heavy damage to the front part of Sainz’s floor, with the FIA confirming that a loose manhole cover was understood to be the culprit. A hole emerged in The Strip around the manhole cover prompting the whole circuit to be check the whole circuit.
This echoes the abandonment of the opening practice session at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, when George Russell’s Williams sustained heavy floor damage after hitting a loose drain cover on the run to Turn 3.
Russell had to miss FP2 during that weekend as he was issued with a new chassis, and the errant drain cover was understood to have been an anomaly compared to the others around the circuit.
As a response, the FP2 session was delayed further until 02:30 local time 10:30 GMT and extended to ninety minutes, but that wasn’t without more controversy. With fans being thrown out and the session taking place ‘behind closed doors,’ reportedly because security team shifts ending, which means the grandstands and fan zones cannot operate as expected.
It is not currently clear why the statement was deleted from the Vegas race’s social media accounts.
Max Verstappen was fourth the three-time champion going just over a second faster than Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Sainz. the first quarter of the session saw most of the drivers get a time on the board while every drive managed to get at least two laps in before the red flag.
Ocon’s Alpine was also damaged, like Sainz’s Ferrari, losing a chassis, after he hit the same manhole as Sainz on his return to the pits after the red flag. Yuki Tsunoda was eighth going nearly a second faster than Sergio Perez, while Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten.
Amid the confusion between the cancelled first session and restarted second one, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff swore at a journalist in a news conference when he suggested the situation was bad for F1’s image at such a high-profile event. Last time the sport raced in Vegas that race was defined by images of drivers collapsing in the heat.
However, although F1 built the track, the responsibility to check it for safety was that of the governing body the FIA, which did so before practice started.
Pierre Gasly was eleventh going a quarter of a second faster than Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Guanyu Zhou and Lando Norris the final driver to set a time before the session was stopped.