The first night of track action at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix did not exactly go off without a hitch.
Now Formula 1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali, and Renee Wilm, the CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, are addressing the matter.
In the first few minutes of FP1 Carlos Sainz Jr. struck a manhole cover, which caused substantial damage to his SF-23. That prompted race officials to red flag the session, as workers scanned the track tp secure the safety of the surface for the drivers. FP1 was ultimately cancelled, and with the repair process taking two-and-a-half hours, FP2 did not begin until 2:30 local time.
However, as that was after shifts were ending for security and support personnel, the grandstand was cleared, meaning many fans waited deep into the night only to see less than ten minutes of actual action. In the aftermath many drivers, such as Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo, spoke up for the fans and their inconvenience.
In a joint statement released on Friday, both Wilm and Domenicali addressed the safety concerns with the track, the fan experience, and the steps they are taking to address both matters.
“Last night, approximately nine minutes into the first Free Practice session, a water valve cover broke on the straight on Las Vegas Boulevard. At that time the FIA, which is responsible for the safe running of the activities on the circuit, stopped the session so that we could look at the broken water valve cover and inspect the track. This has happened on occasion at other tracks at other races around the world.
“The precautionary step of removing all of the water valve covers on the entire track and filling them with sand and asphalt was undertaken. The entire process, from determination of the issue to remediation, took approximately five hours. The decision to remediate in this way was taken out of an abundance of caution and because the safety of drivers, trackside marshals and officials and our fans is always our highest priority. We thank the contractors who worked expeditiously to resolve the situation so quickly.”
They then turned to the fan experience.
“Now, let us turn to the fan experience.
“The delay in the start of the second Free Practice session from midnight to 2:30 AM PT created risks for our employees and our fans.
“We made the decision to close the fan areas that are under LVGP’s purview at 1:30 AM PT and send fans home.
“Let us explain why.
“First, we were concerned about our public safety and security officials who had been in service for a long time and who are being asked to work for the next three nights. We thank Clark County’s Metro Police Department, Department of Public Works and other public safety officials for their incredible support during the event and also as we re-opened the track early this morning.
“Second, we were concerned about our transportation employees who are responsible for driving our fans back to hotels. By Federal law, they were bumping up against the amount of time they can legally and safely drive buses.
“Finally, our hospitality staff needed the ability to clean and resupply our guest areas to ensure that the fan experience is optimal for everyone over the coming days.
“We know this was disappointing. We hope our fans will understand based on this explanation that we had to balance many interests, including the safety and security of all participants and the fan experience over the whole race weekend.
“We have all been to events, like concerts, games and even other Formula 1 races, that have been cancelled because of factors like weather or technical issues. It happens, and we hope people will understand.”
The statement concludes with this:
“So how will we address this tonight?
“We have worked overnight to adjust our staffing plans across security, transportation and hospitality to ensure that we can function and serve fans with the best possible experience in the event of an extended race schedule.”
While welcome, the statement is probably little consolation to the thousands of fans who saw limited action on Thursday evening/Friday morning. There is still time to get the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix back on track, but the event is off to a rocky start.
Hopefully FP3, as well as qualifying, see an improved experience for all involved.