After all the pomp and circumstance, the cars finally took to the track on Thursday night at the Las Vegas Grand Prix for two practice sessions.
It did not take long for the first of those to be called off.
Early in the first practice session Carlos Sainz Jr.’s Ferrari came to a stop on the Strip. The culprit? A loose manhole cover. As a result, the session was red-flagged while race officials looked to secure the entire track.
Here is a look from onboard Sainz’s car:
“Following inspection, it was the concrete frame around a manhole cover that has failed,” the FIA explained in a statement.
“We now need to check all of the other manhole covers which will take some time – we will be discussing with the local circuit engineering team about the length of time it will take to resolve and will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”
As a result of the damage to his SF-23, Ferrari had to change a number of components to Sainz’s car, including installing a new battery. That may see the Ferrari driver hit with a grid penalty for using new components outside of the pool allotted for this race.
That work took much longer than expected, pushing back the start of FP2 by two-and-a-half hours, meaning that the second session did not begin until 2:30 a.m. local time, the latest start to a Formula 1 session in history.
Or the earliest start, depending on your point of view.
That starting time came following the end of shifts for security personnel, which forced race officials to empty the grandstands, sending fans who had been waiting to see some on-track action home … or back to the casinos.
A rather inauspicious start to the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Finally, FP2 got underway. As a result of the abbreviated FP1, race officials decided to extend the second practice session by 30 minutes. Once the cars got rolling, we saw the power from Ferrari many were expecting. Charles Leclerc, who topped the timing sheets in the abbreviated FP1, was against fastest in FP2, followed by Sainz:
As always, practice results are to be taken with a grain of salt. Teams are running different programs, trying different things, and using different tire compounds.
But we thought coming into this weekend that Ferrari might have the advantage, particularly in their critical battle for second place in the Constructors’ Championship, given the power they have shown in recent weeks on long straights.
So far, that seems to be the case. Again, we do not know exactly what programs the teams and drivers were using, but look at telemetry data from Leclerc’s best lap, and Max Verstappen’s best lap, from FP2 courtesy of F1-Tempo:
Leclerc’s best lap of FP2 – his Lap 25 – came on a set of soft tires. Verstappen’s best lap of FP2 — his Lap 20 — came on a set of softs as well. You can see on the straights, particularly the very long straight out of the final turn and then down the Strip, the Ferrari had the advantage.
Will that hold into the weekend?
We’ll have to wait and see.