Against the backdrop of the city’s dazzling lights and architectural marvels, the Las Vegas GP weekend got off to a sudden halt in its opening track session. In an ironic twist, amid the glitz and glamour, it was a mundane manhole cover that brought the multi-billion dollar world of Formula 1 racing to a total standstill at one of its most critical and highly anticipated moments.
As drivers had been voicing concerns about the ‘show’ elements of the race weekend amid the potential distractions of the Sphere venue’s millions of LED lights, little did they anticipate a more traditional hazard would be the cause of major disruptions. The Sphere, with its vibrant colors, had already been a topic of discussion, leading to a decision to ban colours akin to critical warning flags – red, blue, and yellow – during the actual track sessions.
World champion Max Verstappen light-heartedly quipped about the Sphere’s potential distraction, joking, “I’d probably smash the car straight into the wall,” if he saw his face on it. Mercedes’ George Russell also weighed in, expressing doubts about the track layout: “I understand the thinking for overtaking, but I don’t think it will be a great track for the drivers,” he said, acknowledging the changing times while retaining a healthy skepticism about the track’s effectiveness for racing.
However, the unforeseen issue arose not from the Sphere or the cold temperatures but from a failed manhole cover. Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari suffered severe damage due to this, with reports from Speed Week detailing a broken suspension and potential damage to the survival cell. Esteban Ocon’s Alpine met a similar fate, prompting the session to be red-flagged permanently.
The gravity of the situation became clear as Auto Motor und Sport reported that the manhole cover was “actually torn out of the asphalt,” necessitating an inspection of all other covers and discussions with local engineers about the impact on the schedule. The FIA confirmed the need to check all manhole covers, highlighting the severity of the issue.
Alpine boss Bruno Famin suggested a potential extension of the second planned practice session, while Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur expressed his frustration over the incident, deeming Sainz’s car a write-off and stressing the unacceptable nature of the damage.
Auto Motor und Sport’s Tobias Gruner summed up the sentiment: “This is a disaster for Formula 1.” The high expectations and immense investments by Liberty Media in the event have been met with a significant challenge, raising concerns about the viability of the weekend’s race and the need for a swift resolution to avoid turning the event into a farce.