Formula One bosses were dealt a hugely embarrassing blow after first practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was cancelled.
The running under the lights of the Las Vegas strip was suspended when Carlos Sainz broke down in his Ferrari with just eight minutes on the clock.
And then 11 minutes later, at 8:49pm local time, it was announced the session would not be resumed – it emerged Sainz’s failure was caused by a loose manhole cover.
Television replays showed Sainz being jolted in his cockpit as the cover struck the underneath of his machine as he approached 200mph on the Las Vegas Boulevard.
Esteban Ocon also smashed into the debris – against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, Bellagio and Venetian hotels – causing significant damage to his Alpine.
Ferrari described the damage to Sainz’s car as “extensive”, while Alpine said Ocon will require a new chassis.
Ferrari team principal Frederic Masseur said: “He (Sainz) said I hit something on track, and he didn’t know what it was. It is just unacceptable for F1.”
An FIA spokesperson said: “Following an inspection, a concrete frame around a manhole cover has failed.
“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 we will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”
Second practice, which was due to begin at midnight local time (8:00 GMT), was delayed at the 3.8-mile temporary street venue. It was subsequently announced that the session is scheduled to start at 2am local time (10:00 GMT) subject to the local circuit engineering team completing the necessary work on the track. The length of the session will be extended to 90 minutes.
“Fixing that and checking everything else, letting it dry and making sure it won’t come out again is going to be a big job.
“Theoretically, they are going to re-open the Strip (for public use) after the F1 practice sessions. That is a very, very big issue if there are other areas like that around the track.”
The problems of loose manhole covers at street venues is not a new one in the sport.
Jenson Button struck a dislodged drain in practice in Monaco in 2016, while George Russell also ran over a drain cover in Azerbaijan four years ago.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Sky: “It’s a shame that we are not allowed on track.
“They are going to have to check all the manhole covers and weld them or do something because you can see the damage that it has done.
“It’s a great shame for the fans but safety comes first. We have got to get this right and hopefully it won’t take too long.”
The cancellation of opening practice comes 24 hours after triple world champion Max Verstappen criticised the staging of the Las Vegas Grand Prix – the first here in four decades and maiden event on the strip – as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”.
British former world champion Lewis Hamilton then criticised him, saying “I hear there are a lot of people complaining about the direction that (F1 CEO) Stefano (Domenicali) and Liberty has gone. But they are doing an amazing job.
“The sport continues to grow. It is a business and you will still see good racing here. It is a country to tap into and really captivate the audience.
“We needed to have at least two races in the US, one wasn’t enough, and this is one of the most iconic and unique cities that they have here.
“It is a big show for sure, and it is never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe over time, the people in this community will grow to love the sport.
“Maybe the track will be good, and maybe it will be bad. It was so-so on the simulator. But don’t knock it until you try it.”
Press Association – Philip Duncan