Following the difficult start to the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, CEO of the event, Renee Wilm and F1 President Stefano Domenicali released a statement, explaining why fans were forced to leave last night.
Las Vegas is not a totally unknown territory for Formula One as the pinnacle of motorsport already raced there in 1981 and 1982, albeit in very different circumstances. Back then, the race was held in Caesar's Palace car park, squeezed between concrete barriers and high, wire catchment fences.
Although the races turned out to be title-deciding events, the car park was not suitable for racing, and F1 did not return to Las Vegas in the coming years.
However, the 2023 F1 season marks the first time the sport has come to Las Vegas in over four decades. The new track that is referred to as Las Vegas Strip Circuit is a 3.8-mile circuit that lives on roughly 3 miles of public roadway that must remain open in between race weekend events.
Despite the intensive preparation and the buzz around the event, the Las Vegas Grand Prix endured a difficult start when cars first hit the track on Thursday night. The first session was called off after just nine minutes of running when Carlos Sainz's Ferrari hit a loose manhole cover, badly damaging his car.
The safety concerns urged the FIA to cancel the opening 60-minute session which made it possible to check the manhole covers and fix them. With the repair job requiring several hours, the second practice session kicked off later. The second session was extended by 30 minutes to allow teams and drivers to make up for the time lost, although it took place in front of empty grandstands as fans were asked to leave the track before the session started.
Just before the qualifying session, Renee Wilm, CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, and Stefano Domenicali, CEO of Formula 1, issued a statement, explaining the reasons for the decisions: "Our top priority at Formula 1 is the safety and security of our drivers, employees, and fans. Responsibility for the oversight of a Formula 1 event falls with Formula 1 as the commercial rights holder of the sport, the FIA as the regulatory body, and the local promoter, in this case the Las Vegas Grand Prix. This is important for those who are new to racing to understand.
“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.
“As a result, the first Free Practice ended early. We moved ahead with the second Free Practice session at approximately 2:30 AM PT for 90 minutes. The decision to run the second Free Practice session at 2:30 AM PT was supported by all parties to ensure the sporting integrity of the remainder of the event.
Speaking about the second session that took place in front of empty grandstands, the statement read: "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.
“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," read the statement.