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F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix moves ahead after opening-night debacle

Valtteri Bottas of Finland drives the Alfa Romeo F1 C43 Ferrari on the track during a qualifying round ahead of the F1 Grand Prix in Las Vegas on Friday.
Chris Graythen
Getty Images
Valtteri Bottas of Finland drives the Alfa Romeo F1 C43 Ferrari on the track during a qualifying round ahead of the F1 Grand Prix in Las Vegas on Friday.

Formula One is trying to recover in time for its Las Vegas Grand Prix race after an embarrassing opening-night debacle stopped the racers' first practice after just nine minutes.

Ferrari said a car driven by Carlos Sainz Jr. was severely damaged after a manhole cover came loose along the temporary street course late Thursday night.

Workers rushed to remove every drain cap along the nearly four-mile-long track, filling them with asphalt and sand. By the time the next practice started, 2 1/2 hours late, attendees had been ordered to leave the fan viewing areas. The course had to be closed a few hours later, by 4 a.m., in order to reopen the streets to morning commuters.

Organizers explained the delay as necessary for the safety of drivers, staff and participants, but didn't apologize to fans.

"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," reads a statement from F1 President Stefano Domenicali and Las Vegas Grand Prix CEO Renee Wilm.

A later email offered Thursday-only ticket holders a $200 credit to the official merchandise store, according to a report from KNTV in Las Vegas.

The spectacle reads like more than a stroke of bad luck for F1 and its owner Liberty Media, which bet big on a $500 million contract to bring the global motorsports series to Sin City for an annual event over the next 10 years.

The famous Las Vegas Strip makes up part of the racing course, which required about $80 million in roadwork costs, half of which Formula One is requesting from Clark County.

The CEO of Liberty Media told Yahoo Finance the event is expected to bring in more than $1 billion to the local economy. And already, at least one casino, Ceasars Entertainment, has broken its F1 betting record for the race, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

But locals have taken issue with the months-long disruption and event organization, accusing F1 of giving preference to European attendees with late-night on-track start times and expensive ticket prices.

With three stops out of 23 total, the U.S. is hosting more F1 events than any other country this year. The sports' new national popularity coincides with the release of Netflix's Drive to Survive documentary series.

Racing resumed in Las Vegas on Friday with team Ferrari rebounding in a qualifying round and Sainz driving in a new car.

But in a move that's angering fans, Sainz was penalized for switching to the new car, with the sport's governing body saying they had no way to make a provision to the rulebook even though his original car was damaged by the approved course.

Sainz will be subject to starting 10 places behind his starting grid spot for the Grand Prix event, scheduled for Saturday at 10 p.m. local time.

NPR's Tristan Plunkett contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 17, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the race was scheduled for Sunday at 10 p.m. local time. It is scheduled for 10 p.m. local time Saturday.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
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