Las Vegas Grand Prix Sees Max Verstappen Criticism and Practice Disruptions

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This weekend’s Las Vegas Grand Prix has had an inauspicious beginning.

On Thursday, Max Verstappen, the three-time Formula 1 champion driver and overwhelming race favorite, vocally criticized the big-ticket event in the media.

Then, the first practice session on the race course, which weaves around many of the famous Nevada casinos of the Las Vegas Strip, was shut down after Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari engine suction broke a manhole cover on Las Vegas Boulevard.

The event, which has faced its share of criticism for the disruption to Sin City life during preparations, is nevertheless set to break betting records at Nevada retail sportsbooks.

Manhole Damage “Unacceptable For F1”

After race organizers revealed they had been surprised by the potential for cold temperatures in the Nevada desert on a November night, more unexpected troubles with the course plagued the Grand Prix’s practice runs on Thursday.

In a dramatic turn of events, a loose manhole cover popped up as Sainz’s Ferrari breezed over it at nearly 200 miles an hour, causing heavy damage to his car.

Just behind him was Estaban Ocon, racing for Alpine. The Frenchman’s car also hit the manhole cover debris before the practice was called off.

Fred Vasseur, Sainz’s team boss, expressed his frustration over the damaged Ferrari.

“He (Sainz) said, ‘I hit something on track,’ and he didn’t know what it was. It is just unacceptable for F1,” Vasseur said.

Race organizers were reportedly aware of the risks associated with manhole covers on street circuits, as evident from past incidents in other cities hosting F1 races.

Yet, the crew apparently decided to avoid European solutions for sealing manhole covers in favor of American methods with screws. This raises questions about the preparedness and safety protocols of the Las Vegas circuit, which seemingly did not test the manhole seals enough.

Verstappen’s Scathing Review

The concerns over the sporting element of the race being less of a priority in glitzy Las Vegas — with its million dollar race weekend packages and celebrity golf tournaments hosted by Netflix — were expressed by race favorite driver Verstappen, speaking on Thursday.

The 2023 F1 Driver’s Championship winner Verstappen is not known for mincing words

The champion driver said the Las Vegas race was “99% show and 1% sporting event,” as reported by ESPN.

The remarks show his low opinion of the course itself, the preparation for the event, and the pre-race weekend festivities.

“I don’t think it’s that exciting, that’s the only thing. I think already for me a street circuit is not that exciting, especially with these new cars, they are just too heavy,” the Dutchman said.

“When you have low grip, that doesn’t help. The scenery will look great, driving through the strip. But the layout itself is not the most exciting.”

Further fueling the controversy, Verstappen skipped a high-profile VIP party at Wynn Las Vegas, which Formula One executives asked all drivers to attend.  

“For me, you can skip this,” Verstappen said of the ceremony. “We are just standing up there, looking like a clown. I mean, yeah…”

The race favorite clearly enjoys Las Vegas itself. But he’s certainly less keen on the actual racecourse and the spectacle surrounding the event.

“Some people like the show a bit more. I don’t like it at all. I grew up just looking at the performance side of things, and that’s how I see it as well. So for me, I like to be in Vegas, but not so much for racing,” he said.

If event organizers — who were seeing tickets heavily discounted earlier in the week — encounter any more unexpected problems before the big race itself at 10 p.m. on Sunday, Verstappen will feel vindicated in his words.

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