LAS VEGAS -- Formula One is hoping to turn its luck around on the Strip, like so many other Vegas visitors who blow a big bankroll soon after they arrive.
The elite global motorsports series placed a $500 million gamble on a new event in Sin City promoted for the first time by F1 and owner Liberty Media. But it now must recover after an opening-night debacle in which the first practice was ruined just nine minutes in when Carlos Sainz Jr. ran over a water valve cover on the temporary street course.
It caused extensive damage to his Ferrari -- Sainz said it even damaged his seat -- and caused F1 to close the course to inspect the entire 3.85-mile temporary street circuit.
Nine minutes. Those who spent who-knows-how-much got exactly nine minutes of practice Thursday night.
By the time the next practice started, 2 1/2 hours late at 2:30 a.m., those in attendance had been ordered to leave fan viewing areas. F1 ran a 90-minute session until 4 a.m. -- when the streets had to be returned to the city for morning commuter traffic.
F1 President Stefano Domenicali and Renee Wilm, CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, issued a a joint statement Friday night to explain the Thursday night events because "this is important for those who are new to racing to understand."
The statement said organizers were acting out of concern for safety workers and security officials who were scheduled to work the entire weekend. They also said F1 was bumping against a federal law about the amount of time transport workers taking spectators back to hotels "can legally and safely drive buses." They added that hospitality staff needed to begin preparing for the upcoming 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," the statement said. "We have all been to events, like concerts, games and even other Formula 1 races, that have been canceled because of factors like weather or technical issues. It happens, and we hope people will understand."
The executives vowed in the statement that steps had been taken to ensure the event runs smoothly the remainder of the weekend.
"We know this is going to be a great event," they said. "With that let's get back to racing."
It's not so easy to move along for Sainz.
A furious Ferrari team initially said he would not be able to participate in the second practice. But Ferrari used the lengthy delay to prepare him a new car, so he got onto the track and was second-fastest, to teammate Charles Leclerc, at the end of the session.
But Ferrari's heroic effort will be punished with a 10-place penalty for Sainz on tonight's starting grid. A penalty because he ran over a drainage cover on the Las Vegas Strip, something completely out of his control and extremely dangerous considering it penetrated his seat?
Because governing body FIA has no mechanism not to penalize a team that makes extensive car changes during a race weekend, Sainz has, of course, been penalized.
It was a laughable start to an extremely hyped race that had started to sour even before F1 arrived.
Locals have been furious over disruptions during the months-long building of the course, tickets have been outrageously expensive and also available at reduced prices on a secondary market, hotels have outpriced average American fans, and the scheduled on-track times have been specifically targeted to the European audience.
Three-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen has blasted the event as "99% show, 1% sporting event" and thinks the entire spectacle is totally over the top. The race is the third stop this year in the United States, more than any other country, as F1 and Liberty tried to capitalize on the series' new popularity driven by the Netflix "Drive to Survive" documentary series.
Even Fred Vasseur, the head of Ferrari who was irate over the incident, defended F1.
"We know that it's a sporting event, we know that this can happen. You can have a bad FP1," he said. "Now we have to recover on the weekend, that we have to find solutions. I'm still convinced that the event is mega for the F1."