Staging a Grand Prix in Las Vegas Strip has been 40 years in the making – but Formula 1’s star-studded event has descended into chaos amid rows over driver safety, exorbitant ticket prices and claims that traditional fans are being forgotten.
The world’s biggest celebrities are expected to descend on Sin City for what is being billed as the most spectacular event the sport has ever staged.
Last night, organisers were left red faced after the event which is set to generate £1-1.3billion was thrown into chaos when the first practice race was cancelled after just eight minutes because of a loose drain cover on the track.
Event chiefs will be praying Thursday’s track fiasco becomes a distant memory at the end of a weekend in which 105,000 F1 fans – including some paying up to $185,000 (£150,000) – pack out the Sin City circuit.
Drivers will be racing 50 laps to the backdrop of several Vegas landmarks, including the Bellagio fountains, Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, and the new ball-shaped MSG Sphere.
Despite the glitz and the glamour of Vegas, critics have blasted the cost of tickets prices, while Europeans have hit out at the race starting at 10pm local time on Saturday – which is 6am Sunday in the UK.
Three-time world champion Max Verstappen has described the Las Vegas GP as ’99 per cent show and one per cent sporting event’.
Organisers have pumped more than £500million into the Las Vegas GP, bringing the sport back to Sin City for the first time since Caesars Palace Grand Prix was held there in 1981 and 1982.
Las Vegas is providing an iconic backdrop for the first Sin City Formula One race since 1982. Pictured: Fireworks at the opening ceremony
The iconic new Sphere in Las Vegas can be seen looming over the track as George Russell races around in practice
MailOnline’s graphic shows the exact layout of the circuit, through the streets of Sin City
Las Vegas Police are forced to evacuate fans from the Las Vegas Strip circuit after the first practice session was cancelled
This is the loose drain cover that caused Carlos Sainz’s car to spark, forcing the GP to be cancelled
CCTV footage from Las Vegas shows the moment sparks engulfed Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari after hitting a loose drain cover
Judging by the star-studded opening ceremony on Wednesday night – and the sheer amount of money invested into the event – it is clear that F1 is leaving no stone unturned to make an impression.
Some £196million was spent on buying a plot of land, while a further £327million was invested to build a permanent pit building and to prepare the 3.85 mile track. F1 has said the track won’t need to be resurfaced for at least another six years.
F1 chairman and CEO Stefano Domenicali said: ‘It is going to look incredible on TV and will be an unforgettable event to be at in person.’
And unlike other F1 races, Vegas’ will take place on Saturday evening as opposed to Sunday afternoon.
On Wednesday night, a host of music stars including Kylie Minogue, John Legend, Andra Day, Keith Urban and Journey headlined an extravagant opening ceremony with spectacular light, drone and firework displays before the drivers made brief appearances.
But world champion Max Verstappen was critical of the opening ceremony – and said he felt like a ‘clown’ on the stage.
‘For me, you can all skip these things,’ the Red Bull driver told Sky Sports.
‘It’s not about the singer, it’s just standing up there, you look like a clown. I just like to always focus on the performance side of things.
Staging a Grand Prix on the Las Vegas Strip has been 40 years in the making. Caesars Palace can be seen in the background
Kylie Minogue performed at the Las Vegas Grand Prix opening ceremony on Wednesday night
The Australian hitmaker headlined the evening donning a stylish white zip front jumpsuit
Lewis Hamilton certainly looked the part as he arrived for the event earlier in the evening
Other musical acts on the night included Tiesto, John Legend (pictured), Journey, Keith Urban, Jared Leto and Andra Day
Legend performed alongside Tiesto as the opening ceremony got going in Vegas
Andra Day (left) and J Balvin (right) also featured as part of a glitzy grand opening in Vegas
‘I don’t like all the things around it, anyway. I know, of course, in some places they are part of it, but let’s say it’s not in my interest.’
Seven-time world champion Hamilton was also in attendance and rocked up while looking the part in a stylish black overcoat, gold jewellery, black boots and suave black-and-orange shades.
Hamilton was more positive about the extravagance – but admitted it could never top Britain’s Silverstone GP.
‘This [Vegas] is one of the most iconic and unique cities that they have here amongst the other amazing cities they have in America,’ he told Sky Sports.
McClaren star Lando Norris could be seen trying his luck on the roulette table at one stage
A number of Elvis impersonators were present as F1 stars made their way to the ceremony
Netflix Cup winner Carlos Sainz (left) and Lando Norris were also seen rocking up in Sin City
Hamilton arrived while looking the part in a stylish black overcoat, gold jewelry, black boots and suave black-and-orange shades
His Mercedes teammate George Russell also turned on the style for Wednesday’s ceremony
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and wife Geri were also seen arriving on Wednesday
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and wife Susie were other high-profile names to rock up
‘All the lights, the show. It is a big show, for sure, and it’s never going to be like Silverstone. But maybe over time the people in the community here grow to love the sport just as we have had the privilege growing up and experiencing, maybe.’
When Vegas hosted two races on a track built in the parking lot of the Caesars Palace hotel in the early 1980s, it did not quite go to plan.
This left former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone searching for ways to organise a race that included the famous Strip, but his plans were always opposed by powerful casinos.
For decades, it looked as though the GP would never return to Vegas but with a surge in F1 popularity in the US, excitement grew over just how big they could make the event.
F1’s Las Vegas Grand Prix CEO Renee Wilm told the BBC: ‘We believed in the investment thesis and the economic scale of the event, particularly given the potential to raise the sport to a whole new level.’
But after getting it over the line, F1 bosses were dealt a hugely embarrassing blow when the first practice 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.’
The Bellagio can be seen above the F1 circuit in Las Vegas
Sin City has pulled out all the stops as it prepares to take centre stage in Formula One
The new track will run across The Strip, near some of the most iconic buildings in Las Vegas
The race weekend in Vegas will be a beautiful, breathtaking, intoxicating spectacle, a festival of excess and profit and neon for the Drive to Survive generation
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.
Speaking on Sky Sports, the highly-respected TV pundit and former driver Martin Brundle, had earlier said: ‘That’s it for today from my experience.
‘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.’