December 10, 2023

The most expensive sporting event in North America was almost undone by the failure of a few screws.

Formula One’s F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix is still reeling from a practice run incident on Thursday. That’s when a car was badly damaged by the screws from a street manhole. The event’s first practice run by Carlos Sainz Jr. was canceled when his vehicle ran over a cover on the temporary street course. It caused extensive damage to the underbody of his Ferrari and Sainz said the piece broke through far enough to damage his seat. F1 then closed the course to inspect the entire circuit, which includes a long portion of the Vegas Strip.

That was merely the latest mishap in the estimated $500 million event. Poor ticket sales, caustic comments from the leading F1 driver, Max Verstappen, and complaints from locals have all put a damper on the event, which takes place tonight at 10 PM. It is the first F1 race in the city since the early 1980s.

F1 President Stefano Domenicali and Renee Wilm, CEO of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, issued a a joint statement Friday night to explain the manhole debacle because “this is important for those who are new to racing to understand.”

The statement did not offer an apology for the manhole incident. A second statement from the organization offered a $200 credit to Thursday practice ticket holders to be spent at the official merchandise store. That enraged many fans, who felt that the nine minutes of action they got was worth far more.

“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.”

“We know this is going to be a great event,” they said. “With that let’s get back to racing.”

Tickets for the event have mostly outpriced average American fans, and the scheduled on-track times have been specifically targeted to the European audience. That almost led to another embarrassing moment, which race officials admitted they were not aware that the nighttime temperatures in the desert city were colder than expected, potentially a safety hazard.

Even the drivers got into it.

Already crowned season champion Max Verstappen blasted the event as “99% show, 1% sporting event” in interviews before the race. That may all go away if tonight’s race is exciting and the casinos are full with wealthy fans. But what should have been a huge moment for the city already has a steep hole to climb up from.

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