- F1’s first run out in Sin City was hampered by chaos of loose manhole covers
- Wolff derided suggestions that the incident had given event a ‘black eye’
- OLIVER HOLT: F1 and Las Vegas are entertainment’s newest power couple
You would struggle to find more petulance from a professionally urbane charmer than Toto Wolff exhibited in his response to some pretty reasonable questions over what was quickly descending into the Las Vegas Grand Prix debacle.
With the eyes of a sporting public on the brash Strip, first practice (FP1) on Thursday night local time was cancelled as a result of a flying manhole cover debilitating the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. The intrusion, only eight minutes into the super-duper new race, caused a postponement to second practice lasting two-and-a-half hours for repairs to be carried out on the precarious covers through the application of quick-setting concrete.
Whereas world champion Max Verstappen could claim to have been vindicated in his verdict on Las Vegas’s evolving first dance in front of Sin City’s spectacular backdrop by calling it ‘99 per cent show and one per cent sport’, the Mercedes team principal demonstrated how hard and fast some of Formula One’s money men will run with the sport’s American owners, Liberty Media, come what may.
Other than Verstappen, every other high-roller in the F1 circus complied with Liberty’s appeals to back the Vegas project. ‘Good for the sport,’ they chimed, and so they believed, and not unreasonably. ‘Good for the share price of all,’ or so they hoped.
Yet Wolff, in contrast to Verstappen, was unconcerned by the unfolding mess of the practice sessions that had seen Sainz’s red car suck the manhole cover out of the tarmac at 198mph. Wolff’s high-handed dismissal of developments perhaps showed the pressure he is feeling at the ailing Mercedes team.
And he made himself look foolish in his blind belief that all was well on the night — despite tens of thousands of fans leaving the track of their own volition or being asked to do so because of labour laws requiring security staff to knock off before the second, belated session had begun at 2.30am (let alone finished at an absurd 4am).
‘That is not a black eye,’ claimed Wolff, denying the nose-bloodying repercussions of the chaos.
‘Nobody is going to talk about this tomorrow morning.’
When I suggested that his draft of history might not be entirely unchallengeable, he exploded in rage: ‘It’s completely ridiculous! How can you even dare to talk back about an event that sets the new standards for everything?
‘And then you are speaking about a f***ing drain cover that’s been undone. That’s happened before. That’s nothing; it’s FP1.
‘Give credit to the people that have set up this grand prix, that have made this sport much bigger than it ever was. Have you ever spoken good about someone, or written a good word? You should, about all these people that have been out here.
‘Liberty have done an awesome job, just because a drain cover in FP1 has come undone we shouldn’t be moaning. The car (of Sainz) is broken. That’s really a shame. For Carlos, it could have been dangerous. So between the FIA, the track, everybody needs to analyse to make sure this doesn’t happen again. But talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening… nobody’s watching on European time.’
Nobody was watching it anywhere, Toto! Not while nothing was happening.
A cynic might say Wolff’s intemperate answer is linked to the fact his wife, Susie, is financially connected to F1 through her role as managing director of its associated F1 Academy, the women’s series. He also once harboured desires, no longer entertained by Liberty, of succeeding Stefano Domenicali as F1 chief executive.
Incidentally, Domenicali, who declined press interviews, was said by one witness to be as white as a ghost as he grappled with his sport disappearing from the track.
The Las Vegas extravaganza is the first race Liberty have run themselves rather than handed to a local promoter for a fee. It’s apparently not as easy to pull it off as they thought. But, in fairness, their vision and success in securing a race on the Strip is commendable, as Wolff says.
And it is not the only time manhole covers have caused problems on street circuits. They have done so in Monaco and Azerbaijan, as recently as four years ago.
Responsibility for these glitches surely falls at least as much at the door of the governing body, the FIA, who carry out safety inspections, as at Liberty’s.
Saturday’s race here, starting at 10pm local time, if no manhole covers need glueing in, still offers a chance for F1 to dazzle on television screens across the world.
But this embarrassing caper hardly serves to win hearts and minds among locals or travellers, paying a minimum of £400 for a three-day ticket, rising to £100,000-plus, to see next to nothing… at least so far.
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