Ferrari and Mercedes bosses at odds over incident which caused FP1 to be abandoned, as Toto Wolff leaps to the defence of organisers.
In a tense press conference held shortly after the opening practice session had been abandoned, and amidst doubt the second would even go ahead, following the incident which resulted in his driver being hit with a ten-place grid penalty having incurred major damage necessitating a new tub and ICE, Fred Vasseur was asked for his thoughts.
“This will cost us a fortune,” said the Frenchman. “We won’t be part of the FP2 for sure,” he continued, though the delay to the second session meant that Sainz did indeed take part, “but we have to change the chassis out from the car, the fuel cell out of the car.
“The show is the show and everything is going well,” he added, “but I think it’s just unacceptable for the F1 point of view.”
Keen not to be seen allying himself with those who believe that with this event, F1, which is also the promoter, is putting style before substance, the Frenchman said: “You don’t have to mix everything. I think that the show is mega and I’m very happy with what Liberty did around the race, and I think it’s a huge step forward for the fans. But we have to separate what is the show and the sporting side.
“The show is mega, I was in the Paddock Club yesterday when they did the ceremony, and it was something that I never saw before. I think it was something bigger for the F1.
“But it’s not because you are doing this that you don’t have to do the job on the sporting side. So I think it’s two separate things.
“For sure I’m frustrated,” he admitted, “but I’m also scared because Carlos hit a metallic part at 320kph. It could have been much worse.”
As the media questioned the wisdom of running a grand prix on a track which had not been previously put to the test and that the publicity resulting from the incident was a “black eye” for the event, Toto Wolff was clearly angered.
“That is not a black eye,” he snapped. “This is nothing. We are on a Thursday night, a free practice session one that we’re not doing. They’re going to see about the remaining drain covers, and nobody is going to talk about that tomorrow morning anymore.”
However, when a journalist, responded with “they are, it’s absolute rubbish!”, the Austrian was clearly incensed.
“It’s completely ridiculous!” he thundered. “Completely ridiculous… how can you even dare to talk back about an event that sets new standards for everything? And then you are speaking about a f*****g 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,” he continued, “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 has done an awesome job, and just because in FP1 a drain cover has come undone we shouldn’t be moaning.
“The car is broken, that’s really a shame,” he added. “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 that on European time anyway.”
Ignoring the fact that much like Wikipedia, Wolff believes nobody is really interested, certainly in Europe, fans took to social media to query why he hadn’t reacted with similar anger in Abu Dhabi in 2021, while others wondered how he would have reacted had it been one of his cars that had been damaged.
Indeed, as Wolff, along with Zak Brown and James Vowles circled the wagons in anticipation of the media onslaught, the likes of Sky Sports – which hours earlier had criticised Max Verstappen for his negativity towards the race – also continued with the PR on behalf of Liberty.
Meanwhile, following the forced ejection of fans from the grandstands and Paddock Club as a result of security staff having come to the end of their agreed shifts, one wonders how F1 and the teams will deal with the class action law suits that are sure to follow, not to mention the damage to the relationship with sponsors whose clients were asked to leave and forced out into the cold night air as the engines roared into life behind them.