George Russell ran over a loose manhole cover at the Azerbaijan GP Free Practice 1 and significantly damaged his car’s chassis. FP1 was immediately cancelled and the Briton won’t be able to run until FP3.
The incident happened about 10 minutes into the first free practice session. Russell ran over a loose manhole cover which got lifted up and struck his car, leaving debris all over the track.
“I just hit it and got the biggest smack through my body,” explained Russell immediately after the incident.
“I was just going down the straight on my normal line.”
You can see the incident as it happened below.
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FP1 was immediately red-flagged and, soon after, stopped altogether to allow the circuit inspectors to check over 300 manhole covers around the track.
Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams immediately responded to the unfortunate incident.
“It’s not what you would expect from a Formula 1 circuit, the drain covers are supposed to be welded down,” said Williams.
“We’ll be taking that up with race control.”
To make matters more absurd, as Russell’s car was being brought back to the pits, the recovery truck’s crane struck a bridge which subsequently poured liquid onto the damaged Williams.
This incident was also caught on camera.
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Soon it was reported that Russell’s chassis sustained significant damage and the Briton will have to get a new one. Under FIA rules, if such a change is made, the driver can’t participate in another session on the same day and therefore the Briton will have to wait for Saturday’s third free practice to make his first full run on the Baku circuit.
Williams is currently building the spare FW42 chassis, but this was not the only damage the car sustained. Some of the Mercedes power unit elements are believed to have also been damaged and if the unit is replaced, the 21-year-old might be on the receiving end of some grid penalties.
Claire Williams was understandably upset by the negligence of the circuit staff.
“I think that when you send a car out on a race track that you should have the understanding that your car is not going to be damaged by that race track in that way,” said Williams.
“I’m incredibly annoyed about it, clearly. The most important thing is that George is OK, and that it didn’t cause what could potentially have been a bigger accident. We have to ask the FIA and FOM to ensure that it doesn’t happen, and protect against it in the future.
“And for us as an independent team there are serious financial implications of this. We’d just taken the pressure out of the system and got ourselves back on an even keel. The chassis is split, and we have to revert to chassis 03.
“We’re going to lose this afternoon’s running, and we’re potentially going to have to replace the ERS pack, which has again implications. It’s just not OK.
“We had the same here in 2016 with Valtteri, coming into the pitlane I think it was. It wasn’t as serious, but it was pretty significant.”
The team could seek some solace in the fact that Haas received compensation when Romain Grosjean’s car was damaged by a loose drain cover at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Williams was asked if the team intends to seek compensation for the damages.
“I think that those are conversations that will happen,” confirmed Williams.