Azerbaijan GP marred as Williams hits drain cover, Ferrari's Leclerc fastest
Mechanics push the car of British Formula One driver George Russell of Williams back to their team's garage after an accident during the first practice session for the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Apr. 26, 2019. EPA/SRDJAN SUKI
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams speaks during a press conference at the Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Apr. 26, 2019. EPA/VALDRIN XHEMAJ
German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel (L) of Scuderia Ferrari during the first practice session for the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Apr. 26, 2019. EPA/SRDJAN SUKI
British Formula One driver George Russell of Williams in action during the first practice session for the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Apr. 26, 2019. EPA/VALDRIN XHEMAJ
The box of British Formula One driver George Russell of Williams is covered after an accident during the first practice session for the 2019 Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Apr. 26, 2019. EPA/SRDJAN SUKI
Baku, Apr 26 (efe-epa).- Practice ahead of Formula One's fourth race of the season in Azerbaijan was marred by a manhole cover from street drains that came loose and destroyed the underside of a Williams race car as it was being driven at speed on the track, the organization said Friday.
George Russell, taking part in just his fourth grand prix, drove at speed over the drain cover that then flew up into the underside of his Williams due to the vacuum generated by race speeds.
“Confirmed: FP1 will not resume. The session is over so the track can be checked and oil can be cleared from the surface," F1 said in a post to its official Twitter account.
Video footage taken by the race organizers appeared to show that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had dislodged the cover after driving next to it.
Russell, who was some distance behind, then raced over the loose metal cover, causing it to lift violently into the floor pan of his car, thus shattering its carbon fiber structure and showering debris from his Williams FW42 across the racetrack.
The startled driver then quickly brought the car to a stop.
Race officials rapidly ended the practice session by pulling out red flags all over the track and deployed a team to examine the surface so as to repair it.
None of the teams were able to finish truly fast laps in the 18 minutes of free practice before the red flags were flown.
Manhole covers are normally welded down during F1 races on street circuits and this one was in the center section of a straight.
Claire Williams, deputy team principal at Mercedes Williams was visibly angered by the incident.
"That’s just not acceptable. The damage that that can do could put us out this afternoon,” Williams said. "We have another chassis that we might need to bring in. And that’s not what Formula 1 tracks should be," she said, adding she was going to take the matter up with race control.
"I haven’t had a chat with George yet, he looks alright from what I can see," Williams said. "You can see from the TV that’s just taken the whole underside out. That is not helpful for us at the moment."
To make matters worse for the team, which is lying last in the standings with no points after three races, the rescue truck that arrived to pick up the Williams hit a bridge and ruptured one of the hydraulic pipes on its crane which then poured liquid all over the race car.
"George’s car will require a chassis change due to the damage caused by the loose drain cover," the team confirmed, adding, "Therefore due to regulations he will not be able to run until FP3 tomorrow."
Only Leclerc clocked in a time of one minute and 47.497 seconds and his teammate Sebastian Vettel followed 2.101 seconds.
The accident meant that Russell was unable to take part in the second practice session which was dominated by Ferrari.
The teams set their first competitive laps of the day in FP2 and it was the Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Vettel that dominated, with the young Monegasque stopping the clock at one minute 42.872 seconds, more than a third of a second faster than his four-times world champion German teammate.
Third-place Lewis Hamilton was almost seven-tenths of a second behind, in his Mercedes, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fourth.,
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas finished fifth.
The session had to be stopped after 15 minutes when Racing Point’s Lance Stroll lost control as he approached Turn 2 and hit the crash barriers, damaging his car.
Daniil Kvyat, who was racing on his birthday, also brought out the red flags when he wrecked the front suspension of his Toro Rosso.
Robert Kubica was the only Williams racer able to test his car as engineers built Russell’s car using a new chassis.
Kubica finished the session last, in 19th place, more than five seconds off the pace.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is set to kick off on Sunday at the Baku City Circuit.