Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Williams’ Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams says that the drain cover incident that forced FP1 to be cancelled is ‘not acceptable’.
The first practice session in Azerbaijan was cancelled after just twenty minutes, due to a manhole cover becoming loose and destroying the underside of George Russell’s Williams as he drove over it. The resultant need for inspections and repairs to the circuit meant the session was forced to be stopped.
Speaking to BBC, an irate Claire Williams said that her driver is OK after the incident, but the car isn’t: “I haven’t had a chat with George yet but he looks alright from what I can see. The car has got a lot of damage, though.”
Russell, speaking after his car was ripped apart under him, said he felt a huge shock go through his body, but that he is otherwise OK. The British driver spent Thursday recovering from an illness but was given the all clear to take part in the weekend ahead of practice.
According to Williams, the damage may yet prove to curtail their FP2 running later on Friday: “The circuit needs to make sure that their drain covers are bolted down properly. That’s just not acceptable. The damage that that can do could put us out this afternoon. We have another chassis that we might need to bring in. And that’s not what Formula 1 tracks should be.”
Track inspections ahead of a Grand Prix are usually done by the FIA’s Safety Delegate and Race Director. This role was filled by Charlie Whiting, a man of decades of experience. However, Whiting passed away while working at the Australian Grand Prix last month and his role has been filled by Michael Masi.
While oversight by the new personnel in place is a possibility as to why the drain cover issue has happened, there have been other occasions where this has happened in recent years. Romain Grosjean suffered a high speed crash in his Haas in 2017 at Malaysia’s Sepang Circuit due to a loose drain, resulting in the circuit paying for the damage. Juan Pablo Montoya suffered a race retirement at the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix when he hit a loose drain, while Rubens Barrichello crashed out of the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix when he hit a loose drain, also while driving for Williams.