F1: Azerbaijan GP first practice abandoned after drain cover wrecks Williams car

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, Azerba
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, on April 26, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BAKU (AFP) - Opening practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was abandoned on Friday (April 26) because of safety concerns after a loose drain cover caused serious damage to George Russell's Williams car.

Only two cars had clocked lap times in the opening minutes before Briton Russell, at high speed, ran over a cover, which had been lifted slightly by a previous car, and suffered impact damage to the floor which sent debris across the circuit.

Russell was forced to stop, his car badly damaged. He was unhurt, but with more than 300 similar drain covers around the circuit, the race stewards elected to abandon the session to ensure they were all welded down in position.

As Russell's car was taken back to the pits, the rescue truck hit a bridge. This collision resulted in damage to the vehicle's on-board crane which, in turn, released hydraulic fluid onto the engine cover of the Englishman's car.

This required another vehicle to rescue the race car as the early minutes of the opening session descended into near-farce.

Ferrari new boy Charles Leclerc had set the quickest of the opening laps in 1min 47.497sec.

The session was soon cancelled officially to allow for the track organisers to check and repair the circuit.

It was wretched luck for Russell, in only his fourth Grand Prix with the struggling Williams team.

He said: "I got the biggest smack through my body, and the whole engine turned off.

"It's ruined the floor and I'm a bit worried for the chassis now. We were on the normal racing line and it's completely ruined our session. It's not what we need at this stage."

Williams deputy team chief Claire Williams said: "It's clearly not what we want and it's not what you expect from a Formula One track. These drain covers are supposed to be bolted down.

"That's just not acceptable. The damage could put us out for the afternoon. We have another chassis that we might need to bring in, but it should not be like this on any F1 track. These manholes should be welded down."