Williams furious after loose manhole destroys chassis of Russell’s car

Dangerous incident proves an embarrassment for Azerbaijan Grand Prix organisers

The broken car of George Russell of Williams is pushed down the pitlane after the incident during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit. Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The Williams deputy team principal, Claire Williams, has expressed her anger and concerns about safety after George Russell's Williams car was struck by a loose manhole cover during practice for this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Sauber’s Kimi Räikkönen also condemned the FIA and said it had made F1 look amateurish.

The cover flew up into the bottom of Russell’s car, shattering elements of its rear and floor, forcing him to stop and for the session to be ended after only 10 minutes while the other covers were inspected for safety purposes. Russell had to take a replacement chassis meaning he could take no part in second practice. Williams was unequivocal in her condemnation of the incident.

“When you send a car out on a racetrack you should have the understanding that your car is not going to be damaged by that racetrack in that way,” she said.


“The most important thing is that George is okay, and it didn’t cause what could potentially have been a bigger accident. We have to ask the FIA and Formula One management to protect against it in the future.”

Räikkönen also demanded action.

“Obviously it was far from ideal for everybody and we looked like amateurs here today,” he said.

“It should not be like this. It’s up to the FIA to make sure that track is like it’s supposed to be. It is their responsibility to have the track as it is expected to be.”

Farce followed the drama as the flatbed truck carrying the Williams back to the pits struck a bridge, damaging its crane and leaking hydraulic fluid into the stricken car.

The incident had taken place on the straight leading to the 90 degree left-hander of turn three. Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari appeared to dislodge the cover before Russell went over it causing it to fly upwards into his car.

“I just hit it and got the biggest smack through my body,” Russell said. “It was like when a deer runs out in front of you. You’re not expecting it. The force of the impact set off the fire extinguisher which filled up my cockpit. It was so cold on my bottom, it felt like it was burning.”

It is the first major incident for the new FIA race director, Michael Masi, who took over after the death of Charlie Whiting.

Manhole covers

“From what we’ve seen from our preliminary investigations it looks as though one of the clamps underneath one of the manholes has actually failed,” Masi said.

“There’s no explanation at this point as to why, but what we’ve done from a precautionary point of view is, [there are] in excess of 300 manhole covers around the circuit, so we’ve checked every single one.”

Lewis Hamilton expressed his concerns on Instagram. "How could they have not checked and sealed the drains?" he wrote.

Williams, struggling with a car that is off the pace this season, have had previous bad luck with manhole covers. Valtteri Bottas took damage from a drain cover in the pit lane at Baku in 2016. In 2010 Rubens Barrichello had an accident after a puncture caused by a loose drain cover in Monaco.

Replacing the chassis will represent a considerable cost to the team.

“For us as an independent team there are serious financial implications of this,” Williams said.

In 2017 Romain Grosjean’s Haas took damage from a drain cover at the Malaysian Grand Prix and the team successfully claimed compensation, a route Williams suggested her team may pursue.

“We obviously know what damage has occurred,” she said. “To actually quantify that cost, it’s a little premature to do that but we will be discussing that with the FIA.”

In the afternoon session, interrupted by red flags due to several drivers hitting the walls on a dusty and green track, Ferrari, who have brought aerodynamic upgrades to Baku, were quickest. Leclerc was 0.3sec in front of his teammate Sebastian Vettel with Hamilton 0.6sec back in third.

– Guardian