First practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was called off after a loose drain cover destroyed George Russell’s Williams and triggered a circuit-wide check for similar faults.
The session lasted just 12 minutes before the Briton ran over the loose manhole plate, which sliced through his floor and caused substantial damage to his car.
The destruction of the FW42 was so severe that the power unit cut out immediately, and exposed wiring was visible from beneath the car as it was hoisted onto the back of a recovery vehicle.
The incident subsequently took a bizarre turn when the recovery vehicle struck a bridge on its way back to the pits and began dousing its cargo in what appeared to be hydraulic fluid. A second recovery truck was then needed to lift the car off the back of the first truck and return it into the care of the team.
Speaking to British TV, Williams team principal Claire Williams was scathing of the ludicrous situation.
“It’s not what you expect from a Formula 1 track. These drain covers are supposed to be bolted down,” she fumed. “We’ll be picking that up with race control.
“I think it’s clear from the data — I think it’s clear from what everyone can see — that there’s probably quite a lot of damage to the floor of the car and who knows what else.
“We’ll have to wait and see whether that chassis is repairable or whether we need to go to our third chassis.”
The session remained suspended while race control inspected the offending drain cover and the remainder was canceled shortly afterward to allow for a full inspection of the circuit’s other manholes, which Renault tweeted number over 300.
The last high-profile drain strike in Formula 1 came during the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix when Romain Grosjean had his Haas destroyed by a loose grate cover during practice. Team principal Guenther Steiner claimed the damage bill totaled £500,000 ($645,000), and Haas was able to recover money via an insurance claim against the Sepang circuit.
Prior to the session-ending incident, the FIA confirmed several new power unit elements used by a number of drivers. Both Red Bull Racing drivers have adopted new versions of the Honda MGU-H, MGU-K, turbocharger and internal combustion engine; Toro Rosso’s drivers have adopted new internal combustion engines; and both Alfa Romeo drivers have updated their Ferrari control electronics units.