Baku Free Practice 1 cancelled after George Russell collides with manhole cover

by Becca Stubbs
George Russell in Baku 2019

Baku is rarely disappointing but this year, they didn’t even wait for the race to start for the drama to begin as Free Practice 1 ended after just twelve minutes.

George Russell was the unlucky first victim of the unforgiving Baku City Circuit and the premature red flag saw a decision from race control to not restart the practice session.

The young Brit had just begun his timed lap and had DRS open but his lap was cut short after a loose manhole cover completely ruined the floor of the Williams Racing car.

The cover, which was loose from an earlier lap by Scuderia Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, was the cause of the crash, highlighting the importance of welding down the manholes.

Russell stopped his car at Turn 3 and marshals rushed onto the track as the bemused Brit crouched down to inspect the heavy damage.

After assessing the remainder of his car, Russell made his way back to the pit lance whilst the recovery vehicles were deployed to start the huge clean-up.

But the drama didn’t end there.

The Williams was loaded onto the recovery truck which then began making its way back to the garage.

However, they didn’t account for the pedestrian bridge which runs over the Baku City Circuit and a huge smash ensued as the truck collided with the bridge, leaving further damage on the Williams and a dent in the bridge.

The further damage then caused hydraulic fluid to leak out of the Williams as Team Principal Claire Williams was the picture of frustration as she watched on from the garage.

The team engineers could only look on with amusement as the calamity played out in front of them, after what’s been a disastrous start to the season for the British-based outfit.

After just 12 minutes, the red flag brought a permanent end to Free Practice 1 with only Ferrari duo Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel setting a time.

Leclerc set a 1:47:497 with teammate Vettel two seconds slower with a 1:49:598 lap time but there wasn’t anything learned from that as all the other teams lost out on 90 minutes worth of data.

Race control announced after the decision to end the session that they’d be assessing all the manhole covers on the track as well as checking the structural integrity of the bridge before Free Practice 2 this afternoon.

Azerbaijan pays the highest race fee out of any of the 21 hosts which could make for a very expensive weekend should the Williams bill land on their doorstep.

Nine out of ten teams failed to record any times and collect any data, which makes Sunday’s race even more interesting.

And, as balmy as Baku has been in recent season, Free Practice 1 will take quite some beating.

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