The woes of Williams are well documented but in a case of ‘when it rains it pours’ the team was forced to replace George Russell’s chassis when, during the first minutes of FP1 in Baku, the #63 car struck a man-hole cover in the middle of the track which ripped the floor and spat shards of carbon fibre all over the track.
The Briton was unhurt but the dislodged cover smashed the underside of the car, bringing out the red flags to stop the session after just 12 of 90 scheduled minutes.
“I just hit it, the biggest shock went through my body. The whole engine just turned off, it’s ruined the floor. It was just on the normal racing line and has ruined my session,” said Russell.
In another bizarre twist, the mobile crane carrying the Williams back to the pits struck the underside of a sponsor hoarding spanning the Baku street circuit.
After it became reality that Russell’s chassis would need to be changed, the team announced on Twitter: “This has done a huge amount of damage through no fault of our own and this is a lot of work and a lot of money to recover these costs.”
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams confirmed when speaking to Sky F1 that they will be seeking compensation from the circuit for the damage caused to Russell’s car.
“George’s car will require a chassis change due to the damage caused by the loose drain cover,” said a team spokeswoman. “Therefore due to regulations he will not be able to run until practice three tomorrow.”
Former world champions Williams are already facing plenty of problems with an uncompetitive car that is some way off their rivals’ pace.
They are last in the standings and neither Russell nor Polish teammate Robert Kubica have scored a point in three races so far this year.
The session was red flagged and then abandoned just 12 minutes into the scheduled 90 as organisers and track officials worked to check more than 300 manhole covers and carry out repairs.
“They’re going to fix it (the track) now but of course it shouldn’t have happened,” said Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. “Running over a cover like that at 300 kph is not nice.”
In more farcical scenes, the mobile crane truck carrying Russell’s stricken Williams back to the pits then hit the underside of a sponsor hoarding spanning the track, leaking fluid onto the car.
Ferrari’s two drivers were the only ones to set a time, with Charles Leclerc ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Replays showed the Monegasque running over the cover, potentially dislodging it, just before Russell.
Five-times world champion and overall leader Lewis Hamilton, winner in Baku last year for Mercedes, did not seem to mind the lack of action, however.
“How could they have not checked and sealed the drains?” the Briton asked on his Instagram feed.
“Oh well, (it) just gives me extra time to catch up on Game of Thrones,” added the 34-year-old, who has been binge-watching the popular fantasy series.