Racing on a street circuit has an added level of difficulty that you just don’t get by racing on an actual track. There are walls all around you so there’s no room for error and since you are on publicly driven streets, that means racing on the oils and tire tread that can come from our passenger vehicles.
One thing that is not supposed to occur is a loose manhole cover coming up to damage a Formula 1 car but that’s what happened in the opening minutes of Free Practice 1 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The unlikely culprit would be Williams rookie driver George Russell, who is already having a rough season driving the slowest car on the grid. Too late to fully react and avoid it, Russell drilled the manhole cover at full speed, completely destroying the bottom of his car.
That’s where this story goes from bad to worse, with a hint of comedy.
As you can see in the video, the manhole cover itself was loosened by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Ideally, manhole covers are welded down and level with the surface to prevent drivers from going over a terrible bump on their outrageously low height cars. Teams keep their cars as low as possible for downforce reasons and the driver sits just inches away from the bottom of the car. So not only is it dangerous for a manhole cover to be loose, because it could potentially kill someone at those high speeds, it likely hurt Russell’s ass as he drove over the thing at around 150 mph.
After track workers rescued the car, the tow truck hit the bridge because the crane that had Russell’s car hooked was too high. And then because the crane was damaged, hydraulic fluid from the truck poured onto the car.
Needless to say, the car cannot be repaired in time for the rest of the race weekend, which is not something you want to hear when your multi-million dollar car was damaged from something that was beyond your control. Team principal Claire Williams was not pleased, not only for the added time and power it will take to change the car (in addition to missing FP3 as a penalty) but the cost and time it will take to actually repair the chassis for future use.
"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."
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) April 26, 2019
As it was noted, a similar situation happened to the Haas F1 American team when Romain Grosjean hit a loose drain cover in Malaysia. Haas was eventually reimbursed by the racetrack for damage to the car, which was estimated to be around $650,000.
The rest of FP1 would be canceled while track workers cleaned up the crash and double checked the few hundred manhole covers around the track. Baku is usually considered one of the more exciting racetracks on the Formula 1 calendar, let’s just hope it’s for close racing instead of something like this.