British ace Russell in shock after drain cover wrecks car
British rookie George Russell wrote off his Williams following a dramatic 180mph impact with a loose drain cover in practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old, taking part in only his fourth grand prix, had completed just two turns of his opening timed lap at Formula One's fastest street circuit when the flashpoint happened.
"It was like when a deer runs out in front of you," said Russell, unharmed after the alarming accident. "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."
Russell instantly pulled over to the side of the track, leaping out of his Williams before laying on his front to examine the substantial damage underneath his car.
Then, in farcical scenes, the recovery crane towing Russell's stricken Williams back to the pits hit a pedestrian bridge running over the temporary Baku track.
Hydraulic fluid from the damaged vehicle began dripping onto Russell's car.
These are torrid times for Williams, a team which has won 16 combined individual and team Championships but are pointless after the opening three races with the slowest car.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams said: "My reaction is not a surprising one, I am annoyed. I don't necessarily believe it is anybody's fault, but it is still pretty disappointing for us. It feels like one thing after another for our team at the moment."
An investigation by the FIA discovered that a metal prong attaching the drain cover to the road had broken free.
The opening practice session was first red-flagged, and then cancelled, as the remaining 299 drain covers across the 3.7-mile course were lifted up, turned over for checks, and bolted back down.
The incident is an embarrassing one for the sport.
World champion Lewis Hamilton questioned on Instagram: "How could they have not checked and sealed the drains?"
Russell has been battling a respiratory infection since returning from the last race in China.
On Thursday, he was pulled from his media commitments to rest at his Hilton hotel. He was only given the all-clear for practice yesterday morning.
With his car destroyed, the novice was then forced to watch the second session unfold from Williams' hospitality suite with his girlfriend, Seychelle De Vries.
He is expected to contest qualifying today. The British team will seek compensation from the FIA, with a damage bill that could run to millions.
A disgruntled Williams added: "We will be quantifying the costs and discussing that with the FIA."
Back on track, Ferrari led the way in yesterday's second running, with Hamilton six tenths off the pace in third.
Sebastian Vettel is under pressure to live up to his billing as Ferrari's No.1, yet he was three tenths slower than team-mate Charles Leclerc.
The 21-year-old, in just his second season, has had the speed to match his more experienced team-mate, but he has been subjected to team orders at each of the opening three rounds.
Hamilton, who has taken advantage of the intra-team politics at Ferrari to move 31 points clear of Vettel and 32 ahead of Leclerc, suggested that the Ferrari new boy might rebel if the Italian team continue to afford Vettel preferential treatment.
And ahead of tomorrow's race, Leclerc indicated that he might reject further team instructions.
"It depends on the situation," said the Monaco man when asked if he would be prepared to concede position to Vettel. "It is frustrating when you are told to let another driver past.
"I understand in a way. Sebastian is in his fifth year with the team. He has won four Championships. I am in my second season in F1, so have got a lot of things to prove."