The Baku City Circuit, home of the Azerbaijan GP, is known for throwing up unexpected and unusual scenarios on race day. However, it seems like this year things have kicked off early, with Friday practice producing a fair bit of drama.
Barely 10 minutes int the first practice session, George Russell was on the run down to Turn 3 when he hit a loose drain cover, ripping the floor off his Williams - the last thing a team that’s already suffered from a lack of spare parts this season needs.
Somewhat scarily, loose drain covers aren’t entirely uncommon in F1 as any that aren’t secured properly are likely to be worked loose by the sheer downforce of the cars. In the 2005 Chinese GP Juan Pablo Montoya retired because he hit a drain cover, and a similar thing happened to Rubens Barrichello in Monaco in 2010. And two years ago in Malaysia, Romain Grosjean’s car was destroyed after hitting one during FP2.
With the session stopped to clear up the debris and check the drain covers, something even stranger happened. While Russell’s car was being driven away on the back of a truck, the crane on top of the truck hit a bridge across the circuit. A pipe split and hydraulic fluid poured all over the car and the track.
With the combination of potentially loose drains and an oil slick on the track, the decision was taken to cancel the session altogether in order to make proper repairs to the circuit. All 300 drain covers on the circuit were checked - the reason for the failure on the broken one was later traced back to a manufacturing fault with one of the clamps holding it down.
Everything was sorted in time for FP2 to get underway again, but even that wasn’t straightforward - the session was stopped twice due to incidents, one for Lance Stroll and another for birthday boy Daniil Kvyat.
The mayhem wasn’t just confined to Formula 1, either. Formula 2 was also in action at the circuit and during the qualifying session, Sean Gelael’s car came to a halt with a mechanical issue. The session was stopped and as marshals attempted to push him out of the way, Gelael bump started the car, the shock of which caused two of the marshals to take a bit of a tumble.
Thankfully both hopped up straight away, seemingly OK, but it’s easy to see how that could have been a lot worse. For creating a “dangerous situation” for the marshals, Gelael was prevented from taking part in the rest of the session and then ordered to start tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid.
All-in-all, then, a bit of a wild day - and there are still two more to go. Brace yourselves…