By Alan Baldwin
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Spaniard Carlos Sainz escaped serious injury after crashing heavily in Russian Grand Prix practice on Saturday but was ruled out of qualifying for Sunday’s race.
The impact, estimated by his Toro Rosso team at around 200kph, brought a halt to final practice and forced organisers to cancel a following GP3 race while extensive repairs were made to the barriers.
Television images showed the 21-year-old rookie driver, strapped to a stretcher, giving a thumbs-up sign after being extracted from the wrecked car and taken to a waiting ambulance. He was then flown by helicopter to hospital.
“The doctors checked him and there’s no fracture,” team principal Franz Tost told Reuters. “Now they are checking all the organs and everything but it looks quite positive.
“He is fully conscious, which he was also immediately after the accident. He switched off the engine and everything, he did all the procedures as he normally does when he stops the car.”
Tost said Sainz’s 18-year-old team mate Max Verstappen would be Toro Rosso’s sole driver in qualifying, with nobody else stepping in to replace Sainz.
“The car is damaged too heavily and also if we could have repaired the car, after such an incident I want to see the car totally disassembled because we do not want to risk anything,” added the boss.
Television replays showed the car snapping left and hitting a concrete wall, then skidding along at speed in a cloud of debris before slamming into the TECPRO impact-absorbing barriers at Turn 13.
The nose of the car, with the front left wheel dangling on tethers in front of the driver, was then buried deep into the barriers.
“Is he OK? Because it looks like a big one,” Verstappen asked over the team radio as the medical car attended the scene of the impact and the paddock collectively held its breath.
Tost said the fact that the car went under the barriers was worrying.
“We must find a solution because that’s quite dangerous,” said the Austrian. “It reminds me of the (Luciano) Burti accident at Blanchimont at Spa.”
That crash, with Burti’s Jaguar penetrating the tyre wall at speed, effectively ended the Brazilian’s F1 racing career.
“I think the barriers should be more fixed or whatever,” said Tost. “I am not an expert in this but I am convinced the FIA will find a good solution for this.”
In an indication of the severity of the accident, race officials decided not to retart the practice session — which was halted with 25 minutes remaining.
The red flags meant drivers had little time to set their cars up for the track after Friday’s two sessions were hit by a morning diesel spillage and afternoon bad weather.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg was quickest for Mercedes in the half hour of running on Saturday with a best time of one minute 38.561 seconds on the circuit that winds around some of the landmark venues used at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
World champion and series leader Lewis Hamilton, who will be aiming for his 12th pole in 15 races, was third fastest for Mercedes.
The German manufacturer’s engines powered the top six on the timesheets, with Valtteri Bottas second for Williams and Force India’s Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg fourth and sixth while Brazilian Felipe Massa was fifth for Williams.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)