By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) - McLaren's Jenson Button declared himself lucky to have escaped with a damaged car, rather than suffering serious injury, after running over a loose drain cover during Monaco Grand Prix practice on Thursday.
"That was an incident we definitely don't want to see again around here," the 2009 Formula One world champion told reporters after the morning session was stopped early and welders made sure the cover was secure.
"We were lucky in a way that it just damaged the car, it stayed quite low on the ground which is good," added the Briton.
"We have enough dangers...a drain cover lifting in the air for an open top car is extremely dangerous."
Manholes and metal drain covers around the Mediterranean street circuit are welded shut to prevent them being sucked out by the powerful downforce of the cars.
Flying debris is a major concern for the sport, which has been experimenting with various cockpit protection devices since Braziilian Felipe Massa was hit on the helmet by a bouncing metal spring at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Former Ferrari driver Massa, now with Williams, was in an induced coma for several days after that incident.
Britain's former F1 driver Justin Wilson died last year after being hit by debris in a U.S. Indycar crash while Frenchman Jules Bianchi suffered ultimately fatal head injuries at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
Bianchi's family announced, through British lawyers, on Thursday that they were planning to sue the governing FIA, Formula One Group and the Frenchman's former Marussia team.
Button said the drain cover smashed his car's front wing, suspension, brake intake and damaged the floor.
He acknowledged that Monaco, the sport's showcase race, has an excellent safety record with highly-trained marshals who pride themselves on reacting immediately to situations and removing debris.
"It is one of those things, it hits the car and you think nothing of it," said the sport's most experienced current driver who is also a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA).
"But when you actually get back and think about it, if it (the cover) was another foot or two in the air it could have been a lot worse. That didn't happen, but we have to think that it possibly could have happened.
"It is not something you expect to happen and we can't have it happen again."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)