During the Hungarian Grand Prix, several teams experienced small flash fires from the fuel as they refuelled the cars during pitstops. On occasion a team may experience a small spillage of fuel over the engine cover, and as it reaches the rear where the hot exhausts are, it can ignite. However, the fuel rig is clever and as soon as it recognises it wants to be removed, it shuts off prior to removal. This prevents fuel leaking from the nozzle, but doesn’t prevent overfill. In these cases, often the driver just leaves the pits and the fuel burns up before the pilot deactivates the speed limiter. But at least three teams suffered probems in Hungary – is there a problem…?
Kazuki Nakajima, Rubens Barrichello and Sebastien Bourdais each felt the heat during their pitstops, the Scuderia Toro Rosso team covering their French driver in extinguisher foam. Nakajima drove away and no harm was done, but questions will be asked after the race and as safety is absolute paramount, concerns are justified. Honda have mooted that the heat in Budapest may have expanded the fuel, hence the overflow. But surely Formula One has visited hotter places than Hungary this season? What about Malaysia?
The fuel rigs are standard across all teams and while fires are rare, they can be very serious. Jos Verstappen was engulfed in flames during the 1994 German Grand Prix, but thanks to his fire-proof overalls, he only suffered minor burns to his nose (Jos lifted his visor slightly to get air during the stop). More recently, Felipe Massa had a fuel-fire during the 2007 Spanish Grand Prix. The rear of his car ignited a small spillage, but the Brazilian was released from the garage and the fire burned out by the the time he got to the end of the pitlane.
However, while drivers are rarely harmed from fire anymore, having at least three teams suffering problems in one race, the rigs and surrounding circumstances clearly need to be investigated. One question raised in the Live Blog was centred around refuelling itself: Does Formula One really need it? In other formulae, refuelling doesn’t exist and the racing is just as exciting. And of course, by banning refuelling we prevent any further complication from qualifying and race fuel, as we saw last season.
Do you think refuelling is an important part of Formula One, or do you think it should be outlawed? Have your say in the comments…