Refuelling not a cause for concern

Ferrari's refuelling fire during Michael Schumacher's pit stop in the Austrian Grand Prix has inevitably sparked a wave of comments about safety issues, but so far it's deemed to be not a cause for concern. It has been a long time since such an...

Ferrari's refuelling fire during Michael Schumacher's pit stop in the Austrian Grand Prix has inevitably sparked a wave of comments about safety issues, but so far it's deemed to be not a cause for concern.

It has been a long time since such an event occurred in F1 -- in the mid-nineties Eddie Irvine and Pedro Diniz suffered fuel fires and the most frightening was when Jos Verstappen's Benetton was engulfed by flames in the pits during the 1994 German GP. Verstappen and mechanics escaped serious injury.

Schumacher's incident was much less dramatic but could have been worse. However, the German remained calm while the pit crew quickly extinguished the flames. Former F1 driver and sometime BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger said it's easy to raise safety issues with hindsight but refuelling is not a worry.

"You can always say after something happens that it wasn't safe enough. Of course it is a moment of danger," Berger told the BBC. "But on the other hand we have had refuelling for a long time and it has always been possible to handle it. So safety-wise so far it shouldn't be too much to be worried about."

"Yesterday there was not really a danger. Everything was ready and even Michael was calm just sitting and seeing if it continued and he needed to get out or if it was going out."

Former champion and ex-Jaguar boss Niki Lauda, who suffered severe burns in an accident in 1976, was full of praise for the way Ferrari handled the problem and said Schumacher would be well aware that his protective overalls would withstand the flames as they were.

"It was sensational how Ferrari handled the incident," he told Swiss newspaper Blick. "First, they had refuelling problems, and then the fire. Usually the Italians panic in such situations. This time they remained cool and solved it perfectly, just like Michael did in the car."

"Michael knew that his overalls would hold the fire much longer than the ones I had in my days. He could have stayed in the cockpit for much longer before he would look like me."

McLaren boss Ron Dennis was slightly more concerned that the fire should not have started in the first place: "Technically that shouldn't be able to happen," he commented. "It is a little bit strange because the way the systems work, it effectively shouldn't be possible for there to be any fuel leakage."

Ferrari boss Jean Todt admitted he was worried the engine might blow up if the flames had got any worse but praised the pit crew for their quick actions in stopping the fire. He does not think there is a problem with refuelling, although it's always possible to improve on things.

"You know if you take the number of times you refuel and the number of times you have problems, I think the result is quite good," he commented. "I'm against criticizing systematically, I think we have to understand the job which is done to achieve what they do in refuelling and respecting the job doesn't mean that you cannot improve."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Jos Verstappen , Michael Schumacher , Niki Lauda , Jean Todt , Pedro Diniz
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Benetton