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Refuelling and pit lane fires - Safety concerns on filling up cars during a race

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

At the Hungarian Grand Prix we saw a few unexpected fires up and down the pit lane. The fuel rig used during pit stops for each team is a standard FIA approved rig, meaning they are all the same.

There are several theories for the small fires we saw, including the heat in the pit lane or a uniform malfunction of the rigs, but as yet we have had nothing confirmed.

The only official word on the phenomenon is from Williams and Toro Rosso who both say that it wasn't a fuel rig failure, but they don't clarify exactly what the problem was. Toro Rosso have confirmed that they have solved the problem and it won't happen again, so I imagine we should assume the rest of the teams have done the same.

This isn't the end of the story, though, as the problem has caused some serious worries about pit lane fires. The mixture of heat, fuel, and hurrying to be as quick as possible can cause errors which lead to fires, and these can sometimes be very dangerous and terrible. Luckily we only saw small fires that were easily controlled by the extinguishers, but David Coulthard in particular has spoken out.

Coulthard was a test driver in the days when refuelling during the race was banned, and so although he hasn't raced under such conditions, he believes the competition would be better off for it. Obviously the safety aspect would be improved dramatically, but he also says that refuelling has made the races boring and predictable.

Coulthard retires at the end of this year, but says he would like to see the racing return to the non-refuelling regulations. He says the extra weight in the car means drivers have to work harder to preserve their tyres for a whole race distance, and the 70 or so laps are more about craft than flat out speed.

It would be interesting to have the emphasis more on tyres, as we have already seen this year that some drivers fare better with their Bridgestones than others, and adding another element to their drivers craft can only be a good thing. Whether this idea will catch on or not remains to be seen, but with the banning of traction control, and a return to slick tyres, it wouldn't be the first time the regulations have returned to previous ideas.