February 16, 2013

A Thousand Words?

If you think about Formula 1 history, 1994 is pretty much considered the grimmest year ever.  That's because of that horrible weekend at Imola which saw the death of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, and the near-fatal wreck of then-rookie Rubens Barrichello.  What often goes uncommented upon in that year was the incredibly fortunate escape of the Benneton team at the Grand Prix of Germany.

1994 saw the reintroduction of refueling, banned since 1983 from the sport.  Even before the season began, teams were concerned about the pressurized fuel rigs to be used.  The rigs could fill an empty tank in just a matter of seconds, but everybody was concerned about the consequences of a spill or malfunction.  Through the first eight races, there had been no incidents, and perhaps the teams were feeling a little more comfortable now.  On lap 15 of the German Grand Prix, Benneton's Jos Verstappen brought his B194 in for a regular pit stop: tires and fuel.  Unbeknownst to the FIA, the team had tinkered with their refueling rig, removing a fuel filter and in the process upping the flow by an additional 10%.  Everything seemed to be going fine, until the man on the hose moved it around slightly.  The nozzle seemed to pop out of the fuel tank, spraying an estimated four liters of gasoline around the car in an instant.  It took no time at all for the inevitable to occur.

Just as quickly as it happened, it was over.  While a few of the mechanics went to the hospital, nobody was seriously injured; Verstappen, caught in the middle of the whole thing, suffered a burn to his nose when some fire got into his slightly-opened visor.  Steve Matchett, one of the voices of SPEED's Legendary Announce Team, was the rear jack man for Benneton at the time.  His burning firesuit was extinguished by members of the McLaren team, and he suffered no injuries.  The fire did give us one of the truly outstanding photographs, not just of F1 or motorsports, but perhaps of all photography.

1994 was a terrible year for Formula 1, but it could have been so much worse.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:49 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 It's neat (understandable but neat) how people from other teams all swarmed in to help. That's how it should be.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at February 17, 2013 12:04 AM (+rSRq)

2 Whenever I see a picture like that last one, I always hope the people are holding their breath. If someone inhaled in a situation like that they'd get a lung full of flames, and then they're either dead or hopelessly crippled for life because of lung damage.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at February 17, 2013 12:06 AM (+rSRq)

3 Just remember: nobody seriously injured.  Just keep repeating that when you're looking at that picture.  For the record, the man's name is Paul Seaby, and he's now the Team Manager for Lotus F1.

Posted by: Wonderduck at February 17, 2013 12:26 AM (o6/9L)

4 I seem to recall a similar incident in  Indy car racing.  The next generation of nozzles included improved interlocks, and the ring handle also had water jets that would hose off any spilled fuel as it was pumped.

Still, I hope the guy who modified the nozzle was... fired.

Posted by: Mauser at February 17, 2013 07:21 PM (cZPoz)

5 Nope.  This is F1, and the team principal was Flavio Briatore.  He undoubtedly gave him a commendation.  After all, Benneton was suspected of having secret (and illegal) launch and traction control software on Michael Schumacher's car that year, too.

(Yes, I saw the pun.  I ignored it.)

Posted by: Wonderduck at February 17, 2013 08:09 PM (o6/9L)

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