Refuelling rig fires and failures hit race

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Several drivers had their Hungarian Grand Prix spoiled by problems with the refuelling equipment – which worryingly caused a number of fires.

Sebastien Bourdais, Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg were among the drivers affected. But what was the cause of the problems?

Sebastien Bourdais was the first to suffer a problem when he pitted on lap 31. Fuel leaked from the vale and caught fire, and the team doused the car with extinguisher foam before sending him back on track again. It happened again at his second stop as well, as he explained afterwards:

It all went to hell at the first pit stop, as the guys had to use the fire extinguisher and I got a lot of foam on my visor.

It happened again at the second stop and this time I had foam inside and outside my visor and couldn’t see a thing so had to make another stop to get it cleaned.

Rubens Barrichello also suffered a fire when he pitted and the team had to switch to the reserve fuel rig to get fuel into the car.

Team boss Nick Fry suggested the problem was caused by the heat at the Hungaroring causing leftover fuel in the system to expand, causing the valve to malfunction. But although the temperature was above 30C, it’s not unusual for F1 races to be held in hotter weather.

Honda had a problem with their fuel rig in the British Grand Prix as well, and afterwards Ross Brawn said Barrichello would have finished second that day (instead of third) without the delay.

Nico Rosberg was also delayed by a problem with his refuelling rig, although there was no fire.

I’ve never been a fan of refuelling – I think it brings nothing to F1 except for an added expense and safety hazard. To me this is just another good reason to get rid of it.

35 comments on “Refuelling rig fires and failures hit race”

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  1. if anyone at the fia was serious about cutting costs then re-fueling should have been the no brainer place to start. it’s the one thing that could be done without much effort on anyone’s part. how much does it costs to maintain and transport those rigs? or replace them? are they still using the original rigs or have they had to replace them over the years?

  2. Exactly, verasaki. If the FIA is so set on cutting costs, banning refuelling is one easy step. I have no idea why they aren’t doing this for next years big rule changes. Refuelling doesn’t add much suspense to the races it just takes the racing away from the racetrack. Imagine all the times where drivers had to fight for position in the past, but with refuelling there’s no point because they can just wait for the strategy to do its job.

  3. A couple of simple questions: How much fuel can these cars hold? Would the races have to be shortened if they were to ban refueling?

  4. Robert McKay
    3rd August 2008, 18:48

    “A couple of simple questions: How much fuel can these cars hold? Would the races have to be shortened if they were to ban refueling?”

    Wrong way round. Because refuelling has been allowed, the teams have increasingly designed their cars to have ever smaller fuel tanks for various reasons. If refuelling was banned again they’d redesign them so that they were large enough for whatever race distance the FIA told them to.

    Refuelling should be banned. As Keith says it adds little, and the frustration a team/driver must feel when the fuel rigs go wrong out of their control must make them want to scream.

  5. I’m totally against refuelling, but because the current set of rules refuelling can’t be banned. The current engines use about 210 litres of fuel per race, while most teams have a fuel tank size of no more than 100-110 litres. A ban on refuelling would require more fuel efficient engines, but due to the ‘engine freeze’ these engine can’t be developed.

  6. Formula One could (should?) do away with refuelling. And, with Bridgestone being the sole tyre manufacturer, they should get rid of tyre changes, too. That way all the action should take place on the track, by the drivers, in stead of in the pit lane by, as it seams, an ever increasing number of mechanics per car.

    Adding to that, the FIA could limit the fuel tank size each season to enforce fuel efficient racing, which is good for the environment-friendly image of F1, plus it should save costs.

  7. Robert McKay
    3rd August 2008, 19:29

    “Adding to that, the FIA could limit the fuel tank size each season to enforce fuel efficient racing, which is good for the environment-friendly image of F1, plus it should save costs.”

    I think Moto GP already does this, don’t they? Decrease the limit each season and making them more fuel efficient.

  8. Pedro Andrade
    3rd August 2008, 19:41

    I think you missed Nakajima, who also had a small fire as he was leaving the pits.

  9. There’s NOTHING wrong with re-fueling……a 100 other motorsport series re-fuel. Who’s going to run LeMans on a single tank of fuel? or the Indy 500. Crackers I’ve run kart races and re-fueled (during the race). NASCAR has figured out how to do it……..what’s wrong with US ??? There are reasons for the spills and fires……find the problems and correct them.

  10. Cyanide, the races wouldn’t need to be shortened unless Max, in his environmental-image-centred planning, decides to make the fuel tank limit too small.

    This rig problem needs fixing, whether future seasons feature refuelling or not. There are seven more races to go this season and this problem could reoccur with severe consequences if it isn’t fixed. Flash fires are no fun.

  11. number 38- are those other series using a rig that fuels at such a high output rate? the last i looked at nascar -and it’s been a while, admittedly, they were still using gravity feed. and even the old champ car series didn’t deliver fuel at the rate (i can’t recall what they used but i think it was a gravity based feed also)that f1 does and they had potential for some really serious damage since you couldn’t actually see the fuel burn.

    my point is that for f1 which doesn’t do a 500 miler, it’s always seemed rather like trying to jack up the drama than provide something necessary-and that in the case of f1 it’s an unnecessary expense.

  12. Unless F1 was to add enduro’s to the calendar (and I’d love to see that !) then I can’t see the point of refueling. I’m of the races-should-be-won-on-track school of thought.

  13. Wasn’t refuelling brought back into the sport in 1994 because drivers spent too much time trolling around trying to save fuel? Anyone who pushed for the full race distance would simply run out of juice. If refuelling was banned (again) I think it would reward efficiency over speed a little too much. I’d like to see the fastest driver win after pushing hard for 70 laps, rather than the most efficient driver win because he was able to best conserve his fuel. F1 should be about speed, not efficiency, and I thought that was part of the reason the FIA brought back refuelling eighteen years ago.

  14. Banning refueling just sounds silly in motorsports. Perhaps they can think of a more safer way to put fuel in the car. Speed TV says those things shoot 12 liters per second of fuel in the car. It needs to be the same for all, but does it need to be that fast? That might not be dangerous, but is it?

    Another question, IndyCars are fueled by ethonal, what does F1 use?

  15. Robert Mckay
    4th August 2008, 8:31

    “There’s NOTHING wrong with re-fueling”

    But what’s right with it?

    Le Mans is an endurance race that lasts 24 hours, the comparison is pointless.

    There’s no refuelling in GP2. Does anyone care? No they don’t. Does anyone think the main thing that’s holding back GP2 is the lack of petrol-filling action? Surely not.

  16. MartyP – No, refuelling was brought back in 1994 because the FIA thought it would make the racing better. At the time F1 had lost Nigel Mansell to Indy Car and Ayrton Senna had almost followed him in 1993, and Williams had dominated F1 in 1992 and 1993 with massive technical superiority. The governing body decided to bring in refuelling as was used in Indy Car (along with Indy-style safety car periods) because they though it would make everything better. It didn’t – 1994 was more competitive because many of the technologies Williams had mastered were banned.

    Drivers worrying about saving fuel was a problem in the ’80s when fuel management technology was in its infancy, turbos were thirsty, and fuel tank size was limited. Those technical challenges have been solved.

    SteveK – Why does it sound silly? Refuelling was banned for decades in F1. If it were banned again now there would still be pit stops as drivers would have to change tyres, but we wouldn’t get these silly refuelling rig faults that ruin people’s races and, 15 years after refuelling was brought back, they still haven’t found a way of fixing. It’s all an unnecessary complication that detracts from the racing.

  17. But we’d still get silly problems where a wheel nut refuses to go back on and ruins a drivers weekend.

    Also, surely it’s more economic to have a smaller amount of fuel in the car at any one time, rather than a full tank which grandually reduces over the race.

    Call me stupid, but I was under the understanding that you use more fuel to carry a larger weight than you would to carry a small weight the same distance.

    So in actuallity you use more fuel if you aren’t allowed to refuel due to the fact you need to burn more fuel to accelerate the weight of all the extra fuel you are carrying.

  18. Kester – true, although it seems there have been many more refuelling rig failures than wheel nut problems in recent years (I could be wrong, this is just my impression).

    But if we’re gonig to look into the economic case of banning refuelling we have to consider the massive expense of dragging two heavy refuelling rigs per team around the world. That must outweight the extra fuel used by having a heavier car at the start of a race.

    Besides which, the FIA could just mandate a maximum fuel tank size. By reducing the size from year to year they would have an effective way of containing speeds and showing the sport’s potential as a greenhouse for environmental technologies.

    The other good reason to ban refuelling would be that we could get rid of this silly race fuel qualifying nonsense. Qualifying just isn’t exciting since they brought that in.

  19. Refuelling tanks would still exist though, and they would most likely be the current machines. Otherwise how would they get the fuel into the car in the first place; Or splash a few extra laps in during qualifying?

    I understand what you are saying, and the point you are trying to make, but the economic reason doesn’t seem to exist to me.

    In regards to wheel issues and fuel issues. There has probably been a lot more wheel issues than fuel, but a wheel issue lasts all of a few seconds, in which the fuel is probably still going in anyhow. In the case of a fuel problem it invariably means a much larger delay given that the fuel is the part that takes the longest in an F1 pitstop.

    Regardless though, I’m not really that bothered if it stays or if it goes.

  20. Agree with Kester on the economic point. However for all those wanting to remove refuelling: there is another way to drastically reduce the number of errors with refuelling. Allow the teams to make their own refuelling rigs. I know this was originally prevented to increase safety but that’s been proven to be wrong, the rigs are the most dangerous bit of the whole pit stop.

    The teams are already motivated to put as much fuel into the cars as safely as possible, just let them do it.

    Of course the FAI would presumably lose a lucrative contract.

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