Refuelling rig fires and failures hit race

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.

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35 comments on Refuelling rig fires and failures hit race

  1. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2008, 9:45

    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.

  2. Kester said on 4th August 2008, 11:33

    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.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2008, 11:49

    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.

  4. Kester said on 4th August 2008, 12:28

    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.

  5. Phil B said on 4th August 2008, 16:30

    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.

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2008, 16:41

    Phil – I think that would be the quickest way of making refuelling less reliable, more dangerous and more expensive. The teams would be trying to increase fill rates to crazy speeds and there would inevitably be more problems. If one company with 15 years’ experience making rigs for ten-plus teams can’t get it right, then each team working on their own won’t do any better.

  7. Phil B said on 4th August 2008, 16:51

    Keith: Couldn’t disagree more. The teams are already responsible for one half of the refuelling system: The fuel tank, the valve and everything else downstream from the nozzle. How many times does that brake? Hardly ever.

    Why do the team created cars only explode in fireballs when they are connected to the FIA created rig?

    Cars that explode cause the loss of staff and victories. No team wants to do that. The ‘one company with 15 years experience’ isn’t exposed to competition, that’s why it can’t get it right.

    Do you really think it’s that difficult to quickly refuel a car? I don’t.

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2008, 16:57

    If they still have to stick to a certain fill rate limit then maybe I can see your point, but I still think it would be more expensive than having a single supplier.

    But then I’m not interested in making refuelling better, I’m interested in getting rid of it!

  9. Phil B said on 4th August 2008, 17:08

    I actually wouldn’t mind if they got rid of it, after all it is a little artificial but I think most of the problems people are bringing up could be fixed by letting the teams have control of the rigs. It would be easy to limit the flow rate by simply checking the fuel level in the bowser before and after and dividing by rig-to-car-contact-time.

    My biggest frustration is that races are affected so frequently by something outside of the team’s control. To me it’s like advertising hoardings falling down and taking out competitors every other race or so…..

    Also it seems strange to me that of all the complex problems solved by the teams this one is beyond them because of an FIA statute that has so clearly and spectacularly failed to deliver its aim of ‘safety’ for 15 years.

    If the teams can work out a way of sending an employee into a concrete wall at 150mph unscathed they can get ~60 litres of fuel into a tank in ~6 seconds.

  10. Polak said on 4th August 2008, 18:23

    I wonder if marketing has anything to do with refueling. Maybe the petrol sponsors like Shell want some action. A good idea for Bernie would be to allow the fuel providers to build the rigs. That way the announcer could say that a Shell rig just pumped a half a race of fuel in seconds.

    Bernie if you make money of of this cut me a small share.

    they made Bridgestone tires exciting with the two differently compounds and here is a way to make fuel exciting as well. Only thing is, what di you do if the rig kills someone. That would be a massive backfire.

  11. Robert McKay said on 4th August 2008, 19:34

    If we’re talking about real-world applications…the average person doesn’t need to fill a car tank in 8 seconds flat. They need a car that does 30% more miles to the gallon.

    Anyway, it doesn’t make the racing any more interesting. Maybe 10 years ago, when genuine different strategies were at play, but “the top 10 pitting a bit early, one or two laps apart, and the bottom 10 pitting later” isn’t strategy.

  12. Fuel Stops are all part of the strategy i love in F1, cars blazing down pit lane, what burns my but is the ‘Safety Car’ bs! keep the slower billboards off the track! OK max 3 laps, once the commentators start grumbling and complaining about the need and or amount of laps SC pulls.

  13. Kester said on 5th August 2008, 9:22

    Clearly what we need is to remove that crap where anyone qualifies on race fuel.

    There should be at max 4 laps of fuel in a car when it qualifies. That way we’d see real fuel stratagies again.

  14. Phil B said on 5th August 2008, 9:30

    Qualifying with race fuel is, since the demise of ‘fuel burn’, the most ridiculous aspect of F1.

    I actually like knock-out qualifying but the whole idea of building the tension through the session is hampered for me by the fact that they can frequently go faster in Q2 than Q3. What were they thinking when they brought that in?

  15. Sush said on 5th August 2008, 9:34

    just had an epiphany, which is probably way off base, but hey i shall share because i care x.

    at what point does the fuel used reach flashpoint?, and does the 5% biofuel make it EVEN MORE combustible?, also the 1% that they oil companies can change… does that increase the above as well!?

    also, the fuel goes into the F1 cars pretty much right next to the vented exhaust system, the hottest part of the car.

    So my point is, do certain teams use additives that make the fuel reach flashpoint at a lower temperature?

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