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A new take on Heidfeld’s Renault explosion
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 Aug 2011   |  2:29 pm GMT  |  141 comments

One of the more extraordinary moments of the Hungarian Grand Prix was the fire and subsequent explosion on Nick Heidfeld’s Renault following his pit stop.

This was the second fire for the German this year. He had just made a stop in which he was delayed and the sidepods caught fire.

“In his second pit stop we had a problem with one of the wheel nuts meaning that the car was sat at high revs for a long time, ” explained LRGP chief race engineer Alan Permane. “This meant a build-up of heat which caused a fire. Although it looked spectacular it was only a small part of bodywork which burnt on the left-hand sidepod.”

This video, shot by a spectator, shows the incident far more clearly than the race pictures.

Renault have not mentioned the explosion in any official communications, nor said what caused it. Paddock speculation was that it could have been a KERS battery, but Renault have said “no 100%” to this today. They are carrying out an internal investigation.

Engineers say that the high pressure air system is also housed around there and there are other high pressure hoses which would blow the side of the car out if the pressure was released quickly.

It makes uncomfortable watching from the point of view of the fire marshal, who is hit by some debris from the explosion. This may well prompt a review of packaging to avoid a repeat of the incident.

It shows how hot everything runs with modern F1 cars and with exhausts exiting at the front of the sidepods, how close to the edge these things run.

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Latest comment from James Alison of Renault to update my blog post…

Full story here


There was a time when F1 cars had an engine at the front and the exhaust went to the back.

Now we have engines at the back and exhausts at the front…………!

Close shave, but an accident waiting to happen it seems.

Ban boosted aero I’d say, then ban exotic aero all together.


looks ridiculously unsafe:

– risk to marshals and to trackside fans (unprotected explodable device)

– the ongoing race, and cars passing by made it impossible for the marshals to properly attack the car with their extinguishers.

this was a safety car moment.

also the absence of packaging and safety rules on this part of the car…

i say away with these exhaust formats!


As a fire fighter we deal with car fires all the time and seeing a small explosion like this is not unusual. Its the reason why traditionally never ever move closely around wheels and suspension parts.

However with the onset on “green” technology the danger factor is increasing massively. LPG and high voltage cables and battery packs are increasingly presenting huge problems for the fire service. With no external signs of LPG conversions (especially if engulfed in flame) explosions are a lot worse and more common than this minor incident! 1.35min


The fire marshall was also wearing a plastic raincoat for heaven’s sake. Has no one learnt the lessons of Roger Williamson’s fatal accident in 1973?????


Respect goes to the Marshalls. He was really close when it exploded with an obvious limp. Hope all is well with him.

There’s always room of improvement to make it safer for the Marshalls. Brings back to mind Heikki’s spectacular fire in Singapore last year.


The danger to the marshals here is too reminiscent of that dreadful main straight incident that claimed the life of both the marshall and driver, Tom Price, during the 77 South African GP. No chances should be taken with marshals safety. None at all. Ever!


Gotta be honest when I saw it live I was convinced it was a KERS battery explosion. The site of the source and the colour of the explosion pretty much confirmed it


The danger is still the same,


Its the sudden plume of browny smoke after the explosions that makes me think of a battery fire.


I use high powerlitium batteries for RC Buggy racing and the fire looked very similar to a lithium battery fire.

Ican only imagine how much bigger the F1 batteries are. A nitrogen bottle would just explode, this looked a sustained localisedd fire source to me.

Do the FiA have the authority impound or examine the car or to see ant analysis doen by the team?


A safety car would have been stupid as it would have brought cars into the pits, actually making things more dangerous. They should have just closed the pitlane until it was recovered. With no refueling this is a much more sensible option than in previous seasons as you’re not going to see cars running out of fuel on-track.

Regarding cars heading down the straight as the marshals were recovering the car; I really don’t see any problem with this. The racing line was on the other side of the straight. and given the section was under yellows* there was no reason for any car to deviate from this. Flying bodywork would have lost pretty much all it’s speed by the time it had crossed the track, so I think the only real dangers would be from tyre blowouts, suspension failure, or front/rear wing failure, and even these would be unlikely to threaten the marshals.

*I was surprised the yellow flag zone didn’t end after the corner actually seems to me to be a lot safer.


Jeremy, you were obviously either a marshall, Heidfeld, Vettel, or one of the drivers who exited the pits. Read my comments before you suggest deploying a safety car is “stupid”. F1 dodged a bullt at Hungary.


Safety car would result in many more cars coming through the pits as they use the opportunity to change tyres. You think this is a good idea? Maybe you should read more than just the first line of comments before replying!

Much wiser simply to close the pitlane. You could have the pitlane closed AND the safety car, but with the pitlane closed I don’t feel there is a need for the safety car. The racing line was on the other side of the track, there were yellows, and they weren’t quite close enough to the braking zone for turn 1.


Unfortunately drivers often don’t respect yellow flags as they should. In this case there was a pass under yellow in that spot.

In more than a few cases drivers have gone off track or even crashed under yellows. Yes, sometimes conditions have been appalling but there should be no excuse.

While there hasn’t been a driver death since 1994, two marshals have died.

With the all the money that goes around in F1 business, they could easily afford better equipment for marshals as well as hire more professionals for the job.


A review of the marshals might be better, getting that close to a burning car seems rather brave or silly.

17 everyone has pointed out, the explosion, a possible battery fire. toxic smoke..let the thing burn. Not worth a human injury to save a car, no matter what its worth.

A reminder of the dangerousness of this sport comes from many angles..and to more than just the drivers.

To me this is a much worse risk of human life and limb then Hamilton’s spin that has everyone so worked up. Suprised they didnt give Petrov a drive through for it.


The truth is that fire extinguishers seemed a joke. Any misfortune could have happened to a commissioner.


a lot of people are commenting on the fact there was no safety car during this incident which i can understand as there were marshals on track at a high speed section nonetheless. But my view on it was if the SC was deployed the first thing that would happen is every driver would be heading for the pits for ultimately what is a free pitstop. As the renault was parked on the pit exit you would have nearly every car on the track pass precariously close to it and the marshals, then there is the possibility of drivers crossing the pit exit white line to avoid debris while other cars are at full speed coming down the straight. I think the marshals handled it very well considering (apart from reversing up the pitlane) An aside from that, i am a firefighter and i cringed watching the marshals attack that fire with very little protective clothing but most of all no eye protection, very lucky guys after the car went pop! could have been much more serious if it weren’t for luck!


It looks like the marshalls need some training on how to use the extinguishers to put out the fire. It always used to be dry powder to knock down the flames and then Foam to stop the Oxygen getting in, thereby quelling it completely.


There are a lot of risks you take being a motorsport marshal, sadly in this ‘Youtube era’ one of the biggest risks is criticism from critics who, to be fair to them, have never experienced an on track situation.

The physical risk is minimised by training, experienced incident officers covering your back and experience.

Maybe powder would have been more effective than foam in this instance, but if all you have is foam then that’s what you use.

What’s your take on UK marshals James?


They are great!


I’m too glad Michael Bay isn’t the Team Principal of Renault F1!


I’d like to understand the safety car decision here – is there a clear definition of what conditions prompt a safety car?

My gut said this was an SC-class incident as soon as the explosion occurred, with debris being strewn across the track and a car on fire.

Watching them pull the car back into the pits afterwards, with pit traffic still bearing down on them at (is it 100km/h at the Hungaroring?) was scary, even from the high TV angle.

Which got me thinking: is the SC rule set not published because it’d give teams too much information, or is it because it’s just Charlie’s call?

And: I don’t recall seeing the actual explosion and marshal getting hit on the TV feed, just the aftermath (might’ve missed it during a commercial break in AU though).


This incident causes grave misgivings, both as to car design and as to the safety response.

Sorry, but these forward facing exhausts are no safer than the exposed pipes of the front-engined GP and Indy roadster eras. Worse, actually, because of the number of ancillary systems that can and do add pyrotechnics to the situation. Ban FFE, now.

It’s also disturbing that in crash or fire situations, the F1 safety response, including deployment of the safety car, so often appears to be slow, indecisive and/or uncoordinated. Due respect to the pioneering efforts of Sid Watkins, Louis Stanley and Jackie Stewart (and the ongoing safety efforts in F1), crash response procedures in F1 appear to have fallen behind those in Indycar (and before it, CART). In EVERY case, road course or oval, the Indycar safety teams are on the scene immediately, in numbers, with firefighters, paramedics and doctors – often before the race car stops moving after the crash.

James, maybe you can do a piece on the hows and whys of F1 safety procedures compared to other series. Does F1 follow the template in Indycar and CART? My understanding is that Indycar has multiple units, each with firefighters and paramedics, positioned at various locations around a given track, insuring that a full response team will deploy immediately and arrive without delay. They are as well-drilled as any pit crew. And these safety squads, the entire complement (not just the doctors and field hospital personnel), travel to every race, period. So fire fighting isn’t simply left to the marshals and corner workers, who may vary from track to track. I think that a full Indycar safety team would have been stationed near the pit lane at the Hungaroring, and would have swarmed in to assist Heidfeld and put out the fire.

(Note: recognizing their importance, the entire CART safety unit had a title sponsor during the early and mid-1990s: Simple Green Cleaning Products, hence, “The Simple Green Safety Team.”)

I remember watching, horrified, when Ralph Schumacher crashed at Indy some years ago as it took – if I recall, and somebody correct me if I’m wrong – something of the order of two minutes before the F1 safety team reached him. At the time, Max Mosely made remarks to the effect that telemetry indicated that there was no serious problem and, therefore, no need to rush getting there.

Compare that to the CART safety response to Alex Zanardi’s horrifying accident in Germany. Yellow flag immediately. They didn’t wait. They didn’t “check telemetry” to tell them the seriousness of the injury. They went right away, got there even as the car stopped moving, and saved Zanardi’s life – even though both of his legs had been severed.

Racing is inherently dangerous. Improving safety in ALL forms of racing is an ongoing challenge and responsibility for those who participate in, and govern, the sport. If this latest Renault incident spurs rule changes (get rid of FFE) and prompts F1 to examine other series for ways to improve safety and adopt some of those ideas (example: the HANS device was firmly established in Indycar well before it was adopted in F1), some good will come of the events of this weekend.


With turbocharged engines, we can expect these cars to run a lot hotter.


James, would the changes to the blowen defuser have anything to do with it?


Why was the safety car not deployed?


I thought the fire and explosion were pretty cool, all these people fussing about safety of the car are ignoring the fact these cars are inheritly dangerous, they routinely go really fast toward concrete barriers all the time, a bit of danger is good! What did concern me greatly was the lack of a safety car while marshalls were on track, that is unacceptable, those guys lives were at real risk for what?


“This meant a build-up of heat which caused a fire. Although it looked spectacular it was only a small part of bodywork which burnt on the left-hand sidepod.”

I would hate to see a large fire then!

The marshall was lucky to hobble away to be honest, then there was the farcical scene of towing it back down the pit lane, causing vettel to narrowly miss the tow truck.


What is also worrying James is when they removed the car from the track they used a tow truck and drove up the exit to the pit lane causing Vettel to make some emergency maneuvers when exiting from his stop. Watch it back. It wasn’t mentioned in commentary cause I thought it was highly dangerous and could have caused a serious accident

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