F1 Winter Break
Heidfeld’s chassis written off in air bottle explosion
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Aug 2011   |  9:04 am GMT  |  52 comments

To follow up the post after the Hungarian Grand Prix regarding the explosion on Nick Heidfeld’s LRGP car, which aroused great interest from readers, the team’s investigation has now been completed and the results found.

The simplest thing is to let technical director James Allison explained what happened:

Three days after the incident on Nick’s car, has the team identified the reason why it caught fire after the pitstop?
Allision: “As with most accidents, several incidents combined to cause the fire that Nick suffered in Hungary. First of all, we ran a slightly different engine mapping strategy in qualifying, which produced hotter than normal exhausts. We believe that this elevated temperature and caused a preliminary crack in the exhaust pipe. We presume that the crack then propagated during the laps to the pitstop – this was not evident to us as we believe that the failure occurred upstream of the place where we have a temperature sensor. We believe that Nick then came in with a partially failed exhaust. This pitstop took longer than normal, the engine was left at high rpm for 6.3 sec, waiting for the tyre change to be completed. Under these conditions, a lot of excess fuel always ends up in the exhausts and their temperature rises at around 100°C/sec. This temperature rise was enough to finish off the partially failed pipe and to start a moderate fire under the bodywork.”

There was an explosion shortly after Nick got out of the car, on the left. What was it?
Allison: “This was caused by the air bottle which supplies the air valves in the engine. It has overheated in the fire and failed.”

Will you have to modify the car before Spa and if yes, is the August factory shutdown a handicap?
Allison: “The incident was highly undesirable, as it has caused us to write off a chassis. We will take steps prior to the next race to reduce the likelihood of a further fire and to ensure that the air bottle cannot overheat. We are in touch with the FIA both to provide them with a full report of the incident and also to explain to them the actions we are taking to prevent a reoccurrence (sic).”

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

Dipswitch – Read my comments back and then explain to me how you expect an F1 race to take place without risk. Then if thats not enough explain to me how you propose to mitigate the risk before you describe my comment as ludicrous.

I eagerly await your response.

Brooke Fairbanks

“We presume that the crack then propagated during the laps to the pitstop – this was not evident to us as we believe that the failure occurred upstream of the place where we have a temperature sensor.”

If the exhaust crack was UP stream of the temp sensor, wouldn’t the sensor show a lower temp because exhaust gases were escaping ahead of the sensor?


Big mistake : they must use powder extinguisher instead of foam fire extinguisher.


any truth in the rumor that it was the KERS battery pack that exploded ?


Erm…. Read the article?


Has anyone commented on the madness of towing the dead car the wrong way up the pit lane? I have never seen anything like that, imagine if Vettel had hit the truck!


Agree with you on that one.

Incidentally, to cross over from another thread, would the fire have broken out during Heidfeld’s pitstop if the engine had been cut coming into the pitlane and he’d been running on KERS only (as per future plans) ?


Well, at least it looks that improvements have been investigated and will not to go back, at least not as the explosion happens, because the temperature increase for a stop excess … I see it more difficult.


Firstly the air bottle will have contained just compressed natural air, not oxygen, so will not need to be as highly resistant to fire, even so the bottle will be tiny as very little air will be required to do the movements which it enables the car to do.

the blast looks big as it is air being force onto the flames which obviously make the flames leap.

Secondly, no matter what they do this is something which is unpredictable as they cant test during the season so cannot test each and every engine map possible on the car to check for problems which may occur, now this has happened its something they can look at.

These cars run at extreme temps, so fires are a likelyhood of the sport, hence why all the team wear fireproof jackets. Stop being so one way looking with blinkers on. You could say anything about anything such as well buttons wheel came off. why didnt they do this, whny dont they do that? etc etc.


Oxygen, air , nitrogen make no difference. if you overheat a pressurised vessel with no means of relief eventually it will fail. the design of the bottle to relieve at excess temperature doesnt need any on car testing – just a properly designed vessel by the manufacturer who almost certainly wasn’t the team.

Adam’s remarks are ludicrous “Unlucky Renault/Marshall – better luck next time – end of story”. Next time it could just as easily be worse luck and some gets killed.


It doesn’t contain air — it contains nitrogen, which is inert. It’s used to pressurise the valves instead of using springs.


Agree wholeheartedly with these comments – sad that nowadays the instant reaction from people is who is to blame rather than how can we learn from this

Unlucky Renault/Marshal – better luck next time – end of story


This is the second fire that LRGP have had, is it not the case now that they are pushing the engine or components beyond there capability and potentially putting the driver at risk. The first explosion happened in the pit lane and yet they didn’t stop am I the only person who thinks that was wrong?


Yes they are pushing very hard! That is why they are in F1.


Presumably the airbottle didn’t have a pressure relief valve or burst disc designed to relieve excess pressure if it overheated. if so why not? Most design standards for pressure vessel have this requirement – to not include such a facility is poor design in the extreme and it was fortunate that the marshall who was injured in the blast wasn’t killed FIA regs should require all pressure vessels on the cars have suitable over pressure protection


You talk about pressure relief/safty valves etc., but there’s every possability the pressure did not increase at all, (so a relief valve would have done nothing), but the air bottle was probably weekened by the heat, and also don’t forget that strange things occur when someone sprays cold stuf on hot things!

Come on Guys, let’s just get on with the racing and forget all the red tape and finger pointing! While I accept that there are some very clever couch potatoes out there, I wouldn’t presume to tell any F1 engineers how to build there cars!



“Weakened by the heat” but the pressure didn’t go up? No possible – heat it and the pressure goes up – full stop.


And how do we know the marshal dosen’t have a permanent limp caused while playing a really dangerous game like school boy football?

I noticed that he didn’t look down at his leg, which I thought a bit odd because it’s a natural reaction to check the area that’s just been hurt/hit by hot gass/flying debris.



It would be nice to have a pressure release valve but not sure releasing oxygen under pressure into a hot environment, let alone a naked flame is a good thing!


God the health and safety routine again – some people have no idea what they are watching on TV – its a balls out, hairy dangerous and totally spine tingling form of entertainment.

The FIA should have done this and that, the designers should have known this and that – utter nonsense born from the worst kind of argument – hindsight

The FIA & designers have made the sport much safer through learning from mistakes and some forward thinking but its still undeniably potentially lethal – and always will be

That marshal gave his time to be involved because he bought into this ideal. I bet he is at home now with a massive bruise and a massive smile on his face. Good on him.


No F1 marshal is there expecting to be injured by a poorly designed piece of kit that could so easily have caused a worse outcome. As it is I don’t see anything in this Renault PR response indicating any concern for what happened to him.


Why would Renault express concern, especially as Adam, the Renault mouth piece, keeps saying the marshal should be happy the car almost blew his leg off.



Again – you have cited poor design without any idea what you are talking about.

You have also slighted the intelligence of the Marshal in my opinion – do you think for a single second that a person who volunteers for such a role does not expect to be placed in any danger? lets explore this further by saying when you sign up for the army you didn’t expect to be placed in harms way.

– Saying the risk was worse by poor design is a kneejerk reaction based on hindsight – if anyone could have predicted the fire might happen then the car would not be on the track


Having pressure relief on a pressure vessel is a very basic thing, not what I would characterise as health and safety gone mad.

To be honest I’d be surprised if there wasn’t already some sort of pressure relief in place. It could have failed to operate for some reason, or perhaps due to combination of circumstances the vessel failed below its design pressure.


I could understand how system was designed without pressure release..

The system is pressured in the pits.. where it can be measured…. and the pressure is bleed off during the race….. there is no (on board) pumps to increase pressure…. Fire does not happen in F1.


Adam, I’m struggling to understand your reply. What judgement do you think I’ve made based on the TV footage?

Having pressure relief on a pressurised system *is* a basic thing, and I *would* be surprised if a professional engineer had designed any high pressure system, including ones on formula one cars, without some consideration for pressure relief. Those are just general statements, not based on any TV footage of anything.


I hate to say it but you have made an instant judgement based on TV footage.

How do you know the design of the pressure vessel? are you involved in the design of the system?

I would really like to see how you would propose to build a competitive F1 car incorporating and testing every system to withstand every eventuality of safety.

As i have said it is all too easy to apportion blame after the fact – its a sad characteristic of the modern world

Health and safety is becoming all to prevalent here i’m afraid it stifles the whole ethos of competitiveness – and before you start bleating about saving lives and peoples rights lets remember why the sport is so inspirational and what the rewards for risk are.

Do not pass judgement unless you know the facts.


I’m sure i’m not alone in wondering how the poor sod in cotton trousers and wellies who was trying to put the fire out is?! Did he get a lump of molten “air bottle” in the leg? In fact the whole scene looked VERY dangerous..as they towed the Renault back up the pit-lane Vettel was SIDEWAYS under acceleration just metres away..numerous marshalls were on the track and moving up and down the pit exit. The organisers were riding their luck!


Get a grip! Have you never seen WRC? The spectators make up the stage in some events! I say good on the organisers for not bringing the health and safety man to this race! You must remember these drivers are some of the best in the world.


Thought the engine map changes were banned between qualifying and race since Valencia.


They are, so you need a map which works for both and they’ve been evolving this


Ya, read it again, the wording caught me out. “we ran a slightly different engine mapping strategy in qualifying” they meant the same was used in the race not a different map.

So they were trying to use their more aggressive closer to qualifying spec mapping. At least they know better were the limits are now!


I think the Fire coming from Oil radiator!

Latest report about the Hamilton moves to Ferrari – http://www.formula1onlive.com/2011/08/hamilton-refused-to-rule-out-future.html


Alonso has a five year contract at Ferrari. After 2007 can you see a team wanting to pair those two together?


i know it ended up very bad for the team but for the me i loved alonso and hamilton knocking 7 bells out of other every other weekend that year. one of my favourite years in f1 that. can remember the swimming pool chicane at monaco that year when they were both on it from the start of q1 till the end of the race. both were rally driving through there. made the hairs on back of my neck stand up. was better than hamilton creaming heikki the next 2 years anyways.


Well, it is risky, and I don’t really think it is going to happen, but it is tempting to consider it. Both Hamilton and Alonso are more mature now, and they have much more respect for each other (it seems so in their talks to the press). Most of the problems in 2007 were probably management faults, anyway. And Ferrari would get one of the most talented drivers in the grid and, even better from their point of view, they would deprive McLaren of him. And fans would love to have them in the same team again :).


Not sure about the Hamilton being more mature part…. his words have caused him some problems this year.


Luca Di Montezemolo calls the shots at Ferrari not Stefano Domenicali. In the past Luca was adamant that when Schumacher was past it in 2005 he had to sign Kimi Raikkonen for 2007 because Jean Todt would not have Alonso drive for him due to him refusing an offer back in 2001.

Schumacher was told by Luca as early as Sep 2005 that 2007 if Kimi joins it will be on equal terms.

When Luca saw a very lacklustre and demotivated Kimi in 2009 with a poor Ferrari. He got Alonso when he could. Luca attempted to make noises about Vettel before this season before Red Bull laid down a hands off approach with a new deal

Since then Alonso has signed a 5 year contract and it is clear he is the NO 1 at Ferrari.

Hamilton will only replace him if Luca thinks Alonso is not delivering which he is at the moment and appears to have Luca’s backing.

the deal open that Hamilton is waiting on is possibly Red Bull given Webber’s position is not definite and surely Red Bull will not risk putting one of the STR drivers. Despite what Lewis said early in the season about Red Bull..thats the seat every driver wants and until Webber’s position is decided everyone is playing a waiting game

Lewis has a better chance of being world champion at Mclaren than being in the same team as Alonso.


It wouldnt work, they have different driving styles. Raikkonen proved how much that can hinder you.


I’m a bit surprised by the apparent low quality of the air bottle. Commercially available compressed cylinders for diving and medical use are specifically designed to remain intact in fires and during fire fighting.


I doubt the commercially available bottle are made from unobtanium, micron thin and most likely weigh less than amount of paper needed to print this comment.


Yes, but they are heavy.


“Yes, but they are heavy.”

So is a coffin which contains a marshal or a driver.


Lets hope it doesn’t happen again.


I’m wondering how Boullier will spin this to blame Heidfeld…


He will probably accuse him of being “arrogant” and then try telling us that the new Industrie Boulllier air bottles would never have exploded.


he already did – the revs were too high during the pitstop –


Not a fan of Nick but it’s hardly his fault when they took so long to get the wheel on. He has to have the revs up and ready to go.


I thought trick quali engine maps were banned?


No, just changing the mapping between qualy and the race is band, so the mappingthey ran in qualy they raced with and caused the fire.


I thought the same at first but read it again.

“we ran a slightly different engine mapping strategy in qualifying”

He didn’t actually say it was changed for the race and it was that more aggressive map carried into the race that helped do the harm.

A old post talks about this but a bit outdated now http://www.f1revs.com/2011/06/why-is-red-bull-so-fast-in-qualifying.html


Quali maps are banned. They changed engine mapping to better suit for quali and they ended up with problems in the race because of that.

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