F1: The Wild and Wacky World of the Pitbox – Part 2

Fuel escapes out of the Benetton refuelling rig during a Jos Verstappen's pit stop at the 1994 German Grand Prix. Seconds later, the Benetton was at the centre of a terrifying inferno; thankfully, no one suffered any major injuries. © Motorsport Images/LAT Images.

The evolution of the Grand Prix pit stop has been staggering in the history of the Formula One World Championship.

We’ve come a long way since driver changes occurred in the 1950’s.

Nowadays, we are seeing swift tyre changes and stops done in sub-two seconds. They are done almost as quickly as you blink in everyday life.

When they go well, pit stops are a piece of art. When they go wrong, they can go dreadfully wrong in a number of categories.

In Part 1, I looked at areas such as entering the pits, finding the correct garage and having all the wheels put on correctly. Now in Part 2, it’s time to go through the archives to revisit some more pit stop nightmares in Grand Prix history, from fires to red lights.

Flames Take Hold

A fireball explodes at the Benetton pit box, during a routine stop for Jos Verstappen during the 1994 German Grand Prix. © Motorsport Images/LAT Images.

In 1994, the FIA tried to spice up racing in Formula One through the introduction of refuelling.

There were some dangerous moments though when spilt fuel dropped onto hot exhausts and caused spectacular blazes.

Eddie Irvine, Gianmaria Bruni and even Michael Schumacher had this during their careers. But when we talk about refuelling fires, only one sticks in the mind of all F1 fans.

The 1994 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim had already seen half the field decimated in a first corner accident.

Jos Verstappen came into the pits from fifth place, having avoided the carnage after qualifying a lowly 19th.

The Benetton mechanics went to work when around three seconds in, fuel suddenly escaped from the fuel rig and sprayed all over the car.

The Benetton-Ford went up then in a dramatic fireball which sent shock waves throughout the sporting world.

Swift work from Benetton mechanics got the fire out relatively quickly. The fortunate Verstappen escaped with just minor burns, as did a few mechanics whose clothing caught alight in the blaze.

Talk of a fuel filter being removed to speed up the process, put the team in hot water with the governing body. The most important thing though was no one was seriously hurt in this terrifying incident.

Don’t Get Attached to the Pit Equipment

It is essential not to take any extra equipment when exiting the pit box. It could prove to be championship-defining.

One of the more light-hearted moments once again involved the Benetton team in the 1995 Spanish Grand Prix.

The rear jack remained attached to Johnny Herbert’s car as he pulled away from his second pit stop. It was some sight to see a race car heading down the pit lane with a jack attached to its gearbox!

Fortunately, the jack flew off on pit lane exit and no major damage was done to Herbert’s car as he went on to finish second as part of a Benetton 1-2.

Ferrari mechanics attempt to rescue the fuel hose from Felipe Massa’s car, after dragging it down the pit lane during a Safety Car period at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Image sourced from CNA.

There were more devastating consequences though for Felipe Massa in F1’s first-ever night race.

Pitting from the lead in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, Massa left the pits with the fuel hose still attached to his car. With the hose being dragged down the pits, the Brazilian pulled into the slow lane.

After serving Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari mechanics started furiously running down the pits to rescue the equipment. It still took an eternity to reach Massa, and eventually pulled the hose actually off the connector.

As a consequence, Massa finished a dispiriting last.

Replays showed though it wasn’t Massa’s fault. Ferrari were using a traffic light system instead of the standard lollipop, in an attempt to steal a march on their rivals.

Whoever operated the system pressed the green button before the refuelling was complete. This would become a major factor in denying Massa the 2008 Drivers’ Championship to Lewis Hamilton by a single point.

Accidents Do Happen

Accidents can happen in the pit lane and make it a dangerous place to be.

During the horrendous weekend at Imola in 1994, the Minardi of Michele Alboreto lost a rear wheel as he charged back into the race.

The errant wheel caused injuries to three Ferrari mechanics and one crew member from Lotus. Luckily, none of these injuries were serious.

It was enough for the FIA to bring in the mandatory pitlane speed limit for the next race in Monaco and has remained ever since.

We’ve seen mechanics hurt in unfortunate moments.

Ferrari’s Chief Mechanic Nigel Stepney is attended to after he is hit by Michael Schumacher’s car during the first refuelling stop of the 2000 Spanish Grand Prix. Stepney suffered ankle ligament damage as a result of the incident. Image sourced from bt.dk

At the 2000 Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari chief mechanic, Nigel Stepney badly damaged ankle ligaments. That was after Michael Schumacher was released by the lollipop man before the refuelling was complete.

Williams chief mechanic Carl Gaden sustained a broken foot at the same event two years later. His foot was partially run over by Juan Pablo Montoya. He released the Colombian, only to realise the refuelling wasn’t quite finished.

A few Williams mechanics also took nasty blows in Brazil in 2007. On his debut, Kazuki Nakajima arrived far too quickly into his box and wiped out several of his pit crew.

The team bravely battled on with the stop before being seen to by the medical team. Again, none of the injuries were of a serious nature.

The Hazardous Red Light

The 2005 Canadian Grand Prix was nothing short of a disaster for McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya. © Steve Etherington/LAT Photographic

A stop isn’t completed until the pit lane is cleared, the driver has released the speed limiter and returned to the track in a safe manner.

As we’ve seen on many occasions in Canada, the pit lane red light can change the course of a race.

Alessandro Nannini, Nigel Mansell, Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella are some of the drivers who’ve been black-flagged for exiting the pits too early over the years.

Two McLaren drivers have also come a cropper because of that pesky red light.

In 2005, Juan Pablo Montoya was livid after miscommunication with the pit wall meant he missed the pits as the Safety Car was deployed.

Because of this, he lost the lead to teammate Kimi Raikkonen and in a fit of rage, ignored the red light on pit exit.

Montoya stormed back into the Safety Car queue and aggressively cut in front of the lapped David Coulthard.

The Colombian’s actions were against the regulations and was subsequently disqualified from the race.

McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis defended his driver, saying the penalty was ‘incredibly severe.’

Kimi Raikkonen shows Lewis Hamilton the location of the red light, following a bizarre crash in the pits which ended their 2008 Canadian Grand Prix. © PA

Three years later, he struggled to defended the actions of Lewis Hamilton. During another Safety Car period at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, Hamilton wasn’t expecting a red light at the pit lane exit.

Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen were waiting patiently, but Hamilton lost control of his bearings.

Caught out, he panicked and crashed into the back of Raikkonen, causing both to retire with terminal damage.

Rather than show his anger, a fairly calm Raikkonen pointed out Hamilton’s mistake on the short trip back to the garage.

Lastly…Listen to the Team

Arguably, the most fatal mistake is to not listen to you team as the pit stop phase looms ahead. That was a major error made by Jean Alesi in the 1997 season-opening race.

Alesi was in contention for a podium finish when his Benetton team asked him to pit for a scheduled stop.

Despite numerous calls on his radio, the Frenchman continued to ignore the instructions. On Lap 34, the inevitable happened and he crawled to a halt on the grass.

The rest of the story is left to Murray Walker:

“And if Alesi has run out of fuel.  I could you an Anglo-Saxon expression here and you see by the body language of the Benetton mechanics that they are Ab. So. Lutely. FURIOUS!!!!!”

“Oh Jean, you’re got a major problem when you get back to the pits sunshine!”

Unsurprisingly, Alesi left Benetton at the end of the season.

On many occasions, a race can be won and lost in the pit lane. Additionally, this crucial element can also play a major role in deciding the outcomes of world championships.

The wild and wackiness of the F1 pit stop will always remain. It has certainly provided some intriguing and desperate tales over the years.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Siwri88