The world of Formula 1 has witnessed its fair share of dramatic moments throughout its rich history. One such incident that left an incredible mark on the sport occurred during the 1994 German Grand Prix. The race at Hockenheimring not only showcased the speed and skill of the drivers but also highlighted the inherent dangers of motor racing. This accident showed the world of motorsport the dangers behind refuelling and what could happen if something went wrong.
Background Behind the 1994 German Grand Prix
The 1994 Formula 1 season was plagued by tragedy, with the death of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola earlier in the year. Safety concerns were at the forefront of everyone’s minds, prompting a closer look at the sport’s regulations and the design of the cars. The 1994 German Grand Prix was to take place on July 31st 1994. This German Grand Prix would then go on to remind the world that danger still loomed on the track.
Jos Verstappen, (father of current Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen) was behind the wheel of the Benetton-Ford when the incident occurred. During a routine pit stop on lap 18, the fuel nozzle malfunctioned, causing a spray of highly flammable fuel onto the car. In a matter of seconds, Verstappen’s car became engulfed in flames. This was due to the heat of the car igniting the spilled fuel.
Chaos ensued as the Benetton crew and nearby marshals rushed to extinguish the fire. The severity of the situation was evident, and the fear for Verstappen’s safety gripped both the pit crew and spectators alike. Miraculously, Verstappen managed to escape the inferno, suffering only minor burns on his nose and right foot.
When interviewed about the incident Jos Verstappen said this –
“I remember coming in for what I thought was a regular pitstop. Sitting in the car, I would always open my visor because when I stood still I would sweat a lot, so as I came to a halt I opened my helmet to get some fresh air.”
“Then I saw the fluid coming. This was before I could smell anything, and that is why I was waving my arm. Then everything went up [in flames] and it was suddenly dark and black, and I couldn’t breathe. It was a situation you don’t normally think about: it is like you are suddenly put in a dark room, and then you think, ‘I need to get out..’”
“It was a struggle to get the steering wheel off, and that took me a couple of seconds. Then I had to release the belts. So there were a lot of things I had to do before I stood up and realised what had happened.”
The fire was put out within a matter of seconds, but there remained frantic scenes inside the Benetton garage as the team tried to get to grips with what had happened.
The Benetton crew even had to start getting ready for Schumacher’s second stop, before his retirement meant the focus could shift to treating the burns of those caught up in the fire.
Impact of the Event on Formula 1
The incident raised serious questions about the safety procedures in place during pit stops. Investigations revealed that a valve in the refuelling rig had failed, leading to the uncontrolled release of fuel. As a result, changes were implemented to improve the safety of pit stops, including modifications to the refuelling equipment and stricter regulations regarding fuel handling.
The Jos Verstappen fire incident at the 1994 German Grand Prix served as a stark reminder of the dangers inherent in motor racing. While strides have been made to enhance safety in the sport, this incident underscored the need for constant vigilance and improvements in technology and regulations.
In 2010, 16 years later, refueling was banned from Formula 1. This meant that cars would have to carry all the fuel for the whole race from the start. This came with safety concerns for the drivers. This rule could not be implemented before the 2010 season with the cars being too small to hold that much fuel. But along with the regulation changes in 2010 this allowed for the removal of refueling.
The 1994 German Grand Prix will forever be etched in Formula 1 history not just for the intense on-track battles but also for the terrifying incident involving Jos Verstappen. The resilience of both Verstappen and the sport as a whole was on display that day, prompting a renewed commitment to safety that continues to shape Formula 1 to this day.