In the wake of the fire that swept through the Williams F1 garage inSpaintwo weeks ago, a raft of OH&S changes will no doubt be integrated into pit-lane procedures to the moans of mechanics already tip-toeing their way around regularatory bureaucracy.
Whilst the cause of the fire has been hinted to be sparked by static electricity and exposed fuel, a full FIA statement detailing an antecedent has not been forthcoming. Regardless, the most glaring dilemma stems from marshals not being present during the packing-up stages of a Grand Prix Weekend.
This matter will no doubt be rectified, although on a volunteer basis it may be hard to implement given the long hours it takes to get through the logistical stage of the weekend. Regardless of whether these implementations are considered knee-jerk or not, they are the nature of the beast and must be considered in a positive light. However one hopes all of the focus won’t centre on the event itself, but rather the ripple effect of changes it should create.
During a coffee with a friend (who occupies a senior marshalling position at a prominent Grand Prix), he expressed his eagerness for any information that may come out from the Williams fire incident. He told me of a minor pit-lane fire a few years ago, that forced a re-think on evacuation procedures during a Grand Prix.
Turns out there wasn’t one, so the relevant emergency services were called in for a think-tank session and the results (or lack of) were rather eye-opening.
The question was raised what to do if a fire occurred in a garage during a race. Crews, marshals and team guests (usually situated above the garages) couldn’t be evacuated into pit-lane during a race, so the further question of red-flagging the event brought even more consternation. An entire field of unsuspecting Formula One driver’s piling into a crammed section of road occupied by inebriated VIP’s (unfamiliar with pit etiquette) was hardly a desirable mix!
The alternative? Why not evacuate everyone to the back paddock area. Nice and safe with no nasty race cars getting in the way…. Just refueling rigs… Oh…
You see the dilemma. Whilst we may see pit-lane marshals in full fire-retardant clothing in the future, it doesn’t mask the fact that a Formula 1 paddock is fraught with potential danger. The FIA may be taking measures to eliminate these risks, but from my own discussions from the people most affected, it doesn’t appear to be the case.
I very much look forward to being proven wrong.