WILLIAMS first Grand Prix victory since 2004 was overshadowed yesterday by a terrifying fire that destroyed their pit garage after the Spanish Grand Prix. Luckily, there were no serious injuries although 31 people had to be treated for smoke inhalation. Seven mechanics remained in hospital overnight, bringing down a dark spell on the first European race of the season.
The fire began in the back of the garage and spread feriously, with black smoke billowing out of the front, sending panic across the faces of team personnel and the worldwide media. It happened around 90 minutes after the race yesterday, with the team basking in the glory of Pastor Maldonado’s amazing win in Barcelona.
A Williams spokesperson said afterwards; “Four team personnel were injured in the incident and subsequently taken to the medical centre. Three are now receiving treatment at local hospitals for their injuries, while the fourth has been released. The team will monitor their condition and ensure they receive the best possible care. The team, the fire services and the police are working together to determine the root cause of the fire.”
The team have confirmed that the blaze started in the fuel area. Spanish police and the fire service are still trying to establish the cause today. This is possibly through an explosion from a KERS unit as fuel leaked out of Bruno Senna’s car that was being dismantled following his early exit from the race on lap 14. The fuel ignited and within seconds, the whole garage was alight. Maldonado’s car was still in parc ferme at the time, having its scruitneering check but Senna’s car was gutted.
At the time, the Williams team had just been having a group photo to celebrate Maldonado’s victory with Sir Frank Williams giving a speech to the team’s joyous mechanics. That joy turned to shock and although the fire was extinguished within 20 minutes, it is very fortunate that there wasn’t anything more serious that occured. Sir Frank was taken to safety quickly, as confirmed by Williams third driver, Valteri Bottas who told BBC Sport; “I was there when Frank Williams was giving his speech to everyone, I felt an explosion from behind, somewhere from the fuel area, and everyone ran out quickly.”
Sky Sports F1 pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz was at the scene when the fire started. Reporting live on the channel, he said “I saw the fire take hold and it just absolutely erupted. We were talking to Alex Wurz at the time and we were just having a look [into the garage] and suddenly I saw this wall of flame erupt from behind the Williams garage divider. It looked to be in the area where they store things like fuel and oil and gearboxes and computers and there will be an immense amount of damage to a lot of equipment.”
The Formula One fraternity came together with rapid help from the nearby Caterham, Toro Rosso, Force India and HRT teams to bring the blaze under control. Some Caterham and Force India members had to have treatment also for smoke inhalation afterwards. The Caterham garage also took damage in the inferno. Teams have already announced that they will give Williams some spare parts should it be required for the Monaco Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.
In a statement on the team’s website, Caterham said; “Caterham F1 Team was involved in a fire that started in the Williams F1 Team’s garage after the end of the Spanish Grand Prix. All the team’s employees have been accounted for and four people have been taken to the circuit medical centre for examination; one with a minor hand injury and three with respiratory issues.”
This is the second time there has been a fire in the paddock this season, as Lotus hospitality suite was destroyed in Malaysia following a refrigrator fire, which lost a significant amount of Kimi Raikkonen’s race equipment for the weekend. There is likely to be a health and safety investigation into garage procedures and also, there will be question marks about the future of KERS in the sport, especially after an incident like this.
It is a sad and sorry end but fortunately not a tragic one to what had been an amazing result for the Williams Formula One team. F1 today can breath a sigh of relief at one of the biggest escapes of recent times.
MOVING INTO THE MIDFIELD
WHILST fellow former deubtants, HRT and Marussia have had a very difficult pre-season, Caterham looked well-equipped to break into the midfield in their third season in the sport. Team principal and Malaysian owner of Queens Park Rangers, Tony Fernandes has complete belief in making this operation work and despite more reliability glitches than most in winter testing, there were signs of good pace, especially on a single lap.
The team, put together under the Lotus name made its debut in Bahrain 2010. Currently, Heikki Kovalainen has made it into Q2 on six separate occasions, which considering the might they were up against is a notable achievement. The best finish for the team is 12th at the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, again achieved by Kovalainen. Having been the best of the new teams in the last two seasons, Lotus finished tenth in the constructors championship so consequently qualify for bigger prize money for their achievements so far. This season, the team has been renamed Caterham, after a very messy legal battle over naming rights which has dragged on for 18 months.
Currently based in Norfolk, the team has plans to move into the ex-Arrows and Super Aguri factory in Leafield during the season and has also made a change in its driver line-up. Despite competing in the first pre-season test, Jarno Trulli was dropped and replaced by Russian Vitaly Petrov. Petrov has two seasons at Renault, where he has achieved flashes of speed, but general inconsistency has cost him in the past. However, he sounds refreshed and hopes that this team can bring the best out of him. Team leader Kovalainen remains for a third year, hoping to end a barren pointless run that stretches back to Singapore 2009. Heikki has produced miracles in the last two seasons, so hopefully he will get more reward in the form of points this season. Expect heavily financially backed Petrov though to give Kovalainen more problems in setting the standard than Trulli ever did.
With former Jordan & Force India technical director Mark Smith and Mike Gascoyne in their design background, the team is well placed to give the established like Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso some major headaches in 2012. The structure is in place, so no more excuses can be thought of. It is time for Caterham to step into the midfield and remain a permanent fixture.