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.