Spanish Grand Prix fire shows dangers of F1
My flight back to London from the Spanish Grand Prix was full of tired mechanics, exhausted race engineers and sleepy drivers - all of them recovering from an extraordinary weekend of mixed emotions in Barcelona.
It was a very strange feeling on the plane, alongside plenty of Williams personnel who were torn between celebrating a monumental win for the team, yet understandably concerned about their colleagues who remain in hospital after the pit lane fire on Sunday evening.
People know motorsport in inherently dangerous, and that F1 can never rest on its laurels as far as safety is concerned, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not easy to become blasé about our working environment.
Let’s take the pre-race show we do for example. Along with plenty of other media personnel, photographers and guests, we’re in a pit lane surrounded by fuel, electronically charged KERS units, all manner of other mechanical equipment, not to mention F1 cars leaving garages or scorching past at 60mph. The same applies to the grid.
31 people were injured following a fire at the Williams team garage after the Spanish Grand Prix. Photo: Getty
However, with no driver death since 1994 and serious injuries or nasty accidents mercifully rare, it is easy to forget an F1 track still remains a dangerous place.
As the fire blazed in the Williams garage and a horrible acrid smoke filled the air, there was genuine shock this was happening. Most people currently involved in the sport were not around in the dark days when dramatic incidents were common.
It was so unexpected I initially thought it was an old diesel engine starting up, David Coulthard assumed it was a catering fire, and some thought Williams were letting off a flare as a celebration.
The people I’ve spoken to on the flight, and in the departure lounge, actually paint a much more serious picture with Frank Williams and the whole team celebrating their win in the garage as the fuel explosion happened.
At this point is worth mentioning not only the Williams crew who were clearly well trained and dealt with the situation quickly, but also the members of the nearby teams such as Toro Rosso, Force India and HRT who reportedly didn’t think twice before diving in to help the situation.
F1 can seem like such a safe and sterile environment with its perfectly clean garages, and the garage interiors transformed each race by the plastic walls they construct, all in team colours of course. It looks modern, safe and made-for-tv. The reality is that it is still a garage like any other and, for all the commercially driven, PR-controlled world that the viewers see, it remains dangerous.
Thankfully the injuries were limited to just a handful of people. Williams suffered extensive damage to their garage and equipment, including plenty of laptops and other bits of kit which will be frantically replaced before Monaco.
However, as ever, the real cost is human and we’re all thankful it wasn’t more serious.
In fact, it’s not just the garages that can be dangerous places. With just moments left of the race, Eddie Jordan decided he’d love to go and congratulate Frank Williams and went haring off to find him – as only Eddie does. I was sitting in the McLaren hospitality area and Eddie re-appeared just moments latter grimacing in pain.
“I think I’ve broken my ankle,” he wailed. I looked down and his foot was starting to swell outside of his shoe. It transpired he’d tripped on his way to see Frank, and his ankle had taken the brunt of the impact.
Eddie was quite a driver in his day, and like many racing drivers of his era, he lives with damaged ankles from crashing cars.
So, picture the scene. Pastor crosses the line to win and, instead of celebrating, we’re getting Eddie’s foot raised up and tracking down some ice to take down the swelling whilst poor old EJ looks like he might pass out.
I was wondering if I’d have to head outside to host the post-podium celebrations alone, however, ever the soldier, EJ was able to cope with the pain and he hobbled out to cover the end of the race with me.
And what a win.
Pastor has come in for a fair amount of criticism. It’s no secret that he comes with a large chunk of change from Venezuela, which was reportedly one of the big reasons for him replacing Nico Hulkenberg in 2011.
Well, what do we make of his talents now? He’s spent most of the season fighting the Ferraris, and now he’s beaten them. It wasn’t a fluke but genuine pace.
As for Eddie’s foot, well by the time we went on to the F1 Forum the pain was too much and, after the wonderful McLaren doctor Aki strapped it up, we eventually resorted to pushing Eddie around on a tyre trolley to get him around.
Thankfully, as Eddie lives in Monaco, he can now have a rest for a week or so, as we’re heading his way for the next race. And what on earth can Monaco have in store for us?
It’s remarkable to think we’ve had five different race winners in the past five races, and it seems nobody is able to explain why it’s happened or how the following races might play themselves out.
In Spain, we saw Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel lose pace throughout the weekend. Williams and Ferrari weren’t expected to have the pace to out-race Lotus, whilst Sauber had another strong race.
There wasn’t a Mercedes, McLaren or Red Bull in the top five on the grid.
Who was your driver of the day? I loved watching Lewis’ drive. He has really impressed me this season.
Mind you, one thing that has almost gone unnoticed amongst all the excitement is that we’re already a quarter of the way through the 2012 Formula One season. And if the next 15 races are anything like the first five, then we’re in for some season.
Thanks for sticking with the BBC for the action. We’ve been delighted with the viewing figures and I love seeing your thoughts on Twitter – keep them coming and let’s hope Eddie’s ankle lasts the distance!