Ferrari tonight launched an enquiry after Michael Schumacher’s car caught fire following a problem with the refuelling rig during the Austrian Grand Prix at the A1-Ring.
The German still triumphed in the race despite the flames which licked across the F2003-GA when petrol ignited after spilling onto the hot bodywork during his first pit stop at Spielberg.
The team had a problem with Rubens Barrichello’s rig and switched to Schumacher’s equipment during the Brazilian’s earlier stop and it was petrol still left in the nozzle which caught fire.
“It is never pleasant to have a fire,” said Ferrari’s technical director Ross Brawn.
“But there was not actually that much fuel around and it looked worse than it was.
“The guys reacted very well to deal with the situation, including the driver. We could have got on the radio and got him out if there was a problem.
“Even 20 to 30 seconds in those circumstances is not going to hurt anyone with the equipment that we have.
“It looked spectacular but it was not that critical. Though when I saw the car on fire I didn’t feel we would be winning the race.
“However, we do not usually have problems with the rigs and now we will have a proper investigation to find out what happened.
“This is a technical issue and we will have to sit down and go through what happened step by step with FIA (motor sport’s world governing body).
“We had a problem with Rubens’ fuel rig so we switched to the other one. Then we had another problem with Michael, this time with the refuelling nozzle.
“We are more disappointed with what happened to Rubens in some ways as it cost him second place.”
Ferrari mechanics instantly put out the fire and Schumacher even joked about the incident after triumphing by just over three seconds from McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Refuelling was reintroduced into Formula One in 1994 and instances of the petrol catching fire have been rare though at the 1994 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, the Benetton of Schumacher’s then team-mate Jos Verstappen ignited with several of the mechanics suffering minor burns.
“There was not the same amount of fuel as then,” said Brawn, who was also at Benetton.
“Even in the Jos situation no-one was seriously hurt. It’s not nice, but it can be handled.”
Brawn insisted that even if refuelling was banned, there could still be problems during a race.
He said: “The counter-argument is that if you have got a racing car with 230 litres of fuel then that could be dangerous. I don’t think what happened today is a crucial event in any decision that we carry on with refuelling.”