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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Berger backs fuel stops
By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor

The Ferrari mechanics put out the pit fire on Michael Schumacher's car during the Austrian Grand Prix
There was not really a danger - everything was ready and even Michael was calm
Gerhard Berger
Ex-Grand Prix driver
Formula One faces no serious risk by continuing with refuelling despite the pit-stop fire suffered by Michael Schumacher in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix.

That is the view of ex-Formula One driver Gerhard Berger, who said the sport's safety measures were adequate to handle any danger.

Berger, who retired in 1997 after winning 10 Grands Prix in a 13-year career, exclusively told the BBC Sport website: "You can always say after something happens that it wasn't safe enough. Of course it is a moment of danger.

"But on the other hand we have had refuelling for a long time and it has always been possible to handle it.

"So safety-wise so far it shouldn't be too much to be worried about."

Berger, who suffered burns in a fiery crash at the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix, said he had "no problem" with refuelling while he was driving.

Jos Verstappen's Benetton caught fire at the 1994 German Grand Prix
Verstappen suffered the first modern refuelling fire in 1994

He added: "Yesterday there was not really a danger. Everything was ready and even Michael was calm just sitting and seeing if it continued and he needed to get out or if it was going out."

Sunday's fire was the fourth refuelling blaze since the practice was reintroduced into F1 in 1994.

  • Jos Verstappen's Benetton was engulfed in 20ft flames at the 1994 German Grand Prix when fuel leaked out. The Dutchman and several mechanics suffered minor burns.

  • Eddie Irvine's Jordan caught fire in the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix because of a leak during a refuelling stop.

  • Pedro Diniz's Ligier caught fire on his first lap after a pit stop during the 1996 Argentine Grand when the valve on the side of the car stuck open and fuel poured out.

F1's governing body, the FIA, has said it is launching an investigation into what happened during Schumacher's pit stop.

Ferrari say that fuel left in the nozzle from an earlier stop by the German's team-mate Rubens Barrichello leaked out and ignited.

Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt backed up Berger's view that refuelling was not a major risk in F1, even though there have been several incidents of problems with rigs this season.

Niki Lauda was badly burned in a fire after a crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix
Michael could have stayed in the cockpit for much longer before he would look like me
Niki Lauda
"Refuelling is part of F1 now. But we have to understand what happened and improve to ensure it doesn't happen again," Todt said.

"If we didn't have any kind of refuelling then you would be starting a race with over 200 kilos of fuel in a car so it would raise other problems.

"We know motorsport can be dangerous. But for how many years the problem hasn't occurred so I think a great job has been done."

But McLaren boss Ron Dennis said: "Technically, that shouldn't be able to happen. It is a little bit strange because the way the systems work, it effectively shouldn't be possible for there to be any fuel leakage."

Three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda, who was badly burned in a fiery accident in 1976, praised Ferrari's reaction to Schumacher's blaze.

"It was sensational how Ferrari handled the incident," Lauda told Swiss newspaper Blick.

"First, they had refuelling problems, and then the fire.

"Usually the Italians panic in such situations. This time they remained cool and solved it perfectly, just like Michael did in the car.

"Michael knew that his overalls would hold the fire much longer than the ones I had in my days. He could have stayed in the cockpit for much longer before he would look like me."




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