Jos Verstappen’s pit fire at Hockenheim is one of the enduring images of 1994, and the fact that it resulted in only minor injuries was little short of a miracle.
One man in the heat of the action was Martin Pople. His job was to support the heavy hose (above), standing right behind refueller Simon Morley.
It happened so quickly… he recalls. “There was a big explosion and fire. The fuel was ignited by the hot brake pads. They said only three litres were spilled. but it looked a lot more in the pictures!
“The first instinct was to get away from there. The fuel on my suit was on fire, but they put it out quickly. I was in a state of shock afterwards. Simon was burned because he was wearing a normal crash helmet and the fuel got inside its visor. Fortunately, it was only superficial. Someone had their hand burned, and another guy hurt his arm. while Jos also got fuel inside his helmet.
“The good thing is that Michael dropped out after that, otherwise we would have had to do another pitstop. That would have played on people’s minds. At least we had a couple of weeks to get ourselves composed and back into it.”
Morley never did another pitstop. While the fire had obviously put him off. he was also frustrated at being singled out when Benetton blamed “a junior employee” for the incident. He later left F1 and now works in America. Meanwhile. Pople is currently team co-ordinator at BAR.
“I look after safety,” he says, “things like mechanics’ overalls. And I stand behind a big extinguisher at the stops! In 1994, a lot of people didn’t have gloves or goggles. After that we got a lot stricter. The funny thing is there’s still nothing laid down on paper by the FIA about what you should use. so it’s down to the teams. We probably go over the top now, but it’s best that people are overprotected rather than the other way round.”
Benetton staff have always denied that the removal of the filter caused the fire, and instead blame machining tolerances within the fuel hose.