Pit stops can damage your health

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A reader queries how Sir Henry Birkin received the fatal burns which ended his life. It happened during the 1933 ‘Tripoli GP in which Birkin drove his new 3-litre Maserati brilliantly, leading for fur laps, ahead of Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo. At half distance he was second, only a few yards behind Nuvolari, with Varzi (Bugatti) and Campari (Alfa Romeo) behind him, finally coming third behind Varzi and Nuvolari. On lap 16 out of 30 he stopped to refuel; could the bums have been incurred at this hurried fuel stop?

Our correspondent says there are three theories. That Birkin’s burns occurred after the race when he reached into the cockpit for a cigarette, or when doing the same thing to get his lighter during in practice, or during that pitstop. W Bentley subscribed to the second theory, Sir John Birkin to the first, but I am told that the death certificate refers to both arms being burned, which would imply the pitstop, when only the driver and one mechanic would have been allowed to work on the Maserati and Tim probably had to hurl petrol in from churns. Contemporary reports say the bums were sustained during the race, and the News Chronicle that Sir Henry refused to receive attention. If in practice, this would presumably have been administered. Do readers have any information?

This introduces the point of when the two-man pit-stop rule was abandoned? In the first Le Mans 24-hours race only the driver was allowed to work on his car, but later a co-driver could join him, later still one mechanic. In the 1933 IT the two-men rule applied; Tazio Nuvolari knew no English and had not practiced beforehand but at the crucial stop understood the drill, refuelling, changing one wheel, and pouring in oil while Alec Hounslow changed the three other wheels, Nuvolari then checking all four hub-nuts! But in the later 1930s a team of mechanics was permitted to work while a driver sal in his car, as in today’s GPs. Remember how Nuvolari stood beside the Alfa Romeo at the ‘Ring in 1935 urging the mechanics on when things went wrong, after which Tazio went on to beat all the German cars on their home ground. But for which race was the ‘two-men’ rule first abandoned?

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