What caused Nick Heidfeld's car to explode?

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
Formula one cars retiring in flames isn't exactly something we have never seen before however, I can't recall ever seeing one explode through the side pod before.

Having not seen the footage until this morning I initially thought that it may have had something to do with KERS but now having seen it, I haven't got a clue.

So does anyone have any ideas?
 

RickD

Pole Sitter
How about a radiator? They are located at the front of the sidepods and with that heat, could quite easily have gone pop..
 

Road of Bones

MTC Mole
Contributor
Certainly looks like a decent culprit - the engine valves are pneumatic, and they can't install a compressor on board after all. The explosion didn't look all that large either.

About a year ago an autoclave at a recycling firm just up the road from my workplace exploded - the air/steam blast blew out the wall of the factory and extended right across the street (sadly, 2 workers were killed). The Renault explosion was miniscule in comparison, more akin to an aerosol in a fire - though I appreciate that you wouldn't want to stand next to it!
 

Grizzly

Bear
Contributor
the engine problem was a double exhaust failure...

So you get smoke bellows and debris coming out the exhaust, from an exhaust failure:thinking:

Looked more like the engine chewing itself to pieces to me, as he went down the pitlane...
 

F1Yorkshire

Avatar for sale to the highest bidder
Contributor
I think we need the video of it exploding in this thread!


What's the next step though? This is the 2nd time it has caught fire and if I was in FOM I would be looking into the cause and trying to enforce a change before someone is seriously hurt. Imagine this at Singapore with poor marshalling and fans in close attendance.
 

sobriety

Pole Sitter
Where's the fun in that? ;) To be honest the engine was dead before Heidfeld even left the pits, and I'd rather have a car on fire on the side of the track than in the pit lane where there's all sorts of flammable stuff (although probably a few more fire extinguishers and lots of guys in asbestos suits...ho hum....)
 

Fenderman

Rooters Reporter
From Twitter.

The "spitting debris" as Nick drove away from his pit slot appeared to be exiting from the lower area of the side pods in the area of the Renaults convoluted exhaust pipes and their exit from the chassis. It seems consistent with disintegrating engine internals such as valves and associated parts fragmenting and being blown out of the exhaust ports thereby smashing their way along and through the header and exhaust pipes. It would be very interesting to see a picture of the burnt out parts to confirm whether or not this was the case but I somehow doubt that we'll ever get to see one.

The later explosion may well have been that item in the photo, that does indeed look like a pressurised vessel located next to the exhaust system. If indeed it contained nitrogen in liquid form, that's seriously cold and may have expanded at an explosive rate due to the intensity of the heat from the fire around the bottle. That would also explain the apparent "smokey" appearance of the explosion as opposed to a "fiery" appearance, since the sudden concentration of nitrogen in its gaseous form would have "displaced" oxygen in the air, depriving the fire of an essential ingredient (i.e. oxygen), thereby suppressing the fire, even if only momentarily.

I do have a problem with that though since it seems a strange place to put something with essentially cryogenic contents, but yes the explosion appeared to be quite low down toward the floor of the car. the reaction of the marshall, who was struck by exploding debris, appeared to be a response to being struck in the lower leg.

A very interesting case to investigate though. Just the kind of thing I like sticking my nose into (metaphorically speaking, of course LOL). I'm watching this space and if I come up with anything I will most definitely share it.

Edited due to my not looking at the picture properly!:( Hope no-one noticed!
 

Fenderman

Rooters Reporter
Where's the fun in that? ;) To be honest the engine was dead before Heidfeld even left the pits, and I'd rather have a car on fire on the side of the track than in the pit lane where there's all sorts of flammable stuff (although probably a few more fire extinguishers and lots of guys in asbestos suits...ho hum....)
Disintegrating, apparently yes but dead? Not quite as Nick did leave the pit.

Even though there is no refuelling during a race the teams are, as you suggest, very well equipped to fight fires and yes the pit is a high risk environment where fire is concerned.

I would suggest, though, that shutting down the engine and getting fire extinguishers on the car somewhat earlier is surely a better option than putting the lives of the driver, everyone the car passed on its way out of pit lane and of the trackside marshalls at risk by delaying the response to a problem. In my humble opinion they were lucky. This time.
 

Josephiah

Podium Finisher
If indeed it contained nitrogen in liquid form, that's seriously cold...

I do have a problem with that though since it seems a strange place to put something with essentially cryogenic contents...
I think it's probably stored as a gas under high pressure, rather than as a liquid, so it wouldn't need to be cold. If, as Road of Bones says above, it's used to operate the valves pneumatically, then there wouldn't be any obvious benefit to storing it in liquid form.

(open to correction to anyone who knows better!)
 

Fenderman

Rooters Reporter
I think it's probably stored as a gas under high pressure, rather than as a liquid, so it wouldn't need to be cold. If, as Road of Bones says above, it's used to operate the valves pneumatically, then there wouldn't be any obvious benefit to storing it in liquid form.

(open to correction to anyone who knows better!)
Doh. Silly me. I think you're right, there! I'll have to do more research. think I got the wrong end of the stick with an article I found!
 

Fenderman

Rooters Reporter
That was one of my thoughts. My other problem with the idea is that the explosion seemed too big to be just down to a canister of gas. That's why I had the odd notion about the nitrogen being in liquid form (i.e. dry ice) in trying to explain the gross expansion and increase in pressure and thus the ferocity of the release as an explosion. I think Grizzly knows something about gases - I would like his take on it.
 

sobriety

Pole Sitter
It could've been a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion), where the heat of the fire caused the liquid inside the bottle to boil off, and the bottle walls to weaken to the point where the internal pressure is too high, causing the bottle to rupture explosively. These explosions are actually larger than you'd expect due to the rest of the liquid in the bottle flashing to vapour as soon as the rupture occurs. Good job the contents weren't flammable, as then the marshal would've been toast.

Check out the feyzin disaster in france (1963/66 i think) or the mexico city disaster (known locally as the day the sky caught fire) for examples of industrial BLEVEs.
 

Josephiah

Podium Finisher
If that were nitrogen in any form wouldn't it have extinguished the flames?
Again, open to correction by anyone who knows better, but I think it would only extinguish the flames if the nitrogen completely replaced all of the available oxygen surrounding the blaze. The gas would tend to disperse so it wouldn't stop the supply of oxygen available to the fire.
 

Dario Resta

Podium Finisher
It's a good job the F1 marshals are so good,and Heidfeld was able to get out of the car quickly. Compare and contrast with the situation Simona De Silvestro was in during an Indycar race! Totally clueless rescue and she was lucky not to be very seriously injured. OK the rescue was hampered by not being able to remove the cockpit head protection, but it could have had terrible consequences.
 

Fenderman

Rooters Reporter
You will have gathered by now that 1) I'm not a chemist and 2) I've got to be somewhat more diligent when using internet pages for my research!

Thank you, Josephia, for enlightening us.:thumbsup:
 
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