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GP Week : Issue 127
30 LOTUS Renault GP’s Nick Heidfeld emerged unscathed from another scary fire on his R31 at the weekend, when his car’s innovative forward-exiting exhausts caught fire after a pitstop in the first half of the race. After a slight delay in his pitstop – costing him four seconds – the German exited his box with sparks flying from the exhaust, before a full-blown inferno erupted when he engaged full throttle at the exit of the pitlane. Heidfeld quickly brought his car to a halt at the side of the track just after the pit exit, before marshals arrived to douse the flames with foam. One marshal was seen hobbling away from the car when the left sidepod appeared to explode, before the recovery crew then nearly came to blows with Sebastian Vettel who was exiting the pits some minutes later as they towed the car to the safety of the pitlane. Heidfeld’s race had already been all but ruined after dropping to 19th in the opening laps and had failed to make up any ground by the time he retired. “Not a good race for me today, and it’s the second consecutive weekend without finishing, so obviously I’m very disappointed,” he began. “My second pit stop was longer than expected, the car overheated and I noticed smoke coming from the rear. It worsened, and then I noticed the flames so I had to pull over at the end of the pit lane and cut my race short.” The team explained after the race that the exhaust had overheated because Heidfeld had been stuck at high revs for longer than usual as his mechanics fixed a problem with one of his wheel nuts, and dismissed the damage caused as superficial. “In his second pit stop we had a problem with one of the wheel nuts meaning that the car was sat at high revs for a long time,” said chief race engineer Alan Permane. “ This meant a build-up of heat which caused a fire. Although it looked spectacular it was only a small part of bodywork which burnt on the left-hand sidepod.” Heidfeld suffered a similar exhaust fire during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend in Barcelona, sparking further fears about the safety of the aerodynamics-driven design. Sidepod explosion catches marshal Heidfeld suffers second exhaust fire