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Fire next to the track in Shanghai: What the FIA is doing now

The grass next to the track starts to burn during free practice and sprint qualifying for Formula 1 in China, but the exact cause is still unclear

Suddenly small flames flicker in the grass next to the race track: During free practice and again during the Formula 1 sprint qualifying session at the 2024 China Grand Prix in Shanghai, there were small fires in the run-off zones. This led to brief interruptions and the intervention of the stewards, who fought the fires with fire extinguishers

But the big question is: What caused the fires? That is still unclear.

However, representatives of the FIA have already launched an investigation on site. The scene of the fire was inspected after the first incident at Kurve. However, the FIA officials discovered no indications of the cause of the fire. No unusual smells or similar were detected either, according to reports from Shanghai.

The only thing that is certain is that the second incident at turn 5 has triggered a further investigation. By Saturday’s sprint, the world governing body wants to have clarification as to whether further fires are to be expected, which could possibly jeopardize driving in the sprint, qualifying or the Grand Prix.

Because the consequence of another fire is obvious: the session in question would have to be interrupted with the red flag. This is what happened in free practice and again in sprint qualifying, which was briefly stopped between SQ1 and SQ2

Much speculation as to what could have caused the fire

Meanwhile, speculation is rife in the Formula 1 paddock in Shanghai. One theory refers to the location of the Shanghai International Circuit, which was built in a drained swamp area. It is therefore possible that methane gas is leaking from the ground – and has been ignited by the flying sparks from the Formula 1 cars.

According to another theory, work on the race track could have been the cause of the grass fires: The talk is of a possible treatment of the grass away from the track, which is shining in lush green this weekend. It is conceivable, they say, that flammable substances were used to achieve the desired fresh look.

Another version of the same theory refers to the resurfacing work in Shanghai last year, which the FIA and Formula 1 were initially unaware of. During this work, the track operators had a layer of liquid asphalt applied to the track in order to improve its stability. Flammable materials could also have gotten into the grass during this process.

However, there is a catch to all these explanations: the surfacing work in Shanghai was carried out in 2023 and the last rain shower before the race weekend occurred on Wednesday. So the grass at the Shanghai International Circuit cannot have been too dry with lots of clouds and just over 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

More flying sparks in Formula 1 since 2022

The flying sparks from the Formula 1 cars, on the other hand, could be an effective approach: Formula 1 is racing with ground-effect cars in Shanghai for the first time under the current technical regulations. These cars are low to the ground and produce more sparks than their predecessors.

Theoretically, it would therefore be conceivable that the race cars ignited the fires with their flying sparks. But this has not yet been clarified either

The further weather forecast in Shanghai

Whether a repetition of the incidents can occur may depend on the further weather conditions in Shanghai. New, sometimes heavy showers are forecast for the region around the race track, at least on Saturday night.

During the day on Saturday and on Sunday, it is expected to remain dry, with temperatures of just over 20 degrees Celsius and little sunshine.



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