SportF1The story behind the most iconic photo of an...

The story behind the most iconic photo of an F1 refueling

What should have been just another pit stop for Jos Verstappen (Benetton) nearly turned into tragedy when fuel spilled out of the hose and ignited.

The shocking images seen on television at the time captured the drama and offered a now world-famous image: that of Paul Seaby , who was a Benetton mechanic, engulfed in a ball of fire.

This is how the three key men who lived through the moment remember that moment: the pilot, Jos Verstappen, the photographer, Steven Tee and Seaby himself.

the pit stop

El pitstop de Jos Verstappen en el GP de Alemania de 1994

Jos Verstappen’s pitstop at the 1994 German GP

The 1994 German GP took place in the midst of a rather tense political situation. Michael Schumacher arrived as a local driver after Benetton appealed a suspension of two races without competing, after having ignored two black flags in the test held at Silverstone.

Schumacher hoped to become the first German to win his home grand prix, but he knew the feat would not be easy, as the long straights at Hockenheim were a perfect fit for the V12 that Ferrari used in its single-seaters.

A chaotic first lap, with a pileup included after which Mika Hakkinen was sanctioned with a race without competing, Schumacher remained the main rival of the leader, Gerhard Berger.

On lap 13, Schumacher pitted for fuel, with no further problems. But two laps later, his teammate, Jos Verstappen , had to enter.

IF VERSTAPPEN

“I remember entering what I thought would be a normal pitstop. Sitting in the car, I always raised my visor because I was sweating a lot and needed fresh air,” the main protagonist began to narrate.

“Then I saw liquid coming out. It was just before I could smell anything and so I waved my arm. Then everything lit up and it went dark; I couldn’t breathe. It was a situation you don’t usually think about; it’s like Suddenly they put you in a dark room and then you think ‘I have to get out of here…'”.

“It was tricky to get the steering wheel out and it took me a couple of seconds. Then I had to undo the seatbelts, so there were a lot of things I had to do before I got up and realized what had happened.

El incendio durante el pitstop de Jos Verstappen en el GP de Alemania de 1994

The fire during Jos Verstappen’s pitstop at the 1994 German GP

PAUL SEABY

“My job was on the right front wheel, so my back was to the man with the hose. That’s why the fuel splashed on my back.”

“It had been a normal race up until then, and we were going to pit stop for Jos. We were putting the wheels on when I saw what I thought was water in the air.

“I thought ‘how weird that there’s water spray’. Then I realized it was fuel and then I decided to get out of there, which is when I caught fire. I went to the garage, which was the most direct route to get away from the car” .

STEVEN TEE, MOTORSPORT IMAGES

“We were working for Benetton at the time, and I decided I would do the race on the inner ring of the circuit. I was going to start from there and see what happened, and I wanted to be there for the end because I figured Michael would win and there would be flags everywhere. “.

“Halfway through the race it had all been a bit boring so I thought I’d take some photos in the pits. I went to the Benetton garage and they were ready for the pit stop so I photographed everything right up front.”

“I was driving away and I noticed something, some spilled fuel, but I didn’t pay too much attention. Then I went from seeing Jos in the car with the mechanics around him, to literally a big orange ball. But I kept taking photos.”

“As soon as it happened I could see the mechanics running into the garage and some of them were on fire. I backed away a bit to get out of the way and then thought no more about what I had photographed as we were using film in those days.”

The consequences

El incidiendo durante el pitstop de Jos Verstappen en el GP de Alemania de 1994

The fire during Jos Verstappen’s pitstop at the 1994 German GP

The flames were extinguished within seconds, but chaos continued to reign inside the Benetton garage as the team tried to find out what had happened.

Meanwhile, the mechanics had to prepare for Schumacher’s second stop, which continued in the race until he was forced to retire, and Benetton was then able to focus 100% on treating the injured.

IF VERSTAPPEN

“I remember that the team poured water on my face and then they put cream on me. I went to the hospital, but everything was fine. My breathing was correct, because I think I didn’t breathe too much when everything happened.”

“Having a fire in a racing car, like when Nico Hulkenberg got upside down in Abu Dhabi, it makes you smell the fuel, the oil and it scares you. But when it happens in the pits, it’s almost the safest place for it to happen. So I never had any problem coming to terms with what had happened.”

Jos Verstappen, Benetton, con quemaduras tras su parada en boxes

Jos Verstappen, Benetton, after his pit stop

PAUL SEABY

“The truth is that everything was a bit hectic. There was a lot of commotion in the garage. Once the fire was out, there were people who tried to take stock and assess what happened.

“We found some water and I started throwing it in my face. There were people whose heads were already clearing because Joan [Villadelprat, director of operations] had started shouting in the garage that there could be another pit stop, and asking us : ‘Do you think you can do it?'”

“We said ‘yes of course’ and started putting our overalls back on to go out and do Michael’s stop. They were trying to remove Jos’s car, there were fire extinguishers everywhere, and then when we were getting ready they told us that Michael had an engine problem and had to retire.

“We went to the medical center and had a few laughs trying to cool off our burns. There were three of us who had burns: Simon Morley and Wayne Bennett. Simon and I both had burns on our faces. Simon was worse, but he didn’t seem that bad at the time , so we ended up sharing a hose in a bathroom.”

“Wayne had burned his ankle and the back of his foot, and he got the finishing touches in the shower. In the end, he had to stick his foot in the toilet and flush the toilet to get enough cold water to his ankle.”

“Apart from that, there was no permanent damage. In the following races, my head was not in the right place, but you have to move on.”

The picture

While the television footage of the Verstappen fire garnered news attention that day for its spectacular nature, it was not until the following morning that Tee, the photographer, realized what he had caught on camera when he revealed his reel in London.

STEVEN TEE

“We dropped off film as usual on Sunday night in London, arriving very early to do an edit for Motoring News. I went through the negatives. There were two that were completely out of focus, but you could see the fuel spill. The next frame It was Paul Seaby out of focus.”

“But the third frame is the one that’s become quite famous, which is basically the one where he’s completely engulfed in flames. It looks like it’s an image from a movie!”

“There was another angle of the fire that someone had taken from the pit wall, and it got used quite a bit in the papers, but it didn’t have as much of an impact as this one from Seaby.”

“Paul and I have joked about it over the years. I’ve given him a few large prints and at some point the image ended up on a bunch of beer mats somewhere! It’s been used everywhere. It’s a constant reminder to him.”

El incidiendo durante el pitstop de Jos Verstappen en el GP de Alemania de 1994

The fire during Jos Verstappen’s pitstop at the 1994 German GP

The legacy

Although the FIA’s investigations into the cause of the Benetton fire focused on a missing filter, the team always believed that this element did not contribute to what happened that day.

Those arguments have all but disappeared into the history books by now, but the memories of what happened 25 years ago this weekend are still clear, and Seaby’s photo has become iconic for F1.

For the men who found themselves at the heart of the fireball, it is something they will never forget.

IF VERSTAPPEN

“It’s what most people remember me for! You see the pictures a lot throughout the year.”

“I don’t have any problems other than that sometimes when I drink alcohol, mainly wine, and it’s not all the time, just sometimes, I suddenly feel like it burns. And then I turn red where I got burned on my face. I’m sorry on my face. I don’t know why. I think it’s kind of a reaction. That’s all I have left.”

PAUL SEABY

“The only thing I’ve noticed in the past week is that my left cheek is slightly redder in one area, but other than that I haven’t had any side effects.”

“When I first saw the photograph, I spoke to Steve Tee and said, ‘You could have taken me outside instead of taking pictures!’ But I’m glad I did.”

“When you’re in a situation like that, you’re just ripping things out that have been on fire, so you don’t really know what happened. So it was really interesting to break it down and see what happened.”

“I like the photo and I’m glad he did it, because without the video and without that photo it could have been easily forgotten. There aren’t many people who talk about the Jordan fire in Spa [in 1995], for example.”

“I’ve had a few posters of the image over the years and my mother-in-law, who’s passed away, when I started dating my wife, the only picture she had of me was that one. So on her wall at home was my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law at their weddings, and next to it was a picture of me on fire. That made me laugh.”

El incidiendo durante el pitstop de Jos Verstappen en el GP de Alemania de 1994

The fire during Jos Verstappen’s pitstop at the 1994 German GP

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