The Williams crew member most seriously injured in the fire which engulfed their garage after Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix remained in hospital in Barcelona on Monday as serious questions were raised about the emergency services at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Martin Betts, 50, known in the paddock as Barney, was airlifted to hospital after suffering second-degree burns to 15 percent of his body, the worst affected areas being his hands and legs.
Bob Fearnley, Force India’s deputy team principal, was fiercely critical of the response at the circuit. He had to fight past two track officials to enter the medical centre to check on one of his employees who had rushed to the aid of Sir Frank Williams, who is confined to a wheelchair
Fearnley said: “Incompetent would be a very polite way of saying what these people have done here.
“There’s no training, no procedures.”
“I went down to see how my man was and I had to fight my way in. We need to look seriously at the training of people at the circuits. I’m not impressed at all.”
Those views were echoed by experienced Formula One photographer James Moy.
He had been taking pictures of Pastor Maldonado’s victory celebrations in the Williams garage moments before the explosion in the fuel storage area.
“I reckon it probably took any circuit staff or firemen at least 12 minutes to get there,” said Moy. “The only people there at that time were mechanics, fighting a fire in shorts and T-shirts.”
But for the heroic actions of the Williams crew and those of their competitors the consequences could have been far worse.
BBC technical analyst Gary Anderson pointed out: “There’s a lot of fuel stored in the garages - there could be 20 or 30 litres in the rig after the race and another couple of hundred in the garage. Fuel safety probably needs to be looked at a bit more closely.”
According to a Spanish news agency, fire crews on duty inside the track perimeter left shortly after the race and those who attended the blaze, which occurred about 90 minutes after the chequered flag, came from another checkpoint close to the track.
Betts’ condition was described on Monday night by a hospital spokesperson as ‘serious but stable’. He will remain in the burns unit for ‘at least another two days’ before he can be moved to a hospital in England.
Fortunately, Betts, who has worked for Williams for 14 years, has not suffered respiratory problems despite the pit lane and paddock being smothered in acrid black smoke.
About 30 people were treated for smoke inhalation.
Williams confirmed that Betts, who describes himself as a ‘garage operative’ and is responsible for building the pit garage at every race, is expected to return home later this week and said: “His family are in constant communication and he is in good spirits.”
A further two Williams team members have been released after recovering from smoke inhalation. Four members of the team have also left hospital, including one who has had his broken right thumb put in plaster ahead of an operation on his return home. The Force India worker has also been released.
Thanking their competitors for rushing to their aid, Williams chief operations engineer Mark Gillan said: “We were overwhelmed by the support. It was really impressive. It was a serious issue and I am very grateful indeed.
“What happened after a great result is very disappointing, but things were limited by the fast response of our team and everyone who helped.
Williams added: “While the incident was unexpected and definitely most undesirable, it has demonstrated the genuine cohesiveness, camaraderie and spirit of co-operation that exists within the Formula One paddock.
“The astonishing response from the teams and other paddock personnel was immediate, unconditional and overwhelming.”
Gillan admitted vital equipment had been lost in the blaze. Bruno Senna’s car was in the garage as it was engulfed, but Gillan insisted the team would be ready to race in Monaco in a fortnight.
He said: “We had a lot of damage and we have lost a lot of equipment, including IT equipment.We will have everything we need to run operationally at Monaco, but we may be missing a few extras.”
The McLaren team yesterday offered any necessary help to their rivals. - Daily Mail