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FIA still chasing answers over bizarre Shanghai F1 grass fires

The FIA is still seeking a definitive answer about what is causing the bizarre grass fires which marred the opening day of the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix.

Marshals rush to put out the fire on the grass

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

First practice on Friday morning had to be red flagged after a fire erupted on the grass on the inside of Turn 7 at the Shanghai International Circuit.

The same section later caught fire at the end of the first session of sprint qualifying, which led to the start of SQ2 being briefly delayed.

Following the first problem on Friday morning, the FIA visited the area before qualifying to try to understand exactly what was the causing the grass to ignite.

Initial analysis conducted from video footage suggested that sparks being thrown up by the cars were being blown onto the grass, which was then catching fire.

However, that has only offered a partial explanation for the phenomenon, because the size of the fires being caused is far bigger than would normally be anticipated from grass, especially after a major downpour on Wednesday will have moistened the ground.

Various theories have emerged about the extra catalyst that is causing the sparks to trigger the larger blazes.

Marshals rush to put out the fire on the grass

Marshals rush to put out the fire on the grass

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

One theory is that because the Shanghai track is built on a swamp, methane gas could be seeping up through the ground - which is then being ignited and causing the fires.

Another idea is that the grass has been chemically treated to enhance its looks, and it is this that is causing the problem.

However, the FIA’s initial physical inspections on Friday did not shed any great light on the situation, as it is understood there were no unusual smells or evidence of anything unexpected in the area.

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With the fire returning in qualifying, however, the FIA plans to conduct a more detailed examination in the evening to try to get a better handle on what is going on and find the true cause.

The FIA will obviously be eager to avoid any fires triggering the need for session stoppage on Saturday, or even of it prompting the need for a safety car or other intervention in the race.

The fire problem is something that has not been encountered at Shanghai before, although this is the first year that the new generation of ground effect cars, which throw up more sparks as they run close to the ground, have driven here.

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