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Valves May Have Stopped A Race Where Everyone Ran Out Of Fuel

When pressure relief valves and gauges are discussed in relation to automobiles and motorsport, typically it is in the context of high pressure and the need to vent potentially hazardous fluids and gases.


However, there is a case where such monitoring would be beneficial not for dealing with a fuel tank that is too full but one that is too empty, such as was infamously the case at the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix.


At the time, the biggest concern for the sport’s governing bodies was the need for safety, given the exceptional power and infamous unreliability of the 1.5-litre turbocharged engines that were almost universally used at the time and could be tuned to over 1000 brake horsepower for qualifying.


To try and manage the power, turbocharged cars were limited to 220 litres of fuel with no refuelling allowed, something that would prove to have significant consequences as only five cars officially finished the race.


The Imola race circuit was exceptionally fast, which meant that the turbocharged engines would use more fuel if the drivers were not careful.


Race leader Ayrton Senna and his Lotus ran out of fuel with four laps remaining, leading to Stefan Johannson suffering from an issue with his electronic fuel gauge, running out of fuel just a lap later.


Alain Prost’s McLaren crossed the finish line first, but ran out of fuel before it could complete its victory lap, and would ultimately end up disqualified for being underweight.


Thierry Boutson was close to winning the race but ran out of fuel at the finish line, pushing his stricken car over the line to be classified second behind Elio De Angelis, a man who did not lead a single lap of the race and yet still won.


According to a later interview, this was less a matter of tactics and more an accident as the engine turned down its turbo boost, saving fuel by itself.


With better valves and gauges to provide an accurate reading of the remaining fuel, perhaps this fiasco could have been avoided.