Safety Measures in Formula 1

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The Safety System of a Formula 1 Cockpit
Hard core - The Formula 1 monocoque
Safety first - The safety car
Safety on the Double! - Driver clothing
Safety first! - Run-off zones

The Safety System of a Formula 1 Cockpit
imageThe cockpit of a Formula 1 car is a safe place to work. It is not only the carbon-fibre monocoque, customised seat, helmet and overalls that help the drivers – the safety belts are key elements that give the driver a sense of security and, in an emergency, protect him directly from serious injuries.

safetytime_sixDespite the breathtaking rate of development in Formula 1, it has taken a while for the news to spread through the sport that safety belts can save lives. Although helmets and overalls were stipulated by Formula 1’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), as far back as the early ’60s, safety belts have only been compulsory features in a Formula 1 car since 1972.

Formula 1 drivers are strapped into the cockpit by a six point harness, similar to that found in a fighter jet.

Two shoulder straps, two pelvic straps and two leg straps allow them just enough freedom of movement to be able to steer and reach the various switches and buttons in their field of vision.

This is not the only situation where safety is more important than comfort.

In everyday traffic, too, the safety belt is still the number one lifesaver, in spite of the airbag. “The belt is the prerequisite for ensuring that the airbag can protect effectively. Without a belt, the airbags would be nowhere near as effective,” says Dr. Hartmuth Wolff from the Allianz Centre for Technology (AZT). However, in contrast to Formula 1 drivers, the driver in a passenger car is buckled up much more comfortably. Of course, they need much more freedom of movement, for instance to be able to turn round or to operate the radio. “That makes it all the more important to choose the right sitting position using the various adjustment levels and to make sure the belt is positioned well on the body,” says Wolff. “Also, you should always pull the pelvic belt tight by pulling on the shoulder belt, because otherwise you will not have full protection.”

In a Formula 1 car, the drivers are pushed as tightly into their seat, so they need the help of a mechanic to fasten the belts. However, in an emergency, they are able to leave the car from the normal buckled position within the five seconds stipulated by the regulations, because all the individual belts can be released with a single twist of the hand. The task of the belts is clear: in the case of an accident, they should work with the compulsory Head And Neck Support (HANS) to protect the driver from smashing against the steering wheel, and at the same time they absorb some of the impact energy.

“On the one hand, the belts must be strong enough to protect the driver from an impact,” says Frank Dernie from WilliamsF1. “On the other hand, they also have to give enough to make sure that the driver isn't injured by the belts themselves in an emergency.”

The manufacturers of the safety belts and the teams solve this dilemma with the help of extensive experiments that test the strength and the elasticity of the material. Generally, the belts are made of the textile fibre polyester, and sometimes have special monofibres woven laterally into them.

betterprotectionwithcurveThey act as small laminated springs and keep the belt strap flat. In this way, the load is distributed better over the entire width of the belt strap. The fittings and tabs are generally made of titanium. After an accident, it must be possible to rescue the driver together with the seat from the car if the emergency services think it necessary.

According to the FIA standard 8853/98, every fastening point of the belts must be able to withstand a load of 14.7 kilonewtons, the equivalent of roughly 1,470 kilograms. The belt widths must be between 44 and 76 millimetres (shoulders and legs) and between 50 and 76 millimetres (pelvis), depending on the most comfortable setting for the driver. The idea of comfort is always relative, at least if you believe Martin Brundle: “If the belts don’t hurt,” the former Formula 1 driver once said, “then they aren’t tightened hard enough.”

Mark Webber:
“As a result of some serious accidents, the Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit was made safer several years ago with the introduction of chicanes. But those chicanes put a huge strain on the brakes. The persistent changes in speed also make it difficult for us drivers to get into a good rhythm. The track is going to be re-developed in the autumn, and the chicane before the start/finish line will be replaced with a straight. The pit lane will be enlarged at the same time, which will bring more safety for the drivers and the pit crews.”
buckle_up Thanks to Allianz- Graphics by Allianz

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Hard core - The Formula 1 monocoque
with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne as example
Two elements are crucial for the designers in the development of a new Formula 1 car: speed and safety. The engine, aerodynamics and tyres look after the speed, while the monocoque guarantees the safety of the driver in extreme situations. This carbon fibre safety cell is virtually indestructible and plays a key role in the safety of Formula 1.

no_accidentThe safety standards in top-class motor racing have improved at a breathtaking rate in recent years. The monocoque was invented by the legendary designer and Lotus team boss Colin Chapman, who inserted a riveted lightweight metal case instead of the classic tubular frame in his Lotus 25 in 1962. On the infinite safety scale, it has now reached a level that will be hard to surpass.

As Brian O’Rourke, specialist for composite materials with the WilliamsF1 Team says: “The monocoques used in Formula 1 are safer than they have ever been. Nonetheless, research and development in this field still continue because safety has the highest priority for the drivers.”

Similar to the monocoque in Formula 1, the robust cell in passenger cars represents the heart of passive safety. It too should be affected as little as possible in the case of serious accidents. “It is crucial that the doors can still be opened easily after an accident,” said Dr. Hartmuth Wolff from the Allianz Centre for Technology (AZT). “This stability is achieved with the selective use of high-strength steel in areas that require high rigidity: for example, in the pillars.” However, rigidity alone is not enough in the area of the passenger cell. “For ideal occupant safety, the deformation behaviour, the rigidity of the cell and the function of the restraint systems and the seats must be coordinated precisely with each other,” said Wolff.

rigid_shellIn the Formula 1, the monocoque has become the most important component in the drivers’ overall safety package since McLaren first sent cars with a carbon fibre safety cell onto the starting grid in 1984.

In spite of the high standard achieved, however, Formula 1’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile
(FIA), never ceases in its efforts to improve safety in the sport even more.

The crash tests which have been stipulated by the FIA since 1985 guarantee the load capacity of the monocoque and the crash structure, and they have become more and more stringent over the years.

Since 1997, it has been obligatory for the rear structure as well as the side crash structures and the roll-over BAR to pass a crash test before every season. Here, again, the FIA is not satisfied with the standards already achieved and raised the level of the requirements a little higher before the 2006 season began by increasing the impact speed for the dynamic crash test of the rear area from 12 to 15 metres per second. That corresponds to an increase of 56 per cent in the impact energy on the rear crash structure, showing how much importance the FIA attaches to crash safety as reliable life insurance for the drivers.

The monocoques are made from carbon fibre, a composite material that is twice as strong as steel, but five times lighter. It consists of up to 12 layers of carbon fibre mats, in which each of the individual threads is five times thinner than a human hair. A honeycomb-shaped aluminium layer is inserted between these mats, which increases the rigidity of the monocoque even more. The whole shell is then heated under pressure in the autoclave, a giant oven. After two and a half hours, the shell is hardened, but still the baking procedure is repeated twice more.

supporting_elementAs a result, the monocoques are strong enough to protect the drivers even in the most serious of accidents, like the one involving Giancarlo Fisichella at Silverstone in 1997. The evaluation of the black box showed that his Jordan slowed from 227km/h to zero in just 0.72 seconds, which corresponds mathematically to a fall from a height of 200 metres. Even so, the Italian only suffered a minor injury to his knee – thanks in part to the monocoque.



Mark Webber:

“On a road course such as Albert Park, we are inevitably relatively close to the walls. That can be dangerous both for us drivers and for the spectators. In recent years, the organisers have worked extremely hard to improve safety for the spectators – and they’ve succeeded. But they didn’t forget the drivers, either. There are run-off zones at key points on the circuit. It wasn’t easy to integrate them, but the people in charge have found an excellent solution.”

Thanks to Allianz

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Safety first - The safety car
with the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring as an example
image_10If there is a dangerous situation in Formula 1, the race director sends the safety car onto the track. Especially after an accident or during heavy rain showers, the safety car drives to the front of the field and leads it around the track at reduced speed until the danger has passed. During this phase, there is an absolute ban on overtaking.

safety_carFor a racing driver, there is usually nothing worse than sitting in his car with his helmet and overalls on, having to watch helplessly as the field cruises round the track. But Bernd Mayländer; driver of the safety car again at the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, is always pleased when his services are not needed. “The best moments are the ones when I have nothing to do,” says the 34-year-old German.

deployment_orderThe safety car is an important safety factor in Formula 1. The FIA race director, Charlie Whiting, decides when it should be used, which is “whenever there is an immediate hazard but the conditions do not require the race to be interrupted,” as it says in the regulations. Once the safety car is on the track, all the cars beginning with the race leader have to drive in formation behind it.


pit_stopDuring a safety-car phase, the cars may drive into the pits and return to the track at any time. However, they then have to continue driving at reduced speed until they have reached the end of the queue behind the safety car. Once the dangerous situation has passed, the safety car switches off its warning lights and drives one more full lap on the track before turning off into the pit lane. However, the drivers can only overtake after the cars have passed the start/finish line. The laps in a safety car phase count as normal race laps.

There is no safety car for emergencies in everyday traffic. However, the display bridges on motorways have a similar function, as they can display warnings or speed limits adjusted to the present needs in the case of accidents, difficult weather conditions or congestion.

sign_languageFor the future, additional electronic aids are being developed. The electronic systems and sensors in modern passenger cars will exchange more and more data with external communication networks. “This networking has great potential, for instance, in the case of accidents, where it could make the deployment of the emergency services more efficient, safer and, above all, faster,” says Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser from the Allianz Centre for Technology. “For example, an electronic alarm could warn other car drivers about upcoming accidents and signal the arrival of emergency vehicles.”

Whenever the safety car comes into play during a grand prix, it means more safety, but not necessarily less excitement. If a team manages to bring its driver into the pits at the right time, it can gain a crucial advantage – the cars on the track are moving slowly and so this stop involves a far smaller loss of time.


rulesThat causes excitement, just like the end of a safety-car phase: when the tightly packed field is given the all-clear again, there are often breathtaking overtaking manoeuvres. As a rule, the safety-car phase is a disadvantage for the race leader, because he loses the lead that he had painstakingly built up. But the benefit in terms of safety for everyone involved compensates for this disadvantage. “Of course, it is sometimes quite frustrating to drive for several laps behind the safety car,” says WilliamsF1 driver Mark Webber, “but we don't complain because it improves safety for all of us.”

The first safety car was used in 1911 at the Indianapolis 500 race. However, it didn't pull the field together because there was danger ahead, but simply so that the spectators could fill up their soft drink cups and popcorn buckets without missing too much of the race. Since the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) set up clear guidelines for the use of the safety car in Formula 1 in 1992, the sporting competition and, above all, safety have taken priority over the spectacle.

Mayländer has been the driver of the safety car since 2000. His busiest year was in 2003. During that season, he and his co-driver Peter Tibbets were called upon 13 times – including five times at the waterlogged Brazilian Grand Prix.

Mark Webber:
“A fascinating Formula 1 arena with high safety standards for both drivers and spectators. The fast corners disappeared during the conversion, but the tight corners and the long straights are still there, so you have to make lots of compromises when you're setting up the car. The track surface has very little grip, but there are very generous run-off zones at all the relevant places. The only real element of uncertainty that worries the drivers and the teams is the unpredictable weather in the Eifel region.”

Thanks to Allianz- Graphics by Allianz

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Safety on the Double! - Driver clothing
with French Grand Prix in Magny-Cours as an example
targetFormula 1 owes its high safety standards not only to the use of computer technology and high-tech materials in the construction of the cars but also to the consistent enhancement of the helmets and racing overalls. They not only protect the drivers from injury in emergencies, but also give them a feeling of security.

well_dressedIn the founding years of Formula 1, between 1950 and 1960, the dress code was primarily directed towards comfort and elegance. The legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, for instance, preferred to drive in a polo shirt and cloth trousers with a balaclava on his head, which at best gave him relatively good sun protection. Even in the 70s, the racing overalls were made of easily inflammable cotton, and it was only after Niki Lauda’s fire accident on the Nürburgring in 1976 that attitudes changed.

From then on, things moved quickly. In 1979, Lauda, Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti competed in overalls made of five layers of fireproof material, as used by NASA for astronauts’ suits. Nowadays, not only the overalls but also the boots, underwear, gloves and face masks are all made of the special synthetic fibre, Nomex. It is so resistant to heat and fire that drivers in a Nomex-3 overall can survive 35 seconds in temperatures of 850°C, which is roughly equivalent to the heat in a house fire. This material also protects the driver against caustic gases and acids.

excillent_matterialAnother advantage of Nomex is its low weight. A racing overall – which these days normally consists of three layers of fireproof material – weighs scarcely 1.9 kilograms and every suit is tailor-made for the driver with the help of ultra-modern 3D computer programs. There is even space for a few small concessions in the interests of comfort: to make sure the overall does not cling or pull anywhere, a particularly flexible material is used for the shoulder area and the innermost of the three layers does not have any seams. Breathable materials are also used in the production of the overalls, which have varying thicknesses depending on the particular race. Each driver uses approximately 16 suits per season.

In passenger cars, too, the protection of the occupants has also reached an extremely high level over a period of many years. The safety of motorcycle riders, on the other hand, is extremely difficult to ensure. “Apart from avoiding accidents by riding carefully and defensively, the helmet is one of the indispensable safety factors,” says Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser from the Allianz Centre for Technology (AZT). Even so, no motorbike rider should rely solely on a helmet for safety reasons. Lauterwasser adds: “Good protective clothing with protectors should also be taken for granted.”

tough_customerIn Formula 1, every helmet is a unique item, individually tailored to the respective driver with great technical effort and expense. First, the driver’s head is scanned to create a life-size model, and the next step is similar to how the ancient Egyptians worked on their mummies: the model head is wrapped, layer by layer, with 120 mats of the high performance fibre T 800, where every thread consists of about 12,000 microthreads, each of which is about 15 times thinner than a human hair. The total length of all the threads processed in one helmet is approximately 16,000km.

The exact composition of the 17 layers is a well-guarded business secret for every helmet manufacturer. The specialists will only reveal the three main substances: carbon fibre for the rigidity, fire-resistant aramide and polyethylene, which is also used for bullet-proof vests. Added to these – as we all know – are aluminium, magnesium and, as a binding agent, epoxy resin. The helmets are extremely durable, but with a weight of about 1.2kg they are still relatively light and so reduce the strain on the neck and shoulder muscles of the drivers on tracks with particularly high G-force loads.

In the autoclave, the individual layers are bonded to one another and hardened under high pressure and at a constant temperature of 132°C. Parts subject to exceptional loads, such as the underside and the visor cut-out, are additionally reinforced using aluminium and titanium. The interior padding consists of two layers of fireproof Nomex. The helmet is subjected to an 800°C flame for 45 seconds in the compulsory fire test. During this time, temperatures inside the helmet may not exceed 70°C. The ventilation system is designed to allow about 10 litres of fresh air to flow into the helmet’s interior. A filter cleans the air of even the finest motor oil, carbon and brake dust particles.

additional_protectionA good view even in the most difficult situations is vital for the drivers. The three millimetre thick helmet visor made of fire-resistant polycarbonate ensures that the driver can always see clearly. The visor’s tint adjusts in fractions of a second to changes in the lighting conditions, such as in the famous tunnel in Monaco.


To test its protective qualities, projectiles are shot at the visor at 500km/h and the impact marks must not exceed a depth of 2.5mm. Given all this high technology, it is hardly surprising that the visor is heated – even though Formula 1 takes a break during winter.

Mark Webber:
“This track alternates very dynamically for the drivers between quick and slow sections and so is more demanding than it appears at first sight. Some of the corners run over small hills, so it is very difficult to see the apex. Because the tarmac is unusually smooth, we drivers always have the feeling that we can go right to the limit. So you have to be careful that you don’t overdo it. The whole thing also gets pretty tricky when it rains. In that case, the smooth surface can quickly become a problem.”

Thanks to Allianz- Graphics by Allianz

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Safety first! - Run-off zones
image_21Some of the most important safety features in Formula 1 are alongside the track. Generous run-off zones help reduce the speed of a car that has come off the track, while tyre stacks absorb the impact energy of the car when hit. Both the run-off zones and tyre stacks play a crucial part in the high safety standards of top-class motor racing.

Allianz Safety Check: Istanbul Racing Circuit

Although the safety systems at Formula 1 tracks have been greatly improved in recent years, the authorities refuse to be satisfied with the progress. Frank Dernie at WilliamsF1 Team is not the only one to demand that “the improvement of track safety must remain an important development goal in Formula 1 in the future.”

If the car comes off the track because the driver has misjudged a braking point or is struggling with a technical fault, the run-off zone acts as a sort of emergency brake. The gravel traps are about 25 cm deep and filled with spherical gravel stones with diameters of between 5 and 16mm in diameter.

run-zoneThe stones are designed to generate as much frictional resistance as possible – like sand scattered on an icy pavement – and so reduce the speed of a skidding car quickly and effectively. However, there is often a practical problem with this concept: with a ground clearance of just 50mm and a smooth underbody, the cars often slide over the surface of the gravel trap without braking sufficiently. There is also the danger they can be flipped by the heaped gravel and roll over.

The loose gravel traps are therefore being replaced by rough tarmac. It has the advantage of allowing the drivers, in some cases, to bring their skidding car back under control. Moreover, if the car does roll, the roll-over BAR does not sink into the soft surface: another safety bonus for the drivers. WilliamsF1 Team driver Mark Webber thinks run-off zones made of tarmac are safer, but makes an important point: “Many drivers exploit that, and sometimes even overtake. In that way, they take a much bigger risk because the consequences of a spin are not so dramatic.”



impact_upRun-off zones are not a logical option on every section of track. For acute impact angles of less than 30°, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) recommends a smooth, continuous and vertical track boundary. Ideally, the cars slide along this wall or crash barrier and dissipate energy and speed. For less acute angles, on the other hand, gravel traps and tyre stacks are absolutely indispensable. A tyre barrier has to be at least as high as the boundary wall behind it (at least one metre) and must consist of between two and six rows of tyres. Normal car tyres are often used, but they must not be too worn to ensure they provide enough resistance in an impact. All the tyres have to be bolted together: the front row is covered and reinforced with a 12 mm-thick rubber strap. Ideally, tyre stacks absorb about 80% of the impact energy.
impact_over On some sections of the city track in Monaco, which is lined with 32 km of crash barriers and has hardly any run-off zones, full water tanks have been used since 1995 as an alternative to tyre stacks. So-called “soft walls” were developed for the full-throttle banked corner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, filled with compact sheets of a polystyrene-like synthetic material and secured to the concrete wall with metal cables. Because it is a continuous system, it yields as a single unit in the case of an impact: the car does not get jammed and can slide smoothly along the barrier and slow down. Air-cushion fences are still in the test phase.

run_zoneDespite the huge progress in both passive and active safety in passenger cars, coming off the road is still one of the most serious risks to road traffic. ESP, or Electronic Stability Programme, is the most effective system to prevent skidding accidents, but roadside measures are an important second step towards preventing accidents and reducing the consequences of accidents.

“First of all, the road should be laid out so drivers will keep as intuitively as possible to the speed for which it is designed,” explains Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser from the Allianz Center for Technology. “Crash barriers are sensible and necessary, for instance to prevent crashing into dangerous obstacles close to the road. However, a run-off zone is even better than driving into a crash barrier.”

Whichever system finally asserts itself in Formula 1, one thing is certain: the race to optimise track safety will never cross the finishing line.




pilling_upMark Webber, WilliamsF1 driver:
“The track near Istanbul is not only the newest and one of the safest in Formula 1, but also one of the most interesting. It’s a demanding up-and-down track, which we drive anti-clockwise. The biggest challenge is the incredibly quick Turn 8, which consists of four different straight sections, each of which has a different radius. That makes it extremely difficult to find the ideal line. Thanks to the generous run-off zones, the safety standards are exemplary.”

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