Driver Safety in Formula One Racing
The high speeds and challenging courses of Formula One racing make it a dangerous sport for drivers. Many of the rules in Formula One racing are designed with driver safety in mind and constructors are always looking at new design features to enhance driver safety.
Formula One racing rules require that a driver must be able to get out of the racecar quickly. The exit must be accomplished in less than five seconds with the removal of nothing more than the steering wheel. According to FIA rules the steering wheel must also be able to be re-installed within five seconds to allow for quick removal of a car from the track to insure the safety of other Formula One racing drivers.
The cockpit area of a Formula One racing car is referred to as the survival cell. In Formula One racing, the survival cell is equipped with a rollover protection hoop as well as front and rear crash protection features. Recent changes have focused on making side walls taller and stronger to protect the driver’s head from flying debris. Formula One racing cars are put through crash tests to determine their ability to safely protect the driver.
Although fires are rare in Formula One racing today, fire safety precautions are still an important part of driver safety. The clothing worn by race drivers are made from fireproof materials designed to protect the driver in case of fire until it can be extinguished. Design of the clothing must also take into account the extreme conditions that Formula One racing drivers face during a race. During a race drivers must endure extremely high temperatures inside the care and must wear items that allow sweat to escape to avoid overheating. Specially designed fabric that meets both the fireproof and wear-ability factors is used for everything, including the thread and sponsor patches on the uniform as well as the underwear worn by the driver.
The shoulders on overalls worn by Formula One racing drivers have to large safety handles. Because FIA rules require that a driver be removed quickly from his car while strapped into the seat they are held in place with only two standardized bolts that can be removed with a tool carried by every rescue team. The long and strong straps make it possible to remove both driver and seat together.
Helmets play a key role in Formula One racing safety. It is important that helmets be as lightweight as possible since added weight increases the severity of whiplash during a crash. Today’s Formula One racing helmets weigh just under three pounds. The helmet is comprised of layers made of carbon fiber, a plastic like that used in bulletproof vests, a softer plastic and a covering of flameproof material. Visors are composed of a polycarbonate.
The leading causes of death in auto racing accidents are skull and neck fractures resulting from rapid deceleration during accidents. The Head and Neck Support system (HANS) was designed to reduce these whiplash effects. The system consists of a collar that is attached to the safety belt and strapped to the helmet to hold the helmet in place during an accident. HANS usage became mandatory in Formula One racing in 2003.
Injuries and accidents are unavoidable. Formula One racing sets high standards for medical care at each Grand Prix. Trained medical and extraction teams are in place at each race, each circuit has a fully equipped medical center and local hospitals are on standby during races.
FIA strives to make Formula One racing as safe as possible though on-going innovations and rule changes.