During a Formula 1 Grand Prix, the cars roar around a circuit at top speeds exceeding 360kph. The average speed of an FI car during a race is more than 180kph. Accidents and crashes are unavoidable when twenty cars are travelling at such high speeds on one track. Formula 1 has had its fair share of injuries and fatalities over the years. A Formula 1 fan must be wondering what it is to drive a Formula 1 car. Another question that will bug the fan’s mind is, are F1 cars safe to drive? If so, how safe are they?
It is well known that the most advanced and latest technology is first tried in Formula 1 cars. If successfully used, this technology later percolates down to streetcars. Formula 1 cars are designed and built with both performance and safety in mind. The FIA and constructors spare no efforts to keep the driver safe. Due attention is also given to reducing shrapnel and debris flying around the track. The FIA has set stringent safety standards for the safety of the different parts of a Formula 1 car. Constructors must meet these standards before their cars can race in Formula 1.
Formula 1 cars are safer than is generally thought. Many drivers have walked away unscathed from some very horrific accidents and crashes in recent years. A Formula 1 car can accelerate from a standstill to 100kph in 2.6 seconds and achieve top speeds in a few seconds more. The safety features incorporated in a Formula 1 car give the drivers to race at unheard-of speeds around the track. Continuous research is going on to improve the safety of cars and drivers further.
A Formula 1 car is made up of many parts. Some of them are bigger than others. All of these parts have to be tested to FIA specifications and meet mandated standards. They are tested for their resilience, durability and strength. All on-track accidents and incidents are investigated and the parts that failed are analysed. This information coupled with research is used to design are used to construct better and safer parts. There is a specific number of tests that each part has to be tested for. A Formula 1 car can be disqualified either before or after the race if any of the parts do not meet the required standards.
What makes an F1 car safe?
All Formula 1 cars must undergo a series of crash tests before the start of a season. Different structures and parts are subject to specific tests. Taken together, a Formula 1 car must undergo 18 different tests before it is certified by the FIA. The tests include static load and dynamic tests. These tests are carried out in accordance with FIA specified procedures. An FIA delegate is present while all the tests are carried out. The instruments used in measuring during tests are calibrated to the satisfaction of the FIA delegate. Every new or modified part has to be tested again before it is certified.
How strong is F1 monocoque?
A monocoque is an almost indestructible cell that protects the driver and supports the load of a Formula 1 car. That is why the monocoque is also referred to as the survival cell. The chassis and rest of the Formula 1 cars are bolted or fused with the monocoque. The safety of the driver is of paramount importance in Formula 1 racing. Research and improvement of the monocoque is a process in continuity. No efforts are spared to improve the resilience and strength of survival cells and improve the drivers’ safety. Both the FIA and constructors’ engineers work day in and day out to improve its safety.
The survival shell of a Formula 1 car is made from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) composites. CFRPs are excellent shock absorbers with strength far exceeding that of metals. Moreover, CFRPs are much lighter than steel which helps constructors in keeping a Formula 1 car’s weight to a minimum. Thin sheets of carbon fibre reinforced polymers are interwoven with perforated aluminium. Twelve such sheets are used in hand constructing the monocoque. The monocoque material is thrice as strong as steel and five times lighter.
The most important component of the monocoque is the roll hoop. It acts as the skeleton of the monocoque which, in turn, supports the other components of the car. The roll hoop gives rigidity to the monocoque ensuring that it does not deform. This rigidity keeps the driver from being crushed if the car overturns or when another car land on top. This greatly increases the safety of the driver. The material used in constructing a survival cell is fireproof and does not burn. The average weight of a Formula 1 car monocoque is around 35 kgs.
Monocoques are subject to static and dynamic tests in a crash simulator. Frontal, rear and side impacts are simulated and the impact absorption capacity is measured. The measurements are done in Specific Energy Absorption (SEA) units which are measured in kJ/kg. Steel achieve about 12 KJ/kg while Aluminium reaches around 20 J/kg when subject to these tests. CFRP can absorb anywhere between 40 to 70 kJ/kg making CFRP stronger than steel by far. Although it doesn’t look like there is a substitute for CFRP, research is going on to increase its energy-absorbing capacity. The monocoque is considered to be the safest part of a Formula 1 car.
Do F1 drivers wear a HANS device?
A Formula 1 driver’s torso and hip are firmly secured to the seat by a seat belt. Drivers are also subject to G forces ranging from 2g to 6g during a lap. In case of a sudden stop or an impact, the momentum of the body puts a lot of stress on the neck and head of the driver. In such circumstances, there is every chance of a fatal basilar skull fracture. The HANS device is a head restraint that eases the stress on the neck head and shoulders of a driver when subject to g forces. The HANS device along with the sculpted headrest of the seat help support the drivers head and neck.
The HANS device is U shaped and is placed behind the nape of the driver’s neck. Two arms of the device go across the shoulder and lie flat across the driver’s chest. The device is supported by the driver’s shoulder and is not attached to the seat belt. Two anchors, one on each side, attach the device to the driver’s helmet. The top two belts of the seat belt go across the two arms of the device but are not attached to it. The HANS device is fully supported by the upper portion of the driver’s body and not by the seat or the headrest.
Largely made from carbon fibre reinforced polymer, the HANS device secures the head in a steady position. It prevents the head from whipping forward when the car stops suddenly. It also protects the head from snapping back when the car is struck from behind. The HANS device also prevents excessive rotational movement of the driver’s head. In other words, the HANS device prevents sudden excessive movement of the head while allowing the driver to move his head within the normal articulation range.
What is a Halo in F1?
When the FIA first introduced the halo to Formula 1 in 2018, many drivers were circumspect of its use as a protective device. The Halo has justified its introduction by preventing serious head and bodily injuries in several instances thence. A halo is a bar that surrounds the driver’s head. It is connected to the car frame in three places. The halo is usually made from titanium, a strong and lightweight metal. An average halo made from titanium weighs around 7 kilograms. Halos are not made by vehicle constructors but are supplied by external manufacturers.
Halos protect Formula 1 drivers from a head injury when cars roll over or when another car somehow lands on top of the car. Halos are capable of withstanding 21 tons of vertical load and increasing the drivers’ safety by 17%. Now, halos are considered a necessary and important safety feature in a Formula 1 car. Halos make the Formula one car as safe as or more than a covered cockpit car.
How are F1 wheels attached?
The wheels of a Formula 1 car are heavy. Whenever there is an incident or a crash, there is every likelihood that a wheel will come off at high speed. The wheels roll and bounce easily at great speed and pose danger to other cars going by. Serious injuries and fatalities have been caused by flying wheels before. The wheels also pose a danger to match officials and stewards who may be in the vicinity of the accident. It is therefore important that a wheel does not disengage from the car in case of an incident.
After investigating similar incidents, the FIA has stipulated the wheels of an F1 car should be tethered to the car frame. A recent amendment states that a wheel must be tethered with a minimum of six steel cables. The idea is to prevent car wheels from being flung away from the car, in case it comes off the axle. This is another safety feature that makes Formula one cars incredibly safe to drive.
How do F1 cars protect the driver?
Subject to the kind of g forces when racing, a Formula 1 driver would be hard-pressed to remain in his seat without a safety harness. Formula 1 safety harnesses have evolved greatly over the decades keeping the driver safely entrenched in his seat. The FIA now makes it mandatory that drivers use a six-point safety harness when the driver boards his car. The safety harness makes sure that the driver is not thrown out of his seat in any eventuality. The harness is swiftly disengaged with one swift motion of either hand.
The six belts of the harness are securely attached to the car’s seat. While the safety harness has to securely keep a driver in his seat, it also has to have sufficient elasticity to prevent injury to the driver. In case of a frontal crash, the driver’s torso will be thrown against the seat belt. If the seat belt doesn’t have sufficient give, the driver is liable to break a collar bone. The safety belts are made from textile fibre polyester with laterally woven mono-fibres. This ensures that the belts remain pressed against the body with a small give in case of sudden movements.
When a driver buckles on the harness, two belts support the upper portion of his body over either shoulder. Two belts secure his hips firmly to the seat while two belts go across his thighs and are attached to the seat. This method of buckling holds the driver’s body securely in his seat. This is another important feature that makes a Formula 1 car one of the safest motor vehicles.
What crash protection structures are used in F1 cars?
Absorbing the energy of an impact on contact is the principle on which Formula 1 cars are designed to survive a crash. The crash impact-absorbing structures are designed to crumple while dissipating most of the force of impact keeping the driver safe. The monocoque, which is slightly elastic in nature, will deform slightly before regaining its original shape. All the parts of the car that can potentially come in contact with an outside object are designed to absorb some of the impact shocks. This includes the side panels, the front nose, wings and the rear of the car.
Most of the force of impact is absorbed by the crash structures as the seat harness keeps the driver securely in his seat. If the crash protection structure were not in place the car would simply bounce back. Worse still, it could hit another racing car or object further complicating matters. This is another safety feature that makes F1 cars very safe. The wings and other external structures are made from Kevlar. Kevlar is a tough and hard material that will crumple but not shatter or splinter. That reduces the incidence of flying missiles and debris on the track in case of an incident.
Do F1 cars have a fire suppression system?
The major cause of fire in an F1 car is the spillage of fuel in case of an accident. Fuel tanks are moved to the rear of the car to give the driver time to move out in case of a fire outbreak. Moreover, fuel tanks used in F1 cars are made from a combination of Kevlar and polyurethane. These tanks are structurally sound and robust. Being rubbery and elastic, they are likely to deform but very unlikely to puncture. This type of fuel tank construction has greatly reduced the incidence of fire outbreaks in Formula 1.
In case of fire, F1 cars do have a fire suppression system. This system is mounted in the survival cell. The fire suppressant in the system will prevent the spread of fire within the vehicle. The system can be conveniently operated by the driver or remotely by the team crew from the pits. This system significantly reduces the risks to a Formula 1 driver in case a fire breaks out.
What other safety features does an F1 car have?
Formula 1 cars have many safety features that make them one of the safest cars to drive even at those phenomenal speeds. A Formula 1 car is designed with safety in mind without compromising on its performance. The aim is: no matter what happens to the car, the driver of the car should be safe. Advanced technology is used to make these cars safe. Along with the FIA, the constructor’s engineers contribute greatly towards improving the safety of F1 cars.
The monocoque is lined with soft padding to prevent injury to the driver in case any part of his body hits the monocoque. Special protection is provided where the driver’s knees and feet are likely to come in contact with the monocoque. The chassis of the car is made from Zylon. Zylon is an extra-strong material that is bulletproof. This material does shatter into pieces. This means that no shrapnel or debris results from the chassis in the event of an incident keeping other drivers safe.
A very important safety feature of a Formula 1 car is the speed with which a driver can exit the car in an emergency. A Formula 1 driver can exit the car in less than five seconds. All he has to do is to unbuckle his safety harness and step out. Whenever anyone suffers neck or spine injury, medical protocol needs that the patient should not be moved. In such cases, the first responders can easily lift the seat out of the car with the driver in it.
Are F1 Cars Safe? – Conclusion
A Formula 1 car is as safe as a car can be despite the speeds that it is driven at. Formula 1 cars are designed constructed and tested with the driver’s safety foremost in mind. Despite being so safe, continual efforts are on to increase the safety of a Formula 1 driver further. Both the FIA and the Formula 1 teams know that having an incident-free Grand Prix contributes greatly to the popularity of the sport. Both parties give equal and deserved importance to the Formula 1 driver’s safety. This encourages the Formula 1 drivers to give their all when racing without fear of hurt or injury.