The History Of Formula 1 Safety Devices

The history of FORMULA 1 safety devices goes all the way back to the inception of the sport, however, early efforts were nowhere near as effective as they are today. Thankfully, due to the ongoing work of F1 and the FIA, we now have fewer serious crashes resulting in Formula 1 deaths than we did in the 50s and 60s.

Here we look at the history of Formula 1 safety devices through the decades…

The History Of Formula 1 Safety Devices

F1 Safety Devices – 1950s

1950 The first Formula One World Championship race is held at Silverstone in England. The cars were designed purely for speed, with front engines and drum brakes – a fascinating experience without medical back-up or any form of safety net.

1952 Cork helmets made compulsory by the FIA.

1955 Disc brakes are introduced, and a ‘relocation’ takes place – Australian Jack Brabham, in his Cooper, is the first Formula One competitor to drive a mid-engined, rather than front-engined, car.

F1 Safety Devices – 1960s

1960 The first safety measures are introduced to Formula One racing.

1961 Roll-overs bars are introduced for the first time.

1963 Flag signals are introduced. Vehicle fire prevention is advanced by improvements in fuel-tank construction. Double brake circuit becomes mandatory. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) assumes responsibility for safety on racing circuits. Drivers are required to wear fireproof suits. Cockpits are restructured to allow the drivers to get out more quickly.

1968 Interrupters for electronic systems are introduced. The roll-over bar must reach five centimetres higher than the driver’s head. Additional fireproof clothing is recommended. Dan Gurney is the first driver to use a full-visor helmet in practice for the British Grand Prix.

1969 A double fire extinguishing system is introduced.

F1 Safety Devices – 1970s

1970 For safety reasons, the fans must now be at least three meters from the track. Between the track and pit lane, a separation wall has become mandatory.

1971 In case of fire, drivers have to leave the cockpit within five seconds (tested). In 1975 fireproof clothing became mandatory.

1972 The Six-point safety harness became compulsory so that drivers wouldn’t be hurled out of cars anymore – introduced two years after Jochen Rindt’s accident in Monza in 1970.

1975 Introduction of headrest and fire extinguisher (onboard).

1978 Professor Sid Watkins became the first chief physician of Formula 1. Since then medical conditions improved more and more.

1979 The cockpit openings were increased, so drivers could leave their cars easily in emergencies. Some drivers started wearing five-layer fireproof overalls for the first time, including Niki Lauda.

F1 Safety Devices – 1980s

1980 A track hospital is introduced and from 1986 a rescue helicopter as well.

1981 The carbon fiber monocoque becomes standard equipment and is extended to the foot area.

1985 The first crash tests for the front end of the cars are introduced.

1988 From 1988 the entire monocoques are part of the crash test regulations. Over the following years, regulation is further tightened and extended to other components.

F1 Safety Devices – 1990s

1990 Larger rear-view mirrors and detachable steering wheels become mandatory. Rescue training for drivers becomes compulsory.

1991 Tests for roll-over bars, seatbelts and survival cells introduced.

1992 Introduction of the official Formula One safety car and stricter crash tests.

1993 Area of drivers’ head protection material around the cockpit is increased from 80 to 400 square centimetres. The height of the rear wing is reduced, the distance from the front wing to the ground is increased and the circumference of the steering wheel is reduced. Exotic fuel mixtures are banned.

1994 All members of the refuelling crew must wear fireproof clothing. The FIA assigns a team of experts to check how Formula One racing can be made safer by means of new technologies. Auxiliary driving aids such as traction control, ABS, power-assisted brakes and automatic transmissions are prohibited. The FIA uses computer analysis to identify 27 particularly dangerous corners that have to be made safer. Test procedures for tyre barriers become mandatory, and barriers must also be secured by rubber belts. The speed limit in the pit lane is reduced to 80 km/h in practice and 120 km/h in races. The production standard for helmets becomes stricter.

1995 Crash tests become stricter and lateral crash tests are introduced. The FIA introduces new criteria for the acquisition of an F1 super license.

1997 FIA accident data recorders are installed in all cars for more precise accident analysis. A rear impact test and new rear crash structures are made compulsory. Tyre barriers have to be bolted down.

1998 Car width is reduced from 2 to 1.8 metres. Cockpits are enlarged. A driver must be able to detach the steering wheel, exit the cockpit and reattach the steering wheel, all within ten seconds. Rear-view mirrors must be at least 120×50 millimetres.

1999 Wheels are attached to the chassis by tethers to stop them from flying off during accidents.
The seat and driver can be removed together. Front crash tests become stricter. Asphalt instead of gravel is used for some run-off areas. Four medically-equipped rescue vehicles and a car for the FIA doctor are made compulsory.

F1 Safety Devices – 21st Century

2000 The impact speed in a frontal crash test increases from 13 to 14 meters per second. The carbon fibre walls of the cockpit must be at least 3.5 millimetres thick.

2001 The cockpit walls are built higher.

2002 Because in 2000 at Monza and 2001 in Melbourne two marshals die from flying tires, each wheel now gets two tethers.

2003 The head-and-neck support system (HANS Device) is introduced. It stabilizes and protects the head and neck of the driver in accidents.

2005 The protective cushions in the cockpit are strengthened. The tire tethers now need to withstand forces of up to six tons. Front wings and other aerodynamic components must be built with extra hard kevlar.

2006 For the first time, Tecpro barriers are being experimented as a track boundary. The plastic blocks absorb 40% more energy than conventional tire stacks.

2008 Cockpit walls are further heightened by 5 cm.

2011 After Felipe Massa’s accident in Hungary in 2009, the helmets must have a Zylon band attached above the visor that protects the pilots from flying parts.

2013 Helmets become compulsory for all who work on the car during the race. Only team members and marshals can be in qualifying and racing in the pit lane

2015 Complete chassis with Zylon protection – bulletproof protection.

2016 After Jules Bianchi’s deadly crash with an excavator in Suzuka, the virtual safety car phase is introduced.

2018 Three instead of two kevlar tethers for tires are introduced.

2018 HALO introduced to F1 cars