Formula 1 is taking the next big step towards safety. In the 2022 cars, drivers are twice as well protected against T-bone crashes and fire. But that has its price. It drives up the weight of the cars.
Safety is a non-negotiable good for the FIA. Even if it drives up the weight of the cars. The 2022 cars will be 43 kilograms heavier than their predecessors after the last rule update. Around half of this is used for the new safety regulations, which the regulations now prescribe. In return, drivers are twice as well protected in certain accident scenarios.
FIA Chief Technology Officer Nikolas Tombazis emphasizes that the world governing body's safety campaign has been a continuous process since Formula 1 was founded. He doesn't like it when changes are attributed to specific accidents. Of course you learn from accidents and their consequences, but you don't always want to just react.
Nevertheless, as a neutral observer, one can conclude from the latest modifications that in the future one wants to protect oneself better against accidents like those of Romain Grosjean in Bahrain, Anthoine Hubert in Spa and Billy Monger in Donington.
More side impact protection
For 2021, the hands of the safety experts at the FIA were tied, as Tombazis explains. "The cars were homologated between 2020 and 2021, so we couldn't ask for major changes to certain components. We only looked at a few details about the petrol system and, depending on the car, asked for some minor changes to make the system more robust."
There is a whole package of measures for the new cars. The biggest intervention concerns the chassis. It is intended to give the driver more protection in the event of a side impact with another. A so-called T-bone accident hits the car in the most vulnerable spot. Therefore, the FIA has put a lot of research into the question of whether the side of the car that is hit needs to be reinforced or whether the nose of the car that hits it should absorb more energy.
Tombazis reveals: "Our research showed that an extremely stiff chassis sidewall and a nose that absorbs more energy is the most efficient way to deal with it. It takes a good balance of both. This is achieved by thicker chassis walls and by making these Structures are better protected. There must be no other components in the way. The new chassis will be about twice as strong on their sides as before."
15 percent harder stress tests
This means that the stress tests for the teams are tightened. They must pass both static tests and provide paper evidence that they meet the requirements. As the weight of the cars increases from 752 to 795 kilograms, all limit values for the static load tests are increased accordingly by 15 percent.
The engineers also have to come up with new solutions for the nose of the car. "The energy that needs to be absorbed increases by about 80 percent," explains Tombazis. "We are researching how this value can be increased in the future. We are primarily struggling with one problem. If the nose is designed to be too strong in its energy destruction in the longitudinal direction, it can happen that it buckles more easily in the event of a lateral impact. "
This case was observed in a crash in the past Formula 2 season and also in the case of Sebastian Vettel in Singapore in 2017 when he hit the wall and broke off his nose. "That's why we can't make the nose as strong as we like. Otherwise it would snap off too easily," Tombazis regrets.
has a solution in mind though: "The energy has to be fed progressively into the nose. Of course, in the event of a direct impact, the nose and chassis have to react compatibly with each other so that the nose doesn't penetrate the other car. The two things have to go hand in hand With our measures for 2022, we will increase protection on both sides by a factor of about two."
Hubert accident difficult to survive
The tear-resistant cylon remains as a protective cover for the carbon tube. Simply adding another layer on top was not an option. "We get better results by strengthening the structure of the chassis. You can get the same result by making everything stronger and heavier in general. But our goal was to do that with a minimum of weight gain."
Better impact protection is good news for pilots. And yet you have to be honest. An accident like that of Anthoine Hubert would hardly be survivable even with the new F1 racers. The impact speed of Juan Manuel Correa's car was around 220 km/h. There were simply too many forces at play.
It looks better for an accident scenario like Billy Monger's. During a Formula 4 race, the Englishman crashed into the rear of a slowly rolling competitor at high speed and sustained serious leg injuries. "In the new Formula 1 generation, the rear crash structure is designed in such a way that it can no longer easily pierce the nose of the following car in the event of a rear-end collision."
Tank is better protected
During their accident analysis, the FIA also noticed that some areas in the front chassis area are too angular. "If you look at the layout in the suspension area, you'll notice that there's a ridge hidden under the fairing. That could be a weak point in an emergency. Certain impacts could cause local damage and injure the rider's feet. That's why we heavily regulated the shape there so that the structure is better protected."
A fire accident like Grosjean's shouldn't happen again either.Measures have been taken to better protect the tank and chassis. "The first issue is how the tank is anchored to the chassis. The teams have to demonstrate to us through calculations that the engine will not pull parts of the chassis with it if it breaks away from the rest of the car in a serious impact. That could leave the fuel tank unprotected expose to damage and thus increase the risk of fire."
The engine mounts will have to give progressively in the future to keep the chassis intact on the back wall. The tank itself needs to be properly connected to the chassis to prevent it from tearing loose. This is to minimize the risk of fire.
Search for a more efficient warning system
Another point concerns the carpet of debris that has been regularly deposited on the route in the event of accidents in recent years. The rear wing is therefore already secured with ropes on the 2022 cars so that it does not fly away so easily in the event of an accident. The end plates of the front wing must be made of a special compound that does not leave sharp-edged splinters.
"We don't want parts of the wings or the rear crash structure lying around on the track so that the following car could hit them. In general, we have tried to produce less debris after an accident. Of course, it helps that many of the filigree parts that were mounted around the car will be banned in the future," says Tombazis.
Improving active safety is a topic that the FIA is currently working on. "The next step will be to recognize better and faster where and when accidents happen and to install an automatic warning system," says the head of technology, giving an insight into the work of the safety experts. "We don't have anything in stock yet. We will discuss this with a lot of people before we can get it going."
Tombazis hopes: "Since we already have an extensive system of sensors and GPS tracking, we should be able to avoid some accident scenarios altogether. We're not talking about making the task of driving easier for the driver. We just want the driver to be warned as early as possible of an accident that has happened ahead of them, so they can take evasive action and slow down in time."