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FIA Accident Research (2): How cars became safer

FIA accident research (2)
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U incidents happen. For decades, motorsport accepted it as a God-given law of nature. Peter Wright knows his way around. He started at B.R.M. in 1967. as a young engineer and later worked for a long time with the legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman. Wright was one of the inventors of the ground-effect cars and active suspension.

The 69-year-old Englishman has been working for the FIA ​​since 1994. He is the head of the security commission, but will soon be giving up this post due to his age. But Wright has motorsport experience like no other. Above all, he witnessed the dark days of motorsport. When death was still a constant companion.

'I got into Formula 1 in 1967. The following year we had a series in which one driver died every month: Jim Clark, Mike Spence, Ludovico Scarfiotti , Jo Schlesser. Nothing happened. People weren't negligent. They just didn't know any better. And they didn't understand that regular deaths are unacceptable for the sport. '

Carbon and the central tank were waste products

Prevention was a foreign concept for a long time. In the first 25 years of Formula 1, exactly 4 safety regulations found their way into the rule book. In 1952 the crash helmet became compulsory, in 1959 the roll bar, 1969 seat belts, in 1973 deformable tanks. But those were not milestones. They came much later. And they were first of all a by-product of ideas that served a completely different purpose.

Carbon fiber came into motorsport in 1981 to make cars lighter and more torsion-resistant. The material became the best armor one could imagine. From 1979, the position of the tank between the driver and the engine was supposed to keep the cars slim to the benefit of aerodynamics and to keep the center of gravity constantly in the center of the vehicle. The central location was the perfect fire protection.

With every innovation, the injury pattern changed, recalls Wright. 'The drivers suffered severe leg injuries in the aluminum chassis. Every single part of the structure and paneling was broken at Ronnie Peterson's 1978 in Monza.'

With carbon, the legs were safe, but no longer the neck. 'Then came the higher cockpit walls, the neck protection and the HANS system, which was actually the result of our failed airbag attempts. It is dangerous for the neck andthe skull base reduced. Today our biggest fear is that the head will be hit by flying parts. '

Series of broken legs led to crash tests

In many cases, specific accidents have led to improvements: After a series of serious leg injuries such as those of Marc Surer in 1980 and 1982 in Kyalami, Jean-Pierre Jabouille in Montreal in 1980 or Didier Pironi in 1982 in Hockenheim, the FIA ​​introduced the first crash test in 1984. The frontal crash at 10 m /s with a controlled deceleration should force the teams to build the chassis more stable.

The crash soon followed from the side and from the rear, plus static load tests of critical components such as roll bars, tanks or The safety measures alone have made the cars 25 to 30 kilograms heavier. Former Toro Rosso engineer Laurent Meckies, who now coordinates safety efforts for the FIA, he counts: 'The teams are asked a lot. At Toro Rosso, 15 engineers only ensure that the crash tests were passed. '

The accidents at Senna and Ratzenberger resulted in higher cockpit walls and a 75 millimeter thick collar made of Confor foam around the head and neck . 'Probably the best lifesaver to date,' say the experts.

After Mika Häkkinen's skull base fracture in his accident in Adelaide in 1995, caused by the impact of his head on the steering wheel, the HANS- System invented. A cable on a collar cushions the forward movement of the head. There is also a steering column that compresses in the event of an impact.

Wheel ropes and a fabric called Zylon

In accidents involving Heinz-Harald Frentzen in Monza in 2000 and Jacques Villeneuve in Melbourne in 2001, a marshal was killed by a stray wheel s attached. The accidents of Alex Zanardi at the Lausitzring in 2001, of Takuma Sato in 2002 at the A1-Ring and of Timo Glock in 2009 in Suzuka resulted in gradual improvements in the protection of the cockpit against the ingress of foreign objects. Today the chassis is covered with Zylon all around. The material that is also used for bulletproof vests.

However, some accident scenarios cannot be foreseen. For example that of Felipe Massa in Budapest in 2009. An 833 gram coil spring from Rubens Barrichello's BrawnGP in front hit Massa above the visor on the helmet. Its speed was 259 km /h. Massa suffered a severe brain contusion.

Today the helmets with the standard 8860 are protected by a 5 centimeter wide nylon layer. Wright reveals: 'These 60 gram Cylon have already saved the lives of two drivers. Max Chilton was hit by a stone in the front last yearof the helmet and an IndyCar driver got a wreckage on the helmet. '

Measures for more safety in Formula 1

Since 1975 safety regulations have been regularly included in the regulations The rules have been tightened 23 times over the last 40 years, and each time the premier class has become a little safer:

  • 1975 NEW: headrest in the cockpit, fire extinguisher on board
  • 1976 NEW: Driver feet behind front axle, roll bar in front of steering wheel
  • 1984 NEW: Front crash test 10 m /s
  • 1985 Front crash test 10 m /s -> 11 m /s, NEW: Page 5 m /s
  • 1988 NEW: Static load test cockpit, tank
  • 1989 NEW: Cockpit 50.8 cm (height). 60 cm (length), 45 cm ( Width)
  • 1993 NEW: Load test roll bar 5.8 t (vertical)
  • 1995 Crash test front 11 m /s -> 12 m /s, NEW: rear 5 m /s, Cockpit 55cm (height), 65 cm (length), 45 cm (width)
  • 1996 NEW: 75 mm neck protection, headrest 2500 mm², cockpit 22 cm below line Überol l bracket (height), 77.5 cm (length), 52 cm (width), accident recorder
  • 1997 crash test rear 5 m /s -> 12 m /s, NEW: compressible steering column
  • 1998 crash test page 5 m /s -> 7 m /s, NEW: cockpit footwell: 45 * 35 cm
  • 1999 crash test front 12 m /s -> 13 m /s, helmet 70 cm under Roll bar line, NEW: 1 wheel rope 5 t each, seat with driver removable
  • 2000 front crash test 13 m /s -> 14 m /s, load test roll bar 6.0 t (vertical), 4.5 t (lengthways), 2.4 t (side) NEW: Static load test: nose, footwell, seat, tank, thickness of chassis: 3.5 mm (incl. Kevlar layer)
  • 2001 crash test page 7 m /s -> 10 m /s, cockpit 850 cm (length), roll bar 9.0 t (vertical), 6.0 t (lengthways), 5.0 t (side), footwell upholstery 25 mm
  • 2002 2 wheel ropes each 5 t, NEW: Side crash area: 45 * 55 cm
  • 2003 Front crash test 14 m /s -> 15 m /s, NEW: HANS regulation
  • 2006 rear crash test 12 m /s -> 15 m /s
  • 2007 rear crash test 15 m /s -> 12 m /s, rear crash surface 10 * 13 cm, NEW: Chassis side with cylon protection up to 55 cm height
  • 2008 headrest size 3300 mm², cockpit walls 5 cm higher
  • 2010 5 cm cylon protection for helmets
  • 2011 Chassis underside with Zylon protection
  • 2013 Crash test standards also for test drives
  • 2014 Standard crash structure side: 2 pins each 12 cm, 50 cm in front of the cockpit rear wall
  • 2015 Complete chassis with cylon protection

In our gallery we show you pictures of the special crash tests for the further development of Formula 1 cars and helmets. On page 2 of this article you can find the full interview with FIA Safety Coordinator Peter Wright.


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