A Brief Look at Formula 1 Safety

Formula 1 Safety

Safety has always been a slightly difficult topic in motorsports. Automobile racing is a dangerous sport, and some say that this danger is part of the sports allure. In fact, Ernest Hemmingway, the famous author once remarked that, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely game.”

No less of a racing driver than Sir Stirling Moss explained to a rapt audience at the Goodwood Revival that the inherent danger of motorsport was part of its appeal. In fact, it was more than a half century before that he had suffered a near fatal crash on Easter Monday 1962, at Goodwood. “It was a lot more dangerous back then, but one of the reasons that I entered motor racing was because it was dangerous. To me, as a professional racing driver, the fact that it was risking your life actually enhanced the pleasure,” said Moss.

In this sense Moss can be thought of a something of an anachronism and it would not be possible to diminish the importance of safety in the present sporting climate. Some drivers have been quite outspoken for the need for more safety in Formula 1, none more so that three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart.

When Stewart entered Formula 1 in the 1960s, multiple driver fatalities within a single year were sadly not unheard of. His famous compatriot Jim Clark, who many thought of as being the greatest driver of his generation, lost his life at a minor F2 race in Hockenheim, Germany.

“If it could happen to him, what chance did the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we’d lost our leader.” Chris Amon, on hearing of Clark’s death in a crash at Hockenheim in 1968.

Four months later at the even more daunting German Grand Prix held on the Nordschleife “Green Hell” 14-mile circuit under terrible conditions of rain and mist Stewart had campaigned hard for the race’s cancellation. Having failed in his efforts to stop the race Stewart promptly went out and won the event.

Stewart had been at the forefront in demanding better safety for many years. It was an accident at Spa in Belgium that crystallized in his mind the amount of work that needed to be done.


“I lay trapped in the car for twenty-five minutes, unable to be moved. Graham and Bob Bondurant got me out using the spanners from a spectator’s toolkit. There were no doctors and there was nowhere to put me. They in fact put me in the back of a van. Eventually an ambulance took me to a first aid spot near the control tower and I was left on a stretcher, on the floor, surrounded by cigarette ends. I was put into an ambulance with a police escort and the police escort lost the ambulance, and the ambulance didn’t know how to get to Liege. At the time they thought I had a spinal injury. As it turned out, I wasn’t seriously injured, but they didn’t know that.”

“I realized that if this was the best we had there was something sadly wrong: things wrong with the race track, the cars, the medical side, the fire-fighting, and the emergency crews. There were also grass banks that were launch pads, things you went straight into, trees that were unprotected and so on.Young people today just wouldn’t understand it. It was ridiculous.”

“If I have any legacy to leave the sport I hope it will be seen to be an area of safety because when I arrived in Grand Prix racing so-called precautions and safety measures were diabolical.”

From that day on he would have a spanner taped to the BRM’s steering wheel.

Stewart saw what he felt was a foolhardy sense of bravery exhibited by many of his fellow racers and a general disregard on the part of the organizers regarding driver safety. Louis Stanley of BRM became an ally of Stewart in the fight for better driver safety during this early struggle.

It was Stanley who was responsible for the arrival of the mobile Grand Prix Medical Unit in 1967 but even as late as the early 1980s, medical facilities at many Grand Prix events were shockingly poor by modern standards.

These standards now include mobile response teams comprised of salvage cars, rescue cars as well as two extrication teams. The rescue cars are manned by an emergency doctor, four paramedics and a driver. They can reach any point on the track within 30 seconds and are under the direction of the FIA’s chief medical delegate, Doctor Ian Roberts, who will be on stand-by always in the medical chase car at the end of the pit lane.

The first port of call for most drivers involved in an accident will be the circuit’s medical center, which is equipped with the latest medical devices, including full resuscitation equipment and its own operating theatre, manned at all hours by one of three shifts, each including an orthopedic surgeon, an anesthetist and six paramedics.

Local hospitals will also be on stand-by during a race so that very serious injuries can be transferred to them if appropriate. A MedEvac helicopter manned by a doctor, two paramedics and a pilot that’s ready to fly always, a second helicopter is kept ready outside the circuit and four additional ambulances are posted around the race track. If conditions are such that a helicopter could not take off from the circuit or land at the hospital, due to fog for example, then the race cannot go ahead.

The odds of being injured in Formula 1 have been greatly diminished but the sport can never be made completely safe. You can also improve your odds with legendary sports booking firm Williamhill.

Milestones in F1 Driver Safety

1961 Roll-overs bars are generally used for the first time.
1963 The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) assumes responsibility for safety on racing circuits. Modern flag signals are introduced. Vehicle fire prevention is advanced by improvements in fuel-tank construction. Drivers are required to wear fireproof suits. Cockpits are restructured to allow the drivers to get out more quickly.
1968 The roll-over bar must reach five centimeters higher than the driver’s head. Pictures of Dan Gurney and his woefully inadequate roll-bar come to mind). Additional fireproof clothing is recommended.
1969 A double fire extinguishing system is introduced,
1970 The FIA introduces circuit inspections before races. Stipulations include double crash barriers, a safety distance of three meters between fences and spectators, as well as a wall between the pit lane and the track.
1971 The cockpit must be designed in such a way that the driver can be rescued within five seconds, later changed with the introduction of the Halo.
1972 Head rests and red rear lights are introduced. Fuel tanks contain security foam. The six-point seatbelt becomes mandatory.
1973 Medical tests for all drivers. Integration of the fuel tank into crash and fire-resistant structures.
1974 Circuit safety walls become mandatory.
1975 The FIA defines the standard for fireproof clothing. The presence of marshals, a medical service with a center for resuscitation and compulsory rescue training become mandatory.
1977 The FIA determines uniform specifications for gravel traps and defines the standard for helmets.
1978 Only drivers with an FIA super license may enter Formula One races. A sheet-pile wall behind the driver and a front rollover bar are introduced to cars.
1979 Larger cockpit openings are made compulsory.
1980 Permanent medical centers at circuits become compulsory.
1981 The car’s safety cell is extended to include the driver’s foot area.
1984 The fuel tank must be located between the driver and the engine.
1985 Initial crash tests are used to determine the effects of frontal impact on cars.
1986 Helicopters must be on stand-by, ready for circuit medical personnel.
1987 The FIA regulates safety on non-permanent racing tracks.
1988 Crash tests for the car’s safety cell and the fuel tank are introduced. The driver’s feet must be behind the front axle. A permanent FIA race director is appointed.
1989 Track safety walls must be at least one meter high, and the pit wall must have a minimum height of 1.35 meters. Doping tests are introduced, similar to those of the International Olympic Committee.
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 are introduced.
1992 Introduction of the official Formula One safety car and stricter crash tests are implemented.
1993 Area of drivers’ head protection material around the cockpit is increased from 80 to 400 square centimeters. 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 refueling 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. The FIA uses computer analysis to identify 27 particularly dangerous corners that must be made safer. Test procedures for tire 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. Tire barriers must be bolted down.
1998 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 millimeters.
1999 Wheels are attached to the chassis by tethers to stop them from flying off during accidents. The seat and driver can be remov ed 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.
2000 Impact speed for the mandatory crash test is raised from 13 to 14 meters per second. The carbon fiber walls of the cockpit must be at least 3.5 millimeters thick. A 2.5-millimeter layer of Kevlar© fiber inside the cockpit walls is designed to resist penetration. The roll-over bar above the driver’s head is raised from 50 to 70 millimeters and must be able to withstand a lateral force of 2.4 tons.
2001 The marshals are better protected thanks to stricter safety standards. Headrests must be mounted in accordance with FIA standards. Cockpit walls at driver’s head level must rise to the rear at a slope of at least 16 degrees. The speed during lateral impact tests is increased from seven to ten meters per second.
2002 New lateral crash test for the rear of the cars – a force of 40kN is exerted for 30 seconds on a defined area and there may be no discernible deformation. The rear lights are increased in size to six by six centimeters.
2003 Numerous circuits undergo reconstruction prior to the season to improve safety even further. Silverstone: Stowe corner’s run-off area is changed to asphalt. Nurburgring: chicane before the final corner is revised. Magny-Cours: pit exit lane is made safer, allowing cars to rejoin the circuit at racing speed. Budapest: run-off zones and safety walls in the first corner are increased in size. Suzuka: given larger run-off zones and new emergency access routes. The HANS (Head and Neck Restraint) system, which wasfirst introduced in 2001, becomes mandatory for all drivers.
2004 The FIA introduces a new safety standard which sets out even higher requirements for the development of driver helmets.
2005 Protective padding on the inside of the cockpit is thickened from 75 to 100 millimeters. Wheel tethers must be able to withstand a minimum load of 6 tons. To avoid sharp carbon fiber splinters on the track after accidents, all front wings, barge boards and small aerodynamic body parts must be given an additional outer coating of Kevlar©, or a similar material.
2006 The impact speed for the rear crash test is increased from 12 to 15 meters per second.
2007 The speed limit in the pit lane is reduced from 100 to 80 km/h.
2009 The FIA forms the Motor Sport Safety Development Fund, with a management committee comprising Michael Schumacher as Chairman, Max Mosley, Nick Craw, Jean Todt and Norbert Haug – within five years the fund will be utilized for a safety program for young drivers, a training program for officials and a program for circuit safety.
2011 The FIA prescribes minimum dimensions for the roll-over bars to preclude the development of extremely slim components. The wheels of the Formula One cars must be fastened to the uprights by two tethers in future to prevent stray tires on the track after an accident. The outside mirrors may only be attached to the sides of the cockpit in a strictly prescribed area to improve the drivers’ rear-view visibility.
2012 All cars were required to pass their mandatory FIA crash tests before being allowed to take part in pre-season testing.2014The pit lane speed limit was reduced from 100 km/h (62 mph) to 80 km/h (50 mph).
2015 There were other changes introduced in a bid to further increase the safety of the sport. In the aftermath of Bianchi’s accident, a new procedure called the Virtual Safety Car] (VSC) was introduced following trials during the last three Grands Prix of 2014. The procedure could be initiated when double waved yellow flags were needed on any section of a circuit where competitors and officials were in danger, but the circumstances did not warrant deployment of the actual safety car. It obliged drivers to reduce their speed to match one indicated on the displays on their steering wheels.
2016 The usage of the Virtual Safety Car System was expanded to practice sessions as well to avoid the unnecessary use of red flags and session stoppages.
2017 As a response to widespread changes in the technical regulations expected to increase cornering speeds by up to 40 km/h (24.9 mph), the FIA requested that every circuit on the calendar undergo revisions to update safety features.
2018 The FIA announced plans to introduce additional mandatory cockpit protection with 2018 given as the first year for its introduction. After testing several solutions, the FIA ultimately settled on the “halo”, a wishbone-shaped frame mounted above and around the driver’s head and anchored to the monocoque forward of the cockpit. The minimum weight of the chassis was raised to accommodate the additional weight of the halo. To simulate a serious accident, a tire was mounted to a hydraulic ramand fired at the crash structure; to pass the test, the chassis and the mounting points for the halo had to remain intact. Drivers also will be required to wear gloves containing biometric sensors which record their vital signs to better assist marshals and recovery crews in assessing their condition in the event of an accident.
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