Formula 1 is one of the most entertaining sports to watch, but considering its high-speed nature, high speed accidents happen often but most crashes have no victims, which is quite fortunate in a sport where accidents can go wrong pretty quick – fatally wrong.
Every time you watch Formula 1 and see a car spin off the track and slam into the TepCo barriers at high speed, you don’t expect the driver to get out with no injuries. But this usually happens, and it’s not because the driver is lucky, but rather because they drive a car packed with several safety features that ensure they can escape a dangerous accident in safe conditions and with as few injuries as possible.
The latest Formula 1 cars come with multiple safety features meant to save the drivers’ lives. They have a Halo and roll bars to create a virtually indestructible survival cell to protect the driver in an accident. Their fuel tank is made from bulletproof material not to explode in an accident.
In this article, we’ll discuss about the safety features that prevent drivers from getting injured. Are you ready to dive deep into what keeps Formula 1 drivers safe and sound when they crash their cars at high speeds? Put your helmet on!
What is the role of the survival cell?
We mentioned the survival cell earlier, that is the feature that keeps the drivers safe in case of an accident. The section of the vehicle that surrounds the driver, also known as a monocoque, is an essential safety feature as its only purpose is to keep the driver safe in case of an accident. It’s made from carbon fibre, a light but quite durable material that’s almost indestructible. Now you understand why drivers feel comfortable to race at high speeds, they’re aware that they’re perfectly safe even if they crash.
The role of the survival cell is to keep everything away from the driver, and prevent protruding objects from penetrating the car in case of an accident. The monocoque is extensively tested against several elements to ensure there is no debris or other things that could pierce it and hit the driver.
If you’re a Formula 1 enthusiast, you probably remember Romain Grosjean’s accident. It proved how durable the monocoque is. Even if his car went through a barrier, split in half, and caught fire, the driver suffered no injuries other than a few broken ribs and some burns on his hands. If this kind of accident happened on the road, in different conditions, the driver would have probably suffered complex injuries.
In fact, if people would drive on the road at the same high speeds Formula 1 drivers do it during races, there would be an even higher number of accidents and accident compensation claims.
What is the role of the Halo?
The Halo is another safety feature in Formula 1 cars, made from titanium and covered with lightweight carbon fibre, its 12 lbs can support 26,455 lbs. Formula 1 car manufacturers have strengthened vehicles’ chassis to withstand the stress on the Halo locator bolts, which is considered the strongest part of a race car.
The Halo has the role of protecting the driver’s head from other cars or flying objects or debris. Its purpose is to prevent flying objects from landing on top of the drivers’ heads or flying into their faces. It can withstand a weight much higher than a Formula 1 vehicle will experience, as they’re made lighter than in the past to catch higher speeds.
In the beginning, drivers such as Kevin Magnussen and Max Verstappen and several Formula 1 specialists criticised the introduction of the Halo because it hinders the drivers’ line of sight and affects the cars’ aerodynamics. But after several examples of the safety feature saving drivers’ lives. Everyone agrees that it’s one of the best additions.
When his car was sandwiched between two parts of the lateral barrier, Romain Grosjean’s accident proved how valuable this feature is. If the vehicle had lacked the Halo, the driver’s head would have ploughed directly into the barrier at high speed, which would have proved fatal for Grosjean.
Why are Formula 1 fuel tanks made from Kevlar?
Fire is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous aspects of a Formula 1 race. An accident can easily trigger a fire, which makes the driver’s extraction more challenging. Therefore, the marshals spend longer reaching the driver and if they’re severely injured and cannot get out of the car on their own; they should be protected in case of a fire.
The fuel from an F1 car is very flammable, and each vehicle carries 100 kg at the beginning of the race (refuelling is no longer allowed). It’s crucial to ensure the fuel stays in the tank no matter what happens. Also, cars get pretty hot during races, and as everyone knows, fuel and heat don’t mix well. In the past several drivers died because their cars caught fire and they couldn’t get out.
Nowadays, all Formula 1 cars have fuel tanks made from military-grade Kevlar (the same material used for bulletproof vests) and is reinforced with rubber to prevent the fuel from leaking or catching fire due to heat. Kevlar is a strong, but flexible and light material, ideal for making F1 fuel tanks.
Why are headrests, seat belts, and padded cockpits essential safety features?
All Formula 1 cars have headrests especially made to fit the drivers, made from memory foam, and are specially designed to protect the driver’s head in case of impact. Drivers are strapped into their seats with a six- or seven-point harness to ensure they don’t fly out of the car in case of an accident. However, their design allows the driver to undo them and exit the vehicle in five seconds if it catches hire.
The cockpit is another safety feature that has the role of reducing the injuries the driver may get in a car crash as it absorbs the impact and protects their legs.