How Has Safety in Formula 1 Improved Over the Years?

In light of the recent events with Jules Bianchi many are asking questions about the safety of Formula One Racing. The FIA is the governing body responsible for Formula One Racing, and its rules. It has recently come forward with two major recommendations for improved safety following the horrific October 2014 crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. Bianchi was in the 43rd lap of the Grand Prix when he lost control of his car. It was raining heavily as a typhoon was bearing down on the track and it was dark. Former FIA president Max Mosley comments on accident in this interview with Sky Sports and he is one of a number of influential F1 figures who have spoken about the tragic circumstances around the accident and what a freak event it was. Since Jules’s tragic crash, the FIA and Malaysia Grand Prix organizers are working towards a compromise to allow the Grand Prix to run entirely during daylight hours. Even with all of the many safety measures necessary for a Formula One race to take place, the sport in its very nature of speed will always be somewhat dangerous. Despite the questions many are asking Formula One has always been a safety forward organization. They are a leader in driver safety and are usually quick to implement measures to further improve driver and patron safety. Over the years here are some of the safety measures F1 has shown leadership in implementing.

Fire Safety

Both Formula One and every day automobiles tend to go on fire when they crash. In the 1960s with this fact in mind, the Formula One governing body made it a requirement for drivers to wear a fireproof suit. In 1969 fire suppression systems were installed in all of the cars. In 1975 the standards for fireproof clothing were updated, and in 1979 new clothing 5 layers thick, designed by NASA debuted. A couple of decades later the requirement to wear fireproof clothing was extended to the various pit crews.

Fuel Tank Safety

One of the earliest ways to minimize the number of fires related to crashes in Formula One cars was the introduction of highly structured reinforced fuel tanks. In 1973 the F1 governing body mandated that fuel tanks be relocated to a fire and crash resistant area of the vehicle. By 1988 the cars started to undergo crash testing focused on the fuel tank and safety cell.

Head Safety

The risk of a severe concussion or death from a blow to the head has long been a risk in F1 racing. In 1961 roll bars became an important part of the car, and by the end of the decade helmets and even sturdier roll bars were in use. However, it was not until 1991 that rollover bars actually underwent safety testing.

Breaking Technology

Breaks are one of the most important safety features of any car. This is why in 1955 Formula One introduced disc brakes on all of the vehicles. By 1994 Formula One had become an early adopter of the safer anti lock or ABS breaking system.

Beyond these areas Formula One has consistently led in making what is by nature a dangerous sport as safe as possible. Many measures and technologies have been implemented years before the same quality of technology was deployed on the passenger vehicle fleet. Despite the recent accident, safety is alive and well at Formula One.

Written by Lewis Shaw

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