Formula 1 is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. With drivers racing wheel to wheel at over 200 miles per hour, accidents are common. It’s no surprise that there have been some technological innovations and features added to the cars to improve the safety of F1.
Some incredibly important F1 car safety innovations have been developed over the years. From the Halo to accelerometers inside the drivers’ helmets, no safety measure is too small and insignificant in Formula 1. The FIA is also constantly pursuing new innovations for better safety.
There has been an incredible amount of safety changes in F1 as a sport over the years. However, in this article, we will mostly be focused on the safety aspects of the cars. Formula 1 cars are some of the safest vehicles on the planet, and we’ll be looking at why that is the case.
F1 cars are so safe because billions of dollars have been spent on improving their safety in recent decades. This has funded research and development of many key safety features, such as the survival cell and the halo, that combine to make an extremely safe racecar.
Formula 1 cars are incredibly safe. In fact, they are some of the safest cars in the world, far safer than your average road car. This might be a surprising fact, especially when you consider the fact that these cars travel around tracks at over 200 miles per hour. You might be wondering how these cars have become so incredibly safe for drivers to be in.
The answer is that it’s the result of decades worth of research, testing, and development. Billions of dollars have been poured into finding the safest way to keep these cars on track, and engineers spare no expense when it comes to ensuring the safety of their drivers.
Some Of The Safest Cars On The Planet
The cars have also been designed to be the safest possible vehicles in the circumstances they might face out on track. When it comes to road cars, there are many other scenarios that drivers could face, such as oncoming traffic for example. Since Formula 1 cars deal with fewer of these kinds of circumstances, more focus can be put into improving the areas where they are most vulnerable on track.
With Formula 1 having been around for many decades, the engineers have countless case studies that they can look at to see where the safety of the cars can be improved. This was certainly the case with the Halo, the most recent safety innovation put on Formula 1 cars.
Formula 1 cars weren’t always safe. It wasn’t until the 2000s that cars truly became a much safer environment for drivers. Even as recent as the 1980s and 1990s we still saw several F1 drivers being killed in their cars out on track, with perhaps the most famous death of all being Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994.
Formula 1 even went through a time period in the 1960s and 1970s that was known as the “the killer years,” with a total of 26 drivers losing their lives during these decades. The cars driven in the 1970s had virtually no safety features and were often referred to as “bombs on wheels.”
The safety of the sport drastically improved after that, with ‘just’ four drivers being killed in the 1980s and two in the 1990s. These improvements in safety were welcomed by drivers and fans. However, the cars were still not safe enough. As the cars became faster, safety had to be developed in order to keep up.
The last driver to lose their life in a Formula 1 related incident was Jules Bianchi, who passed away in 2015 from injuries he sustained during an accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The Halo was introduced primarily as a result of this incident, and it has made the sport much safer already.
The survival cell was first introduced to F1 in 1981. As the name suggests, it’s a cell that the driver is seated in. This is designed to protect the driver from anything outside of the car. The survival cell, also known as the monocoque, has undoubtedly saved several lives over the years.
The survival cell is built from 6 mm thick carbon fiber with a layer of Kevlar. This makes it practically indestructible, and it can absorb a lot of energy from a crash and prevent it from impacting the driver.
Since 1981 the survival cell has been developed and improved. It has become much safer than ever before, and it can now withstand some side impacts as well. This means the cars are safer in the event of a T-bone collision. The survival cell is also designed to disconnect from the body of the car in high-impact collisions, so if the fuel cell is punctured the driver is not directly in front of it.
The survival cell has to go through extensive testing and be fitted with a fire extinguisher before it is considered to be safe to race in, especially at Formula 1 level. The survival cell is the last line of defense between the driver and the wreckage outside of their monocoque.
The Halo is one of the latest safety innovations that has been brought to Formula 1. It has also been introduced into junior motorsport all the way down to Formula 4 due to the massive strides that it has taken towards safer motorsport. It protects the driver from being crushed in a crash.
After years of testing, the Halo was finally introduced into Formula 1 in 2018, and right from the start it proved to be a great innovation. It has prevented head injuries on several drivers during collisions, such as Charles Leclerc at Spa in the same year that it was introduced.
The Halo is made from lightweight but powerful titanium tubing. It can withstand a weight of 12 tons, or about 26,500 lbs. This means that it will be able to stay in place even when another car is on top of it. This device is incredibly strong.
The Halo was a controversial introduction into the sport at first, with many arguing that it goes against single-seater DNA and that it could limit the drivers’ visibility. However, after seeing how much the Halo protects the driver’s head in modern motorsport, it is clear that it is a necessity.
F1 cars have Kevlar fuel tanks because the fuel they use is highly flammable and the fuel tank needs to withstand a heavy crash. Fuel tanks on F1 cars used to be built entirely from metal, but these were not strong enough. In the case of a high-impact crash, the entire car would burst into flames.
On top of that, the inside of a Formula 1 car is extremely hot. If some fuel were to find its way onto the engine or the exhaust, it would ignite instantly. To prevent this from happening, the fuel inside a Formula 1 car needs to be contained. The standard metal fuel tank is not strong enough, so Formula 1 uses military-grade ballistic Kevlar fuel tanks reinforced with rubber.
This ensures that the fuel tank cannot rupture or be punctured in the event of a crash. The fuel tank is also built into an odd shape which keeps it away from the hot exhaust and engine. It is built into the car behind the monocoque and the driver’s seat.
Despite being mere millimeters off the ground and having an extremely low center of gravity, we have seen Formula 1 cars roll in the past. It’s not that uncommon to see a Formula 1 car being flipped upside down, and luckily, safety measures have been taken to prevent drivers from being injured when this happens.
The roll structure of a Formula 1 car is very important, and it’s unique to every single car, even if they are two cars on the same team. This is because it completely depends on the driver’s height. A taller driver will sit higher up in the car, and therefore also needs a taller roll structure.
The main roll structure is the tallest point on the car, right behind the driver. The roll structure doubles as an air intake and a camera mount on Formula 1 cars, and this is where the T-cam is mounted.
The roll hoop must be able to support the weight of the entire car in case it ends up upside down. There must also be enough space in between the ground and the cockpit for the driver to be able to get out of the car or to be extracted from the car by marshals.
F1 cars do have seatbelts. The seatbelts used in F1 are actually 6-point harnesses (or 7-point harnesses) and these have been mandatory for decades. The seatbelts in F1 cars need to be strong to hold the driver securely in case of a crash, but also easy to remove if need be.
Seatbelts are an important part of any vehicle right. Shockingly, seatbelts weren’t made mandatory in Formula 1 until 1972. The cars were much slower in the 1950s and 1960s, but even so, the lack of seatbelts contributes to the incredibly high fatality rates that were seen during these eras.
Thankfully, seatbelts were brought into Formula 1, and not just any seatbelts either. Formula 1 cars have a six-point harness, similar to what you would find in a fighter jet. This means that there are six straps that hold the driver in place in their seat so tightly that they can’t move their body at all.
The drivers need to be strapped in tightly so that they do not move around under the immense G-forces they experience in the car. There also needs to be no movement from their body during a crash as this reduces the chances of being injured.
The six-point harness can quickly be unclipped simply by pressing a quick release button in the middle. This allows drivers to quickly get out of the car. Drivers cannot strap themselves in because of the lack of space in the cockpit and how tight the straps need to be pulled, and it needs to be done by a crew member from outside the car.
The HANS device is an important safety innovation that was introduced into F1 in 2003. The HANS, or Head And Neck Support, sits on the driver’s shoulders and is tethered to the driver’s helmet. Modern F1 helmets have anchor points on the sides that connect the helmets to the HANS devices.
These tethers that connect the HANS device and the helmet together might seem thin and flimsy, but they are extremely strong. The tethers prevent the driver’s neck from overextending in the event of a crash, and it also helps to avoid whiplash.
Due to the fact that Formula 1 cars can often be involved in high-impact crashes in excess of 50 G, a HANS device is essential for protecting the driver’s neck. At the same time, it also prevents the driver’s head from shooting forward and hitting the dashboard of the car.
During a high-impact crash, a driver often does not have time to brace themselves for impact, which means that their neck won’t be prepared to keep their head up and in a safe position for impact. The HANS tethers limit the head’s movement during a crash.
Accident data recorders were first introduced in 1997 and they have played an integral role in improving the overall safety of motorsport as a whole. These little devices are able to measure the G-force that the impact produces, amongst other important data such as the speed, time, and telemetry of the car.
Ever since these sensors have been made mandatory for all cars, the FIA has learned a great deal about how crashes work in Formula 1. Not only have they been able to measure the impact of a crash, but they have also been able to investigate the exact cause of a crash and whether it was driver error or a mechanical fault.
Another benefit of these sensors is that the FIA now knows what the threshold is for a crash to be considered “dangerous” to the driver’s health. If the car experiences an impact over 18 G, a light will activate inside the cockpit of the car, and the medical car driver and medical team will be notified immediately.
This warning indicates that the driver has sustained a high G-force crash, and they may need treatment. The driver is required to go to the medical center for a check-up, even if they look and feel completely fine.
Aside from the major safety innovations in Formula 1, there has been progress made in many different areas. There are so many safety innovations underneath the skin of a Formula 1 car that many people do not know about.
These innovations have either been in response to major incidents, or they have been brought in because of changes made to the cars. These features are necessary, as the safety of the drivers, crew members, and spectators is of utmost importance in Formula 1.
The FIA and Formula 1 engineers are always at the forefront of developing and building new technology. There are a lot of innovations that have been researched and developed in Formula 1 that have been used in road cars effectively.
This is one of the reasons why this sport is so important and so relevant to the real world. Systems such as traction control and ABS were used and heavily developed in Formula 1 to improve the cars’ performance, and they are now essential for road cars due to their safety benefits.
One of the major innovations in the 2009 season was the development of the KERS system. KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) is what we now know as ERS (Energy Recovery System). This system uses a battery and electrical motors to give the driver a boost in horsepower.
When it was first introduced it was very much in a developmental stage, but drivers and engineers quickly learned that this new system was nothing to play around with. An engineer for BMW Sauber, one of the teams that took on the KERS project in 2009, suffered an electric shock from touching the car while it was still live.
There have been several other scenarios where engineers, marshals, and drivers have also been shocked by the ERS system. However, modern Formula 1 cars have become much safer now, with the use of a light that indicates whether the car is live or not. Each car has a light on the roll hoop and in front of the driver, and you may have seen these lights before.
If the light is green then the car is safe and can be touched at any time. If the light is purple or amber, it means that the car is or may be live and caution needs to be taken when working with the car. Drivers, mechanics, and marshals will always double check this light before touching any Formula 1 car with an ERS system.
The pit lane is considered a part of the racetrack, but because it’s filled with mechanics, reporters, and camera crew walking around, it is also one of the most dangerous parts of the track. Whenever there are people crossing roads or walking in between moving cars, there’s a huge amount of risk.
Naturally, you would think that the pit lane is an area where you need to drive slowly. However, this has not always been the case. Pit lane speed limits were only enforced in Formula 1 from 1994 onwards. In fact, Ayrton Senna once set the fastest lap by driving through the pit lane at racing speed at the 1993 European Grand Prix in Donington.
Pit lane speed limits have been enforced due to several incidents taking place, including camera crew and mechanics being hit by cars and tires that have come off the cars. The pit lane speed limit is a strict rule in Formula 1, and any driver who speeds in the pit lane is punished.
Formula 1 teams now have pit limiters in their cars, which is essentially a cruise control system that keeps the car at pit lane speed until the button is pressed. This prevents the drivers from going too fast (or too slowly) in the pit lane.
Along with G-force sensors in the car, Formula 1 has also introduced helmet impact sensors. Sometimes a driver’s head can sustain a higher level of impact than the car. This was the case with Jules Bianchi’s crash, as the main impact took place on his head, not the body of the car. His earpiece accelerometer measured a 92 G impact.
These accelerometers are placed in the drivers’ earpieces that also contain their radios. This was decided to be the most convenient position to place them as there is enough space, and they are out of the way, so the driver’s head remains comfortable inside the helmet.
It’s important to have these helmet impact sensors in case the driver sustains a higher impact in terms of G-force than the car. The sensors are also placed inside the helmet since head damage can be particularly dangerous, so it’s important for the FIA to know if a driver has sustained any head damage during a crash.
One of the more recent inventions that has been made mandatory are biometric gloves. Formula 1 drivers have always used their fireproof gloves, but the latest versions of these gloves have 3 mm sensors stitched into the palms of the gloves.
These sensors are able to monitor the driver’s vitals such as the driver’s pulse and the oxygen levels in their bloodstream. This is important data for the medical team to have and it helps them to better understand the situation that the driver is in before they have even gotten out of the car.
It’s small technical innovations like these that often go under the radar, but they are extremely important and may even save a driver’s life. These safety features are crucial in Formula 1 as it helps us to understand the sport better and it allows the sport to further advance the safety measures on the cars.
The bulkhead on a Formula 1 car surrounds the outside of the survival cell. This is essentially the area that encapsulates the survival cell, and it acts as a second layer between the driver and the wreckage outside of their monocoque.
However, this bulkhead must be built from strong fireproof material. This is done to ensure that the survival cell is protected in the event of an explosion or a fire breaking out. The survival cell itself is designed to withstand impact and prevent objects from breaking into the cockpit.
However, this bulkhead on the outside of the survival cell serves as fire protection, which the survival cell is not necessarily built for. This bulkhead can protect the driver from any extreme heat outside of the car or in the close vicinity of their car.
It’s this fireproof bulkhead, in conjunction with the survival cell and various other safety innovations, that saved Romain Grosjean’s life at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix. Despite being engulfed in flames for more than half a minute he emerged with only some minor burns to his hands.
Headrests were only introduced into Formula 1 cars in 1996. However, unlike the headrests you’ll find in your average road car, these are not designed to help the driver to relax while they drive, and they are actually an important safety feature.
The headrest is built with padding on the inside to protect the driver’s head in the event of a crash. The headers (before the HANS device) would reduce the amount of whiplash that the driver experienced, and it gave the driver a softer impact when their head returned to the upright position after a crash.
While it was a safety feature, the headrest also helped the drivers in terms of their neck muscles. On some circuits the drivers would pull 6 G laterally, causing a huge amount of strain to be put on the drivers’ neck muscles. The headrest would help take some pressure off their neck.
In the 2000s the headrests were made higher, and the drivers would be more enclosed in their cockpits. This was done to promote even further safety, especially when it comes to side impacts. Looking back at the 1990s shows just how exposed the drivers’ heads and necks were while they were in the cars.
Crashes can be extremely violent in Formula 1, especially those that are at bad angles and involve multiple cars. Formula 1 is an open wheel series which means that the wheels are entirely exposed. In the past, we have seen many wheels coming off in a crash, as these parts are very fragile.
From wheels hitting other drivers, other cars, crew members, and even in some cases hitting spectators, it was clear that this was incredibly dangerous. The death of the young Formula 2 driver Henry Surtees, son of F1 legend John Surtees, in 2009 was a prime example of how dangerous these loose wheels can be when they become dislodged from the car.
Wheel tethers were then implemented in order to prevent wheels from flying around the track in the event of a crash. The FIA states that if there is a crash, the wheels must stay on the car at all times, they cannot break off the car as this would endanger the lives of other drivers, marshals, crew members, and even spectators.
As such, incredibly strong wheel tethers have been designed and built onto the cars. Nowadays it’s extremely rare to see a wheel coming off a Formula 1 car when they are involved in a collision, but we do still see it. The wheels are fragile, and they do break easily, but as long as they stay tethered to the car and do not go flying off in different directions, no one will be endangered by it.
Formula 1 cars don’t have airbags, which is one of the most important safety features that your average road car must have. There are some very good reasons as to why this is the case, but the short answer is that they do not provide any safety benefit to the drivers in the event of a crash.
Airbags are designed to cushion the driver once they crash. However, Formula 1 drivers are strapped in so tightly that they don’t need to be cushioned. The six-point harness ensures that the driver’s body does not move at all, and the HANS device keeps their head and neck from overextending. An airbag would provide no additional safety benefit in these cars.
In addition, an airbag would likely trap and disorientate the driver inside the cockpit of their car, especially in a scenario where they need to get out of the car as quickly as possible. For example, in the event of Grosjean’s crash in 2020, the airbag would be in the way of the quick release for the seatbelts, and it would get in his way while he’s getting out of the car.
Essentially, adding airbags to Formula 1 cars would add extra weight to the cars with no additional benefit to the driver’s safety, making them pointless. However, they are helpful in road cars as the driver is not strapped in as tightly, and can still hit their head against the steering wheel or be moved around during a crash.
Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, and as such, the highest standard of safety is required in the sport. F1 cars are some of the safest vehicles on the planet, due to the implementation of the Halo, accelerometers, survival cell, and various other safety features.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.