Why Do F1 Drivers Wear Knee Pads? (Full Answer)

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The cockpit of a Formula 1 car is cramped, and drivers wear knee pads, race suits and various other safety gear, which makes it an even tighter fit. So, as an F1 fan seeing how tight it is in the cockpit, you may wonder why F1 drivers wear knee pads.

F1 drivers wear knee pads for protection and comfort. Knee pads help keep the driver’s legs steady while driving the car, and they absorb the impact in a crash, preventing knee injuries. Drivers also have their legs in a tighter grip with knee pads, giving them more control over the pedals.

Not all F1 drivers wear knee pads though, and it’s very much dependent on what a driver prefers. Some drivers can make do with the foam protection that they have in the cockpit, but others might need some extra stability and protection for their knees. We take a closer look at all of this below.

Do F1 Drivers Wear Knee Pads?

Many F1 drivers wear knee pads, but not all do. It comes down to a couple of different factors, and ultimately, it’s the driver that decides on whether they need knee pads or not. Since the cars are cramped, it’s often the taller drivers who wear knee pads as they might bump their knees more often.

Formula 1 cockpits are very small and claustrophobic. A driver has to fit himself into a small space, and it’s designed this way for two main reasons. The first is that the smaller space will protect the driver in the event of a crash. The second reason is that the car needs to be as aerodynamic as possible, leaving the driver with limited space inside the car.

According to regulations, every car must have a 25-millimeter (1-inch) layer of protective, high-density foam on the inside of the cockpit around the driver’s legs. This will offer the driver some protection and comfort inside the car, but for many drivers, it’s not enough to keep their knees intact against the high G-forces.

If you look carefully, it’s usually the taller F1 drivers who opt to use knee pads. Their height makes the cockpit even more cramped for them, and it’s not uncommon for the driver to hit their knees on the top of the survival cell (just in front of the steering wheel).

Why Do F1 Drivers Wear Knee Pads?

F1 drivers wear knee pads for a variety of reasons. Some drivers wear knee pads for extra protection and comfort. Some drivers may even wear knee pads because they enhance their performance in specific ways. Drivers may choose whether or not to wear knee pads. 

We often also see drivers wearing knee pads in one season and not wearing knee pads the next. This has to do with the design of the car. Each year, Formula 1 teams design their cars differently, and the new car might suit the driver better or they might feel more comfortable than in the previous car, resulting in them dripping the knee pads for the new car.

Drivers can also use different types of knee pads in Formula 1. Some drivers use a smaller and thinner knee pad, which looks more like a knee brace. Other drivers prefer to use the bigger and chunkier knee pads that have large foam blocks on them.

Some drivers prefer to have their knee pads facing outwards, some have their knee pads facing upward, and others have their knee pads facing inwards towards one another. These different knee pad positions can help us understand why drivers use knee pads.

Protection

Protection would be the main reason why a driver uses knee pads. Have you ever bumped your knee against something? Even the slightest bit of impact to the knee can cause a lot of pain and a numbing sensation in the entire leg. Drivers often bump their knees against the top of the survival cell because of their seating position.

Despite the layer of high density foam inside the cockpit, some drivers still need that extra layer of protection in the event of a crash, and the knee pads provide exactly that. Having knee pads facing upward will prevent the driver from hitting their knees against the top of the survival cell.

As we have seen, some Formula 1 crashes can be extremely violent too. The driver is often thrown around the cockpit of the car in a high-speed crash despite being strapped in tightly. One thing that can’t be strapped in though is their legs. Knee pads can help the driver to keep their legs steady rather than moving around too much.

Performance

Performance is another reason why drivers may choose to use knee pads while driving a Formula 1 car. There are a few different elements to this, and ultimately it also links to comfort. The more comfortable the driver is in the car, the better they will be able to perform.

If the driver is not constantly hitting their knees against the walls of the survival cell they will be able to drive the car without distraction on interruption. This will naturally allow them to drive the car faster.

The driver’s upper body is easier to manage because they are tightly strapped into the car. However, their legs are not strapped in, which means that G-forces will also be pushing against their legs without much support. The knee pads (when facing inward or outward) are used to sort of wedge the driver’s legs into place and prevent them from moving around too much under heavy G-forces.

Comfort

Some Formula 1 drivers simply wear knee pads because they provide them with more comfort. Aside from banging their knees around inside the cockpit of the car, there are other factors to consider when it comes to why a driver should wear knee pads for comfort.

The knee pads with large foam blocks on them can make driving the car more comfortable when fighting against heavy G-forces. The pads will prevent the driver’s legs from moving too much under the G-forces, and this will help them to keep their feet steady as they work the brake with maximum pressure or the throttle with incredible precision.

The thinner knee pads that look more like knee braces also have a purpose. It might not protect the driver’s knees from hitting the survival cell or keep them steady when they undergo heavy G-forces, but they are still incredibly important, and you’ll notice that drivers always wear these on their left knee. That’s because the left leg is the one that controls the brake pedal

The brake pedal requires the driver to put about 160 kilograms (350 lbs) of force on it. Imagine doing a single leg press with that weight, hundreds of times over and over. Much like Olympic weightlifters, the knee brace helps to support this pivotal joint and takes away any pain the driver might be having in their knees while pushing this kind of weight around.

KEY POINTS

• Not all F1 drivers wear knee pads, but some do

• It’s often for comfort reasons, but some drivers may use it for performance purposes

• It’s entirely up to the driver whether or not they wear knee pads

What Other Protective Equipment Do F1 Drivers Wear?

F1 drivers wear a helmet, gloves, and fireproof clothing in a race. With cars traveling at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), we have seen some nasty incidents over the years. It only takes a split second for a fatal crash to happen, and the drivers need to be protected.

Driver protection is taken very seriously in Formula 1. As we have seen in the past, Formula 1 was famous for a lot of injuries and deaths, with the 1970s even being nicknamed “The Killer Years” where F1 drivers died almost on a regular basis.

But that’s exactly why the sport takes the driver’s safety so seriously. Formula 1 drivers are some of the most protected drivers in the world. Aside from being in some of the safest cars on Earth, these drivers are also covered in protective gear from head to toe.

The protective gear that Formula 1 drivers wear is state of the art, and it’s constantly developing as well. New technology allows drivers to become even safer than ever before. For example, helmets and gloves have been updated as recently as 2020, and more updates will be mandatory in the future as research and development continues.

Race Suits

Race suits are mandatory in motorsport, whether it’s Formula 1 or karting. You’ll see different types of race suits depending on the type of motorsport that you watch, but Formula 1 has some of the most advanced and best race suits in the entire industry.

Romain Grosjean suffered a fiery crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, and despite being engulfed in flames for 28 seconds, he emerged only with burns to his hands. His race suit protected him from the raging fire, and he suffered no further injuries to his body.

Formula 1 race suits are designed to be fireproof for as long as possible exactly for this reason. If the car were to catch fire, the driver needs to be protected for as long as possible so that they can get out of the car, or so that the flames can be extinguished by the fire marshals at the side of the track.

Formula 1 race suits have been proven to save lives, but there is always room for improvement. There’s no doubt that a lot of research will be done into Grosjean’s crash and how the race suits can be improved to provide the driver with better protection for longer.

Fireproof Underwear

Underneath the race suit, the drivers have to wear fireproof underwear. This is to serve as an extra layer of protection against the heat and flames that they could encounter if they have a crash such as the one we saw in Bahrain.

The fireproof underwear is made of Nomex, which is a material that is naturally fire resistant. When heat is applied, this fabric does not melt, drip, or combust in any way, which means that it’s the perfect protective layer to keep the driver safe from the flames outside. Nomex is commonly used in firefighting gear.

Drivers’ Nomex underwear consists of socks, pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and a balaclava. These items are all extremely thin and breathable, which allows the driver to still control their core temperature in the heat of the Formula 1 car’s cockpit, which can reach a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Despite being incredibly thin, this final layer of protection will help the driver to survive extreme heat and flames. While the race suit takes most of the heat, the Nomex layer will offer that last bit of protection against the flames due to its natural fire resistance.

Gloves

The gloves that Formula 1 drivers use are relatively thick. They have been designed to protect the driver’s hands in the event of a crash, and also to protect them from fire and heat. They do, however, still need to be comfortable to support the driver’s hands while they are racing. 

As we saw with Grosjean’s crash in 2020, the gloves do offer some, but not complete protection. The only part of Grosjean’s body that suffered injuries was his hands. This is partly because of the fact that he had to use his hands to get out of the car, and also because the gloves do not offer as much protection as they should.

Formula 1 has recently updated the gloves that are used in the sport. The gloves that Formula 1 drivers wear are equipped with biometric sensors. These sensors feed important information back to the team and the medical center, as each driver’s vitals can be monitored while they are still in the car.

The biometric gloves are able to detect the driver’s pulse and heart rate, as well as their blood oxygen level. The gloves can sense these vital signs through a 3 mm sensor that is sewn into the palms and fingertips of the gloves.

Helmet

The helmet is the most important piece of safety gear that the driver has. Formula 1 helmets are some of the strongest helmets in the world, undergoing thorough testing before they are approved for use in Formula 1. The most recent update to the Formula 1 helmets was in 2019.

Formula 1 helmets are made of as many as 17 layers of carbon fiber, making them incredibly strong. They are put through a variety of tests which include dropping weights on them, firing bullets at them, and even hitting them with a hammer. In addition, the helmets must be able to self-extinguish any flames on them.

Despite the severity of these tests, they all simulate impacts that a Formula 1 helmet could take while in use. We’ve seen Formula 1 helmets save many lives, and thanks to decades of research and development, the helmets will save many more lives in the future too.

The helmets also need to be incredibly lightweight, which is why carbon fiber is used to construct them. The G-forces acting on the driver while cornering can lead to their head with the helmet weighing around 37 kilograms (81 lbs), with the force pulling their head in the opposite direction.

KEY POINTS

• F1 drivers wear many different pieces of safety equipment

• These include things like their helmet, fire suits, and fireproof gloves

• These pieces of safety gear are designed to be some of the strongest on Earth 

Does It Hurt To Drive An F1 Car?

It can hurt driving an F1 car. Despite what many people believe, driving a Formula 1 car is an incredibly difficult thing to do. The G-forces involved in driving these cars are similar to that of flying in a fighter jet. Drivers can sometimes pull up to 6 G’s during cornering and braking.

This alone makes driving the car a difficult experience, and drivers need to be extremely fit in order to keep their car on the track. Even though many people disagree, Formula 1 drivers are some of the world’s most elite athletes, and they are some of the fittest people on the planet.

Despite the level of safety that drivers have in the cars, crashing a Formula 1 car can hurt. Crashes at low speed aren’t too bad, and often the driver would hardly feel it, but some crashes can knock a driver’s wind out. Max Verstappen’s crash at the 2021 British Grand Prix is one such example.

Neck Muscles

The main muscles that will start hurting when driving a Formula 1 car are the driver’s neck muscles. This is because of the G-forces they will be pulling while they are in the car. While cornering, the driver will be experiencing up to 6 G’s at a time, which can cause extreme pain for the driver’s neck muscles.

The neck has to hold up the driver’s head while cornering because the driver needs to keep their eyes on the road, looking at the exit of the corner. However, the driver’s head and helmet will weigh 6 times more than normal, making it an extreme challenge for the driver’s.

Drivers have often explained what it’s like when cornering at 6 G’s, stating that it feels like their heads are being pulled off their shoulders. This is a relatively accurate description as the G-forces will be forcing their head the opposite direction that they are cornering in, giving them the sensation of being pulled.

Back

The 2022 rule changes brought some drastic changes to the aerodynamics of the cars and how they work. The cars now use the ground effect, which was banned in the 1980s. It was brought back in an attempt to reduce the amount of dirty, turbulent air behind the car to allow cars to follow each other more closely.

However, one of the effects of these new aerodynamic rules is known as porpoising, which is a bouncing effect caused by the car’s aerodynamics. Porpoising can become very violent, especially on tracks with a bumpier surface. The bouncing effect has become so bad that several drivers on the grid have complained about the physical side effects that they have been experiencing.

Some drivers struggle so much with their back pain after the race that it becomes tough to get out of the car. This creates a new problem in the sense that drivers need to be able to get out of their car within seven seconds in case of an emergency such as a fire. If drivers are struggling with back pain, this creates a difficult situation for them in these scenarios.

For this reason, the FIA is set to implement rule changes in 2023 that affect the heights of the cars’ floors to minimize the amount of porpoising seen on the cars.

KEY POINTS

• It can hurt to drive an F1 car

• The conditions in the cockpit can be grueling, in large part thanks to massive G-forces

• Porpoising also leads to back pain for some drivers

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 drivers sometimes wear knee pads while they are driving their cars. While drivers can choose whether or not to wear them, there are a wide array of reasons why they may choose to. These include comfort, safety, and performance, and knee pads can make a big difference for some drivers.