On Sunday 26th March the 2017 F1 season opened up in Melbourne, Formula 1 is one of my go to sports, and considering I have made a career from looking to manage risk It may seem strange to some.
However, there are a number of F1 Safety measures that have made their way in to our day to day drives, making our road cars early adopters of the technology that has saved a number of race drivers over the last 20 years or so.
If you’re a motor sport fan (in general) and of a certain age the names that automatically spring to mind when you put safety improvements & F1 in the same sentence are Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.
Both Senna and Ratzenberger we killed driving F1 cars at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in 1994.
Ratzenberger was killed during qualifying on Saturday 30th April, the lap prior to his fateful crash, he had come off the track and damaged his front wing, however in an industry based on performance and pushing the limits of risk management Ratzenberger made the decision to stay on track in an attempt to qualify for the race, and as Ratzenberger accelerated to almost 200mph (315km/h) the extreme downforces broke off the front wing, which in turn was dragged under the car causing him to crash as he was about to enter Villeneuve Corner and struct the outside wall.
Senna died a day later, on Sunday 1st May. When he rounded the highspeed Tamburello corner at over 191mph (307km/h) and ran off the racing line and impacted the concrete retaining wall at 145mph (233km/h).
“A scene of carnage” The aftermath of Ayrton Senna’s Williams Renault at Imola in 1994.
Where Ratzenberger’s crash may have been avoidable, in so far as pitting to repair the damage to the front wing, Senna’s crash on the other hand was a combination of bad luck and what Adrian Newey (Williams Chief designer at the time) believed, that a puncture was the most likely cause of the of the fatal accident.
Ratzenberger’s was the first racing driver to lose his life on a Grand Prix weekend since Riccardo Paletti was killed at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1982.
We would not know of another race day incident that lead to a death of a driver until an incident during a wet race at the Japanese Grand Prix on 5th October 2014 caused Jules Bianchi to crash and subsequently die of his injuries 9 months after the incident.
So, what has F1 given us to make our drives safer?
Tyre Technology – Most tyre manufactures have used technology developed by the like of Bridgestone, Goodyear and Pirelli for F1, and have adopted this in to everyday road tyres. Due to the advances in F1, our tyres last longer are more durable, have better grip both in the wet and dry. This tech is a direct consequence of the F1 investment and research put which is put into high performance tyre safety!
Active Suspension – The brainchild of the Lotus founder Colin Chapman, Active Suspension is found in any number of road cars and was first seen in Senna’s Lotus in the 1980’s. The concept was simple to improve cornering at speed during races, making the cars more controllable and therefore safer.
Engines – Current road car engines have been a significant benefactor from the investment in F1, engine management systems first seen in a F1 are now well and truly integrated into our day to day drives. The idea being that if the issue can be identified early enough, power can be redirected to reduce performance yet still be safe enough to drive to your garage or dealer and have the issue sorted (hopefully), thus making it safer to drive.
Carbon Fibre – Back in 1981 the McLaren MP4 was unveiled, it was the first car to use the combination of strength and lightweight construction of Carbon Fibre, mainly around the single piece Monocoque cockpit for the body of the car. Nowadays, if you’re a high roller or a lotto winner you may be able to afford some of the “top end of town” High end Performance road cars (or toys) use the Carbon Fiber to keep the weight of the vehicle down whilst still meeting extremely high safety requirements for road cars.
“A new style of parking” Fernando Alonso survives a huge crash at Albert Park, Melbourne in 2016. Data on board showed the Alonso was lucky to walk away after this 46G impact
Traction Control & Anti-Lock brakes - In 1993 The Williams FW15C car was so cutting-edge when it came to safety, they promptly got banned. Adrian Newey, took the step of fitting the 1993 William with Traction Control and Anti-Lock Brakes, this was designed to give the driver more control, allow them to push the engineering limits as well as the human limits and drive faster, but safer. Whilst the F1 authorities band the tech (& Williams) for having the foresight and cutting edge technology, this ultimately lead to road user benefiting and allowing the everyday driver to have more control and avoid brakes locking up when we need them most!
Rear and Side Impact systems & the Head and Neck support – Probably the most unsexy of all F1 developments that can be found in our day to day drives are that of the impact support systems and Head and Neck supports. It’s a little thing however, considering that most of us will be involved in some form of low speed incident or impact whilst driving throughout our lives, these technologies can make a significant difference whilst on the road.
The long and short of this is that whilst individuals are willing to risk everything in a sport that can take it all away in a blink of an eye, the technology that F1 teams invest in to protect not only the drivers but the pit crews makes its way in to what we ultimately drive ourselves to work.
I do love F1 and given the opportunity I would (without too much thinking) jump into any one of those machines and push it to my limits (probably whilst my wife was checking my insurance policy) however, as a safety professional I can only touch the tip of the iceberg in explaining the knock-on effect that F1 has on all of us, day in day out.