Formula One: Drive fast and drive safe

Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli's fatal crashes marked a harrowing week for motorsports, bringing back memories of the horrific 1994 San Marino accident. However, F1 safety has undergone a sea change since Ayrton Senna's death.

CIRCUIT REGULATIONS: The design of a circuit has a big say in number and severity of accidents that can take place on the track. FIA-approved Grade-I circuit have to adhere to very stringent track safety requirements before being given accreditation to hold a Formula One Grand Prix. This is done with a view to avoid or minimise impacts during a race.

TRACK: Run-off zones are carefully placed around the circuit. These are emty spaces directly beside the actual track, designed to passively or actively decelerate an out-of-control car, and prevent a collision with track walls or barriers. Previously, gravel traps were more common. In the pit lane, drivers must adhere to a strictly enforced speed limit - normally 60 km/h during free practice and 100 km/h during qualifying and the race. Even the safety of the spectators is taken care of by approx 150 security officials, in addition to approx 130 medics, first aiders & doctors.


SAFETY CAR: The safety car comes into use during a race when the Race Director wants to reduce speed for safety reasons - for instance, after an accident. According to the regulations, the safety car enters the circuit "whenever there is an immediate hazard but the conditions do not require the race to be interrupted". 

CHOPPER: A MedEvac helicopter manned by a doctor, two paramedics and a pilot is ready to fly at all times. A second helicopter is also kept ready outside the circuit and four additional ambulances are posted around the track. If conditions are such that a helicopter can't take off from the circuit or land at the hospital, due to fog for example, then the race cannot go ahead.


In the present era of Formula One racing, the driver knows that he is well-protected from the risks and hazards associated with the sport.

THE HANS & HELMET: HANS is the short form for Head & Neck System, which is a safety device introduced in 2003. Its main job is to reduce the strain on an F1 driver's neck and head in case of rapid deceleration caused during an accident. It greatly reduces the risk of neck and skull fractures.

Without Hans Device | The driver endures the effect of high acceleration with only his neck muscles.

With Hans Device | Forces between the head and neck is greatly reduced. The helmet attachment diverts most of the neck load in situations of sudden changes of velocity.

Visor | Made of fire-proof polycarbonate 3mm thick. Tear-off visor strips can be removed if the driver's vision is obstructed by oil or grime.

Fresh air | Five litres of filtered air flows into the helmet every second.

Communication | Driver and pit engineers talk via a radio in the chin area.

Aerodynamics | Helmets are tested in a wind tunnel to make sure that there is an optimal airflow towards the air.

Material | Consists of 17 layers of tough and light material. The 3 main substances include carbon fibre, aramid and polyethylen.

Car's safety parts

MONOCOQUE: The Monocoque is an important design element. Monocoque means 'tub' in French, and makes up the drivers' cockpit and survival shell as well as acts as a major component of the vehicle's chassis. It is made from carbon fibre, sometimes as thick as 60 layers protection hoop as well.

COCKPIT: The cockpit's design allows the driver to exit the vehicle without having to remove anything but his seat belt and the steering wheel. The cockpit's size - 850 mm long, 350 mm wide at the pedals, 450 mm wide at the steering wheel & 520 mm at the rear half - facilitate quick escape.

REAR-VIEW MIRRORS & LIGHT: The car is equipped with two rear-view mirrors. Size and location of these mirrors should be in accordance with FIA specifications. The cars must have a red light in the rear. In poor weather conditions, the light is switched on to ensure visibility.

SEAT BELT: Seat belts in an F1 vehicle use a six-point harness, meaning that six different straps keep the driver in place and absorb potential impact. The straps consist of two shoulder straps, two pelvic straps and two leg straps. The belts are woven from nylon & meet on a central harness where they can all be released with a single twist of the hand.

FIRE EXTINGUISHER: Each car also has a built-in fire extinguisher system, which automatically releases foam around the chassis and engine if a fire should start. Can be started manually.

WHEEL TETHERS: Wheel tethers connect the wheels to the chassis. They are in place to prevent the wheels from popping off the vehicle and causing further damage or injury. They can withstand around 5,000 kg of load.

MASTER SWITCH: The driver should be able to cut the car's main electrical circuits from the cockpit itself by means of a spark-proof circuit breaker switch. This switch must be located on the dashboard and must be clearly marked by a symbol showing a red spark in a white-edged blue triangle.