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How the safety rules in F1 changed after Senna’s deathBack

Following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, the safety rules for Formula One drivers changed dramatically forever.

A safety review, prompted by their deaths, implemented continuing measures to reduce the annual incidence of similar tragedies in the series.

Before the incidents of 1994, progress to improve the safety of F1 had been slow, and it is staggering to modern fans to realise just how lax safety standards were in the past. For example, it wasn’t until 1953 that helmets even became compulsory, with fireproof overalls introduced in 1963 and finally seatbelts as late as 1972

Below we take a look at some of the biggest changes made to formula driving in the nineties.

Cars were made safer

Following Senna’s crash, it was clear that cars simply needed to be safer. Today, in F1 cars are not only faster than they have ever been, but they are also safer than they have ever been, built to withstand extremely powerful impacts. In 2007, in the Canadian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica suffered a collision with a trackside wall that was heavier in impact than Senna’s crash at Imola, and he only sustained minor injuries from the collision. This is thanks to extensive work on formula one cars’ ‘survival cell’, the area in front of the engine which surrounds the driver. Made of light, but very strong carbon fibre, the cell is designed to resist impacts and penetration by sharp debris that can occur in accidents. The opening of the cockpit has also been increased to prevent drivers from being trapped inside in the event of a fire, and to make it easier to remove injured drivers.

Head and neck support improved

Protection of the head and neck was one of the key safety measures which changed following Senna’s death. Senna died due to multiple head injuries, traumas which remain the most likely to cause immediate death on-track. Now, modern helmets are tested regularly to ensure they can withstand heavy impacts. They are also fire resistant. In 2003, F1 made it compulsory for drivers to wear Head and Neck Support (HANS). The device, attached to the rear of the helmet and resting on the driver’s shoulders, is connected to the interior of the cockpit and it prevents raid and excessive head movement during accidents.

Crash tests are more rigorous

Crash tests to show cars could withstand impacts were only introduced in 1985 and were backed by three-time world champion Jackie Stewart who was a strong advocate along with Sid Watkins for improving safety standards in the 1970s. In the noughties, crash tests have become more rigorous, and are now designed to show cars can withstand impacts from all directions. Tethers are also now in place to prevent wheels from coming away from the car in the event of an accident and damaging other cars or causing injury to marshals and spectators.

Emergency medicine has improved

Professor Sid Watkins was the on-course doctor at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, and it was after this tragedy that Wadkins insisted many of the post-Senna medical improvements were made. There are now medical cars, with paramedics on board stationed around the circuits so that a team can reach the site of any crash within 30 seconds. The trackside medical centre at every race now contains a surgeon and an average of 130 additional medical staff on site, with helicopters also on standby to transfer any seriously injured drivers to hospital as quickly as possible.

Track Design

Modern circuit design has changed dramatically from the days of concrete walls on the edge of tracks. Since the 1990s, the new tracks have more generous run-off areas at high speed corners and the efficiency of trackside barriers has been greatly increased. Barriers are now able to absorb most of the energy of a car crashing at high speed. The safety car was also introduced to slow the remaining drivers down while the scene of an accident is being cleared and/or a car is being removed from the track. Pit lane speed limits have also been introduced to avoid any further accidents to team, crews or trackside personnel.



Posted by Leana Kell on 14/02/2018