Legacy of Safety – How the FIA responded to the tragedy of Imola 1994 and launched a drive for safer racing 

Legacy of Safety – How the FIA responded to the tragedy of Imola 1994 and launched a drive for safer racing 

The tragic events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix robbed the world of two remarkable racing talents. However, the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna gave rise to an extraordinary legacy and in the 30 years since the FIA has pursued ever-increasing levels of motor sport safety with total rigour and commitment. Here are just some of the major advances of the past three decades… 

1994 – Track and barrier changes 

In the wake of Senna’s death at Imola, the FIA takes immediate action. A programme of circuit alteration is undertaken and using computer analysis the FIA identifies 27 high-risk corners at F1 grade circuits that could be made safer. Car performance modifications later result in the removal of 15 from the list. Test procedures for tyre barriers are made mandatory and barriers must be secured by ‘conveyor’ belts. The speed limit in the pit lane is reduced to 80 km/h in practice and 120 km/h in races and stricter standards for helmet design are introduced.

1996 – Greater protection, safer circuits 

The first data storage units are included in survival cells and higher cockpit sides are introduced to afford drivers greater protection. 75mm side headrests are made compulsory. Static load tests are introduced for the cockpit rim. Thanks to circuit safety improvements and track modifications the number of corners classified as ‘high risk’ is reduced to two. 

1997 – Medical upgrades 

The FIA introduces approval requirements for all Chief Medical Officers and medical centres and revises its accident intervention plan. A new, more powerful Safety Car is introduced. 

1998 – Roll hoops and extrication 

Front roll hoop tests are introduced and a high performance tyre barrier test specification is established. New driver extrication measures are introduced specifying that in the event of an incident a driver must be able to exit the cockpit within 10 seconds.  

1999 – Wheel tethers 

Wheel tethers are introduced to ensure wheels do not break free in the event of an accident. The number of tethers is later increased from one to three per wheel. Following driver egress rules from the year before, the FIA mandates seats which can be extracted with the driver in place in case of injury. A new seat belt standard is introduced. 

2003 – Hans Device

The Head and Neck Support (HANS) device limiting head movement to prevent severe injuries is made mandatory for the 2003 season. In 2007, the FIA makes a HANS-type device obligatory for the majority of FIA-sanctioned series.

2008 – Head and shoulders beyond risk

A revised cockpit entry template for 2008 gives greater lateral driver head protection. This follows a 2007 crash in which David Coulthard’s Red Bull became airborne and skittered across the front of Alex Wurz’s cockpit in Melbourne, narrowly missing the Austrian.

2011 – F1 visor panel reinforcement 

Following a near fatal head injury for
Felipe Massa in 2009, the FIA introduces
a new Zylon panel to further increase the strength of the shell immediately above the visor opening and to simultaneously increase protection below the top edge of the visor opening.

2014 – Improved side impact protection 

An advanced side impact protection system is put in place offering stronger design. Structures either side of the car and in testing were able to absorb nearly 40kJ of energy, in both normal and oblique impact directions.

2015 – Virtual Safety Car

Following the ultimately fatal crash for Jules Bianchi at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, the FIA introduced a range of safety measures, chief among which was the 2015 introduction of the VSC which sets a minimum time allowed for each lap, forcing drivers to slow. Elsewhere, the Zylon anti-intrusion panels on both sides of the survival cell are extended upwards to the rim of the cockpit and alongside the driver’s head.  

2016 – In-ear accelerometer, high Speed Camera

The FIA introduces a new in-ear accelerometer to gain data on G forces and head movement in the event of crashes. F1 cars are fitted with high-speed cameras – filming at 400 frames per second – that point at the drivers head at all times, allowing for a better understanding of incidents.

Former FIA Formula One Safety and Medical Delegate Professor Sid Watkins demonstrates the HANS device with driver Felipe Massa in 2002 ahead of its introduction the following year. 

2018 – Halo

One of the most significant safety advances of the past three decades arrives in 2018 with the introduction of the Halo cockpit protection device in 2018. It has since become mandatory in all FIA single-seater championships.

2018 – Biometric Gloves 

Biometric gloves were introduced alongside the Halo, fitted with sensors that transmit a driver’s heart rate and blood oxygen levels to the Medical Car at all times, giving medical staff greater information and more targeted response.

2019 – Safest Ever Helmet

A new helmet standard was made mandatory for 2019. Visor opening lowered by 10mm, advanced ballistic protection introduced (against projectiles up to 225g travelling at 250kph). Energy absorption increased by 12% and 20% for medium and large size.

2020 – New Protective Clothing Standard

Protective clothing requirements became more stringent for the 2020 season, improving exposure to heat by 20% in relation to the previous FIA Protective Clothing standard.

2021 – Holistic safety review  

Following investigations into the serious crash involving Romain Grosjean at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix an FIA investigation resulted in a large scale safety review encompassing safety of vehicles, circuits, driver equipment, medical and rescue procedures as well as the launch of research into proximity warnings systems, novel barrier systems, improved impact performance of guardrails, and firefighting equipment. 

2023/2024 – Roll hoops strengthened 

As a result of research conducted following a crash involving Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu at the 2022 British Grand Prix, for 2023 the FIA makes changes to rules regarding roll hoops and then for 2024 introduces a significant increase in the required strength of Roll Hoops. The updates mean that test loads are applied more horizontally to require better fixing of the roll hoop to the chassis structure.

Following Zhou Guanyu’s crash at Silverstone in 2022, in which the Halo was credited with protecting the Chinese driver, the FIA introduced stronger, safer roll hoops.  

Source : Fia