AUTO - TECH FOR ALL | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

AUTO - TECH FOR ALL

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08.01.19.

Safety researchers are ensuring that technology developed for top-level championships cascades down to grassroots racing and beyond.

The F1 Halo is famous for its much-discussed introduction into motor sport’s biggest championship this season. But the safety device has become a success story for another reason – its rapid integration into other series.

Already appearing in Formula 2 and Formula E, the Halo is set to filter down to F3 and eventually national F4 championships as well as international series such as Japan’s Super Formula, demonstrating that top-level safety technology can quickly become accessible for the many, not just for the few.

This is a key aim of the FIA and its safety research department. “We always have the lower formulas in mind when developing safety at the top level,” says Senior Research Engineer Andy Mellor. “The FIA has a road map for safety delivery, covering all of the FIA and national championships from single-seaters to closed cars, cross-country and karting. The road map shows what is planned for the years ahead in terms of delivery and cascade. With the Halo, the cascade was built into the plan.”

Another case in point is the new 8860-2018 standard helmet, featuring an ultra-protective structure together with additional ballistic protection, which will be mandatory in F1 and F2 from the 2019 season. It will then become required equipment in Formula E from the 2019/20 season and in F3 from 2021.

However, it was not intended that this technology would be mandated in grassroots racing, clarifies Mellor. This is because the main issue for lower-level series is not the integration of technology but the cost of doing so. This is why safety technology must be adapted to meet smaller budgets while still delivering on performance.

“Affordability is critical,” explains Mellor. “If the rules require a club-level driver or independent team to use a €3,000 helmet many competitors may choose not to compete. So we need to be extremely sensitive to this.” This is why the FIA developed the 8859 helmet standard, which incorporates many of the features of the Formula 1-level 8860 helmet but at a small fraction of the price.

“In our thinking we aim to apply the 80/20 rule, where you target 80 per cent of the performance for 20 per cent of the cost. This helps define the engineering goals,” adds Mellor.

The Halo is also a working example of this. While the F1 Halo is made of titanium and costs €15,000 each, the F3 Halo for 2019 will be made of steel and costs close to one fifth of the price. In this case, however, the performance requirements are actually the same as the titanium part and the compromise was weight – it weighs in at 12.5kg compared with 7kg for the titanium part. This may have a bearing on the performance of the car but without compromising the safety for the driver.

For protective equipment, the cascade route is clearly working. However, for high-tech safety devices such as Accident Data Recorders (ADR) there is a need to match the systems to the availability and capability of the resource at the track.

“In this case the cascade can require a different approach because in the top championships technology systems can be run that are complex and rely on very capable guys at the track who can manage and operate them,” says Mellor. “Whereas down at grassroots level, the systems target a more ‘fit and forget’ approach, requiring less trackside technical support. This can require a design brief with a quite different range of considerations.”

 

SAFETY INCENTIVES

Despite obvious benefits there is still often resistance from grassroots championships to embrace newer safety technology because the costs can be prohibitive. This is why the FIA has launched the Safety Homologation ASN Reward Programme, which incentivises National Sporting Authorities to introduce the latest safety tech to their championships.

The objectives of this programme are to increase the safety of drivers worldwide through the deployment of state-of-the-art motor sport safety protection, particularly at a national level. And to improve safety at the grassroots level, which has historically been a significant market in terms of driver injury.

To help achieve this the FIA rewards ASNs that comply with the FIA safety equipment regulations in 10 specific categories: helmets, frontal head restraints, drivers’ clothing, seats, belts, fuel tanks, wheel tethers, racing nets, fire extinguisher systems and karting overalls. Each ASN following this programme is entitled to receive a reward amount of €1,000 for each safety category, up to a maximum of €10,000. Each must also commit to provide information to the FIA’s World Accident Database for any accident that falls into one of three categories – Fatal Accident, Serious Accident and Significant Incident.

In addition, the funding must be used solely for safety projects and each ASN that receives a reward is required to report on their use of the funds. The programme has already proved to be a great success. Nuno Costa, FIA Head of Safety Equipment Homologation, says: “We launched the programme in 2017 for the first time and 16 ASNs applied. This year was the second edition and 35 ASNs applied for the programme.”

 

GRASSROOTS SUPPORT

The ultimate aim is to ensure that relevant safety tech filters down to grassroots championships and that a local racer can receive a substantial level of the protection afforded to an F1 driver. This is an achievable goal, according to Mellor.

The FIA’s philosophy for safety is to offer 360 degrees of protection to the driver in any type of accident, whether a frontal impact, side impact, rear impact or roll-over.

“We will be targeting ways to achieve an extremely high level of protection into the lowest category cars that you might race on a Sunday for a very modest budget,” says Mellor. “It need not be expensive to follow this philosophy of protection.”