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F1 news

What happens at an F1 crash test?

While February is usually seen as car launch time for Formula 1 teams, it is also a tense period FIA crash testing. Every car must go through a series of tests before they are allowed to race on track.

Schumacher crash Monaco
To news overview © XPB

Before the start of every new Formula 1 season, a car must be crash tested by the FIA before it is certified to race.

Safety is the most important thing for the governing body, which is why they no longer leave it to the teams themselves to crash test their own cars.

The tests cover every aspect of what could happen in an accident, which is why we often see drivers climb out of cars without any serious injuries.

If you were to look at Mick Schumacher's crash during the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualifying, even though he was airlifted to hospital, he was able take part in the following race at Australia. If that happened 30 years ago, it is likely that he would have not walked away.

So how does each team make sure that their 'survival cells' are up to the task of protecting their drivers?

Meeting the grade

The section of the Technical Regulations that covers crash tests is Article 13, running from page 103 to 117.

From there it covers several areas of testing: a survival cell frontal impact test, roll structure testing, survival cell load tests, side impact structure, front impact structure, rear impact structure, steering column impact test, and a headrest load test.

All the tests must be carried out "in accordance with FIA Test Procedure 01/00, in the presence of an FIA technical delegate and by using measuring equipment which has been calibrated to the satisfaction of the FIA technical delegate," according to the regulations.

If the design is altered at any point during the season, they must go through another crash test.

The regulations go into detail over how each part must be passed to achieve what is known as 'homologation' by the FIA. While we will not cover the full extent of the regulations - as that would be rather boring - we will delve into some of the important parts.

Survival cell frontal impact

There are two frontal impact tests for a car to pass; the first with everything intact and as we would see on the car.

The other test is done with damage already inflicted from the first test, to cover the chance of a secondary impact. The car must be able to withstand the secondary impact to pass the test.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Roll structure test

Since Zhou Guanyu's dramatic crash at the start of the 2022 British GP, the roll structure tests have been amended to produce stronger roll-hoops.

The rollover bar is the highest point on the car and is the area of that teams will put a huge effort into ensuring it complies, without adding too much weight to the car as it affects the centre of gravity.

According to the regulations: "The principal roll structure must be subjected to one of the following static tests at 75% of the load (105kN), followed by one of the tests at full load (140kN). Both tests must be carried out on the same structure. The tests will be chosen at random and communicated to the Competitor 3 weeks before their scheduled homologation date."

Survival cell strength tests

These test prove the overall strength of the chassis. It tests the structure of the fastenings on the nose laterally and vertically, and in various areas along the sides and the bottom of the chassis, cockpit sides, and the fuel tank enclosure sides and bottom.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Side impact structure

If you peel away the side pods on a Formula 1 car, you will see two tubes that stick out each side of the driver.

One is near the floor and the other is higher up, and the are in a defined position relative to the cockpit opening. They are designed to decelerate the impact when a car goes into a barrier side on.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Front and rear impact structure

The frontal impact structure is the nose section of the car designed to collapse on impact. This decelerates the mass of the car and reduces the impact g-force on the driver.

The rear impact structure acts exactly the same as the frontal, except it fastens to the gearbox in line with, or behind the rear axle line. This is often why drivers might need to change their gearbox if they crash in this area.

Steering column and headrest load test

If a driver hits their head at the end of their steering column in a crash, this section is designed to collapse before penetrating the driver helmet.

The headrest load test ensures the headrest will absorb the load of a drivers head in an impact. The aim is to prevent the g-level getting too high and potentially causing brain damage.

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