The FIA Institute has been working with Formula One teams to develop a new side impact system that will be on all cars in 2014.
One of the biggest safety developments for F1 in recent years is underway and will feature on all cars next season.
This is the result of a year-long collaboration between the FIA Institute and F1 teams where they have been developing a side impact system that works effectively, regardless of the angle of impact.
The FIA Institute’s research consultant Andy Mellor, who headed up the project, says, “We went back to basics to examine what a side impact structure really needs to do in different types of accident. We used Robert Kubica’s crash in Montreal as a specific reference point since that was a major impact at an acute angle.”
At the moment, crushable tube structures attached to the side of the chassis are deployed by the current side impact system. This has proven to be very effective during normal impacts but they can break off during side impacts due to extremely high tangential forces that are generated during the first few milliseconds of an impact.
Mellor approached Formula One teams to help develop a better side impact system that would solve the problem and Marussia, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing stepped forward to assist.
Two options were investigated: optimised carbon tubes and crushable carbon sandwich panels. Testing concluded that the carbon tubes had far more potential to provide a lightweight, efficient and robust solution which would be able to manage impact loads effectively no matter the angle of impact.
The winning solution was based on an initial design by the Marussia F1 team which then underwent detailed optimisation by Red Bull Racing. It is an evolution of the current system, but using high-performance carbon fibre with a very bespoke external and internal geometry and precise layup configuration.
The new system incorporates a pair of structures fitted to each side of the car that do not shatter on impact. Instead they progressively crush and decelerate the car in a very controlled manner.
The teams agreed to implement this system for 2014 at the F1 Technical Working Group meeting on 17 May 2013. While there, all technical requirements for mounting the structures to the chassis were defined and it is now up to each team to decide exactly how they want to incorporate it into the design of their cars from 2014 onwards.
Paul Monaghan, Head of Car Engineering at Red Bull Racing says, “The tube has a common specification but how teams put it into their cars is entirely their business. The static tests that will be undertaken on the monocoque will determine the strength of the mounts and make sure that they are sufficient to support the tube. After that, it’s down to the teams as to how they integrate it and how they design their car around it.”
The new system will improve safety while at the same time reducing costs for the teams. Monaghan explains, “One of the driving forces for this was to spare teams extra expense in the testing process. Assuming everybody has a monocoque which is strong enough and passes the static tests, then they’ve saved money, as they’re not doing an impact test. It should be a cheaper solution.”
Established by the FIA and the FIA Foundation in October 2004, the FIA Institute is an international not-for-profit organisation that develops and improves motor sport safety and sustainability. It leads projects that encourage the rapid development of new and improved safety technologies, that facilitate higher standards of education and training, and that raise awareness of safety and sustainability issues.