The FIA Institute: Winning the race for safety

April 1, 2010

Felipe Massa's life was saved by the FIA 8860 helmet

Max Mosley certainly had his critics as President of the FIA, but one of his enduring legacies was to put safety very much at the top of the F1 agenda. Following fatal crashes involving Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger at Imola in 1994, Mosley had initiated a range of changes to ensure a zero tolerance to death and serious injury in F1. One product of these initiatives was the FIA Institute. Founded in 2004 with President Professor Sid Watkins, a world-renowned neuro surgeon and known affectionately as ‘The Prof’ to the F1 community, the FIA Institute has worked tirelessly on all aspects of safety from F1 down to karting.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to a range of presentations by students who are undertaking our MSc in Motorsport Engineering and Management, they had completed a project sponsored by Silverstone Circuits to look a track safety on the Stowe Circuit. During the day we also had a fascinating presentation by Andy Mellor, Head of Technical Affairs and responsible for the research activities of the FIA Institute. One of the points Andy made was that they had estimated that the energy created by the spring which left Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn, and bounced along the track, before hitting Felipe Massa’s helmet at Hungary in 2009 was the equivalent of 2000 joules, to put this in perspective, the body armour worn in MotoGP is designed to deal with impacts up to 50 joules, and the energy of a bullet fired by a magnum handgun is estimated at around 1000 joules. Felipe’s life was undoubtedly saved by the advances they had made in helmet development with the FIA 8860 helmet, which is now being adopted in the World Rally Championship (WRC). But of course, there can never be a situation where safety is guaranteed, and Andy said that work in this area was now looking at the strength of the visor, the weakest link in the system – apparently they are looking at transparent ceramics – so the race goes on.

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