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The most effective safety innovation of the last 35 years?


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#1 Flat Black 84

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:27

At the highest levels of racing, and particuarly open-wheel racing, the improvement in safety for drivers has been astonishing. Fatalaty and even severe injury rates have plumetted even while speeds have simultaneously increased. There are multifarious reasons for this development, but I'm interested in hearing the field's opinion on what they consider to be the single biggest reason for the diminution of racing carnage.

I nominate the invention of the fuel cell, which singlehandedly has eliminated that most dreaded of all racing scourges, fire.

Thoughts?

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#2 fines

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:37

The safety fuel cell was invented 45 years ago. I want to nominate Television, or more precisely full-length televised races - they keep the spectators from the track! ;)

#3 COUGAR508

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:40

I would nominate the use of carbon fibre in the construction of the chassis.

#4 rdrcr

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:42

Good pick - for the mechanical side... though, weren't fuel cells mandated by the Grand National Series (NASCAR) in '67? or earlier? That would put your claim in the over 40 year period right? Anyway, it's a good pick nonetheless... Across the spectrum of motorsports, I know of no other device like the HANS that drivers use out of desire, rather than mandate. So that would be my choice for personal driver safety and effectiveness.

EDIT: Freakin' Fines - he's fast that one :wave:

Edited by rdrcr, 03 May 2009 - 19:44.


#5 Buford

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:45

Maybe not first but moving the driver's feet back behind the centerline of the front wheels saved hundreds of legs and feet when combined with stronger carbon fiber chassis. Hard to believe they ever let the feet be the first thing that hit something.

#6 rdrcr

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:55

No S#!t there - it's a wonder they ever allowed that - especially in F1 by the FIA and USAC (Indy cars were governed by them at the time right?)

#7 Giraffe

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 19:59

Here's a contraversial suggestion; Armco. Yes, initially it killed more people than it saved, but it was a quantum leap forward from hay-bayles and tyre walls. now it's not what it did, but the thought process it provoked.
When I became involved in the sport in 1968, Armco had just been introduced, and it was almost universally distained, but it was the first major step, however initially misguided or mis-used towards circuit safety. In the UK, it was the first step on a long and still unwinding road....

But actually, when I think about it, and without doubt, the single biggest reason for the reduction of carnage in motorsport is Sir Jackie Stewart.

Edited by Giraffe, 03 May 2009 - 20:01.


#8 fines

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 20:01

EDIT: Freakin' Fines - he's fast that one :wave:

But not fast enough to get an F1 drive... :(

 ;)

#9 Flat Black 84

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 20:08

I'm not surprised that fuel cells are more antique than my 35-year parameter, but--and correct me if I'm wrong--they were not put into widespread usage until ca. 35 years ago. Hence, Savage seems not to have benefited from a fuel cell. Same with Lauda.

#10 TrackDog

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 20:08

But not fast enough to get an F1 drive... :(

;)


The SAFER barrier ought to be pretty high on the list, too...


Dan


#11 Paul Taylor

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 20:19

The HANS device has saved a few drivers' necks from, at least, whiplash - and at worse, the injury that killed too many drivers towards the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st...

Edited by Paul Taylor, 03 May 2009 - 20:49.


#12 rdrcr

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 20:34

....But actually, when I think about it, and without doubt, the single biggest reason for the reduction of carnage in motorsport is Sir Jackie Stewart.


Sir Stewart's efforts should probably be interpreted as a great proponent of safety, not an innovation itself... but we get the point. :)

Flat - IIRC, fuel cells were mandated by USAC by the end of the '60s and the FIA in '73. If I am correct, Savage's Eagle and Lauda's Ferrari were so equipped in '73 and '76 respectively.

Re: ARMCO - the "movable guardrail" has been in existence for some time - designed by famed driver and safety engineer, John Fitch (check his site for details) but so far, he has not yet been able to get it implemented in road-course applicaitons.

Edited by rdrcr, 03 May 2009 - 20:35.


#13 Jonathan

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 20:38

I hate to say it but to a very large extent the vast majority of the current venues are nothing like the old ones.

The new generation of race circuits are essentially FLAT, and while there are some large straights, the bulk of the corners are slow speed ones with absolutely massive run off areas. Even the old Monza is nothing like what it was in the 1960ies.

I really miss the old Spa circuit.

Yes, todays CAD designed carbon-fibre tub race car is 100x safer than the older aluminium tub chassis of the 1970ies, and the HANS devices have certainly helped out a great deal, but it is todays sterile and generally boring circuits that have made the big difference.

#14 Flat Black 84

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 21:46

Flat - IIRC, fuel cells were mandated by USAC by the end of the '60s and the FIA in '73. If I am correct, Savage's Eagle and Lauda's Ferrari were so equipped in '73 and '76 respectively.



This being the case, what innovation made current fuel cells so much more resistant to rupture than those before, say, 1976? Whatever that innovation is, that is what I had in mind when I nominated fuel cells as the most crucial safety improvement of modern times.

#15 Rob

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 21:48

Roll hoops?

Equally I suppose rollcages as well.

#16 fines

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 22:30

This being the case, what innovation made current fuel cells so much more resistant to rupture than those before, say, 1976? Whatever that innovation is, that is what I had in mind when I nominated fuel cells as the most crucial safety improvement of modern times.

Yes, I believe USAC mandated the use of foam cells in 1965, following the disastrous Indy wreck the year before! What made them safer? Ground effects, actually! Up until the end of the seventies, fuel cells were located everywhere the driver and the engine wasn't, and that meant mostly between the wheels! Ground effects dictated that they be placed in the middle of the car, so as to not impede the wing profiles that were now where the fuel used to be!

#17 fines

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 22:32

Roll hoops?

Equally I suppose rollcages as well.

Very good point! Add to that safety belts.

#18 RStock

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 22:39

I nominate the invention of the fuel cell, which singlehandedly has eliminated that most dreaded of all racing scourges, fire.

Thoughts?



Couple that with the multi-layer fire suit and nomex underwear .

#19 lil'chris

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 22:41

The realisation that the expenditure of energy through parts of the car breaking away ( just leaving a safety cell ) is a major factor in the prevention of injury to the driver. Unfortunately the bits flying away and dissipating the energy all too often injure those watching

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#20 F1Fanatic.co.uk

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 22:48

Sir Stewart's efforts should probably be interpreted as a great proponent of safety, not an innovation itself... but we get the point.


Perhaps we could count the innovation of having a philosophy of constantly improving safety and racings deaths not just being 'a part of the sport'? In which case, I think Sir Jackie deserves the accolade.

Sticking to technical innovations, I think it has to be the carbon fibre chassis. How often these days do we see crashes we scarcely bat an eyelid that, which three decades ago would have left drivers badly maimed at best?

#21 John Brundage

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 23:01

There have been some good suggestion so far. This is a tough question. I don't know if you can put your finger on one item, but rather a change in designer/manufacturer mindsets. Early open wheel cars were designed to be as light possible and the thought was that they needed to only make through the race. Frames etc could be repaired for the next event. Cooper frame tubes were very thin and the carried water and oil. Cooper also had the oil tank at the driver's feet forward of the axle line. Lotus used frame tubes to carry fluid. It appeared to me with some of these cars it was ...."hmmm we forgot the fuel tank. The only place left is over the drivers lap"...as in a Lotus 18. I think that it was an evolution of materials as well. Wether by design, or not, safety improved with changes of materials. As metalurgy improved, designers found they could still make cars light, but stronger. Then composites were developed. I remember looking at the foot box on an Indy Lights car and noting that the composite material was over an inch thick. They are strong, yet light. It was a gradual evolution. Eventually, it was, as was mentioned earlier, people like Jackie Stewart who pushed safety aspect. They found that safety could be designed into the car without a loss of performance. (IMHO)

#22 Flat Black 84

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 23:50

Yes, I believe USAC mandated the use of foam cells in 1965, following the disastrous Indy wreck the year before! What made them safer? Ground effects, actually! Up until the end of the seventies, fuel cells were located everywhere the driver and the engine wasn't, and that meant mostly between the wheels! Ground effects dictated that they be placed in the middle of the car, so as to not impede the wing profiles that were now where the fuel used to be!


Interesting! So contemporary fuel cells are not appreciably more rupture-resistant than their ancestors of three decades ago?

Perhaps ground effects have been the great life-saver.

#23 Paul Taylor

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Posted 04 May 2009 - 10:16

The realisation that the expenditure of energy through parts of the car breaking away ( just leaving a safety cell ) is a major factor in the prevention of injury to the driver. Unfortunately the bits flying away and dissipating the energy all too often injure those watching


It's interesting - CART/CCWS cars have tended to break up in big accidents leaving just the cockpit. While it's good for the dissipation of energy, it left the drivers too vulnerable, in my opinion.

Katherine Legge's accident at Road America is a good example. I think the car broke up far too easily, but then she did walk away uninjured....