For the 2014 season, a new advanced side impact protection system has been put in place on each car in Formula One, offering a stronger and safer design in the event of an accident. It is the culmination of a project backed by the FIA Foundation and conducted by the FIA Institute.
Following Robert Kubica’s major accident in Canada in 2007, additional research was undertaken into the effectiveness of crash structures when impacting at an oblique angle. Research into then standard crash structures found that, while effective in direct impacts, the crushable tube structures used could break off in acute angled accidents. The Institute embarked on a collaboration with F1 teams to develop a side impact system that worked effectively, regardless of the angle of impact.
A number of teams, including Marussia, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing, all engaged with the project and submitted various designs. Initial testing set a benchmark of the current structures using a new dynamic oblique impact test configuration. Two new designs were then investigated: optimised carbon tubes and crushable carbon sandwich panels. A variety of energy absorbing filler materials, including both aluminium and carbon honeycombs in addition to foams, were used in the sandwich panels.
Testing was conducted on both designs and it was found that the carbon tubes provided a more efficient, lightweight and robust solution. They were able to manage impact loads effectively in both lateral and for-aft directions. In comparison, the panels did not offer the same level of energy absorption and effectiveness.
The final structure was based on an initial design by Marussia, before undergoing extremely detailed optimisation by Red Bull Racing. Using optimised geometry and laminate design, the structure made with high-performance carbon fibre does not shatter on impact. Instead, it progressively crushes to decelerate the car in a very controlled manner. A pair of structures is fitted to each side of the car and in testing were able to absorb nearly 40kJ of energy, in both normal and oblique impact directions.
At an F1 Technical Working Group meeting, the teams agreed to implement the system for the 2014 season.
Teams have been able to integrate the structures into their cars with relative freedom. Crash tests have been carried out to ensure that the integrity of the monocoque and the crash structures within each team’s individual design remains.