Imola – At the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), Mercedes-Benz and McLaren International presented the results of the development and testing of an airbag system suitable for Formula One and the results of further development of the HANS (Head and Neck Support) driver protection system. Both projects were carried out simultaneously.
The definition of the requirements for the project which began on October 23, 1996 as a joint venture between the FIA, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren International in Stuttgart, was to develop a driver restraint system for head-on and oblique frontal impacts, with a realistic crash angle of up to 30°. A Formula 3000 monocoque with the 1998 Formula One cockpit dimensions served as crash test equipment for both systems.
In the crash tests, HANS proved to be a particularly effective protection system. The HANS system, the basic concept of which was invented by Dr. Robert Hubbard, professor at the biomechanic constructions research laboratory at Michigan University, USA, is based on a rigid, collar-shaped carbon fibre shell which is held on to the upper body by the seat belts and fastened to the helmet with appropriate tethers. In an accident, the head’s extreme accelerated movements are minimised and dangerous neck strain is reduced by the stabilising effect. The driver’s head is prevented from hitting the edge of the cockpit or the steering wheel during an accident. DaimlerChrysler presented a very light HANS prototype in composite material, weighing less than 700 g .
Jürgen Hubbert, Member of the Board of Management of DaimlerChrysler, responsible for Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars and Smart: “We are happy to take up the suggestion from the FIA of bringing our knowledge and our many years of experience of safety engineering for production vehicles to the HANS project and possibly also further research projects. We consider this to be a significant contribution towards making the fascinating sport of Formula One even more safe.”
Max Mosley, President of the FIA, said: “This is a major step forward in the search to introduce ever improved safety standards in Formula One. It is particularly significant that this research has been carried out jointly with one of the world‘s major car manufacturers. This shows how motor sport is a research medium for the motor car industry not only for performance, but also for safety. I would like to thank everybody at Mercedes-Benz and McLaren, and Professor Hubbert in particular, for their efforts and contribution “
An advantage of the HANS system over the Formula One airbag, which was investigated in parallel, is that on impact the loads are transmitted evenly across the forehead, instead of to the chin. Furthermore, since the driver’s seating position is almost horizontal, an airbag cannot cushion the head and chest simultaneously, as happens in a road car. Consequently the low neck strain achieved with an airbag system is not guaranteed in a Formula One car. With HANS, this problem does not exist. This is the main reason why the project of introducing an airbag in Formula One cars has been abandoned.
The HANS system was given a trial run by David Coulthard in the West McLaren-Mercedes MP4-13 during testing. Together with McLaren, further adjustments are currently being made to the HANS system which, above all, should make it more comfortable to wear. The FIA Safety Commission and DaimlerChrysler safety experts have recommended its introduction in Formula One.