Evidence exposes substantive FIA failings in barrier safety testing


Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Tourdog

In 2014 the FIA decided to change the technical regulations forcing designers to lower the nosecone on Formula One cars. In the preceding years the noses on F1 cars had been just a few centimetres lower that the top plane of the cockpit. In fact, the profile of F1’s nosecones had been getting higher and higher in an effort to deliver more more airflow underneath the cars, which aided the aerodynamic objective to deliver more downforce from the chassis.

As the height of the noses grew, concerns were being expressed over safety. A number of accidents had occurred where one car T-boned another – where the nose of car 1 hits the side of car 2 right – and questions were posed about the possibility of this leading to the safety cell being pierced. Further, if car one was airborne there was a possibility the nose may impact directly with the head of the driver in car 2.

So in a two-fold effort to reduce downforce and improve safety, it the FIA decided – with agreement from the teams – that for 2014 the noses would be much lower. A LOT lower, as the diagram below demonstrates.

ferrar 2013 and 2014 nose

As usual, this first draft of the new nose rules was not properly thought through from an aesthetic perspective, and of course a plethora of interpretations meeting the design criteria were born. Likenesses were quickly drawn between the nose-cones on display and phallic symbols, duckbills and wonky Walrus tusks.

F1’s big cheese, Bernie was most upset with these goings on and was not backward in coming foward to say so. In fact it was Ecclestone who persuaded the teams to alter the nose regulations again for 2015, in an effort to improve the looks of the cars. The end result of the 2015 regulations set a few key parameters.

Max distance from centerline of front wheels to tip of the nose: 1200mm

Min height of nose above Reference plane: 135mm

Max height of nose above reference plane: 220mm

The reference plane is essentially the lowest point on the car, the Barge board, or “skid plate”. This is where the fake spark creating blocks are embedded into the bottom of the car, and these blocks must remain a minim thickness despite wear at the end of a race. So by regulating the nose height with the reference plane of the car, the FIA are setting the ride height and preventing the teams getting the ose of the car as low as possible.

Lets take a step back….

1999 Silverstone. Michael Schumacher locks up through Stowe, and goes head on into the tyre barriers. The car submarines under the tyres, he hits the Armco, and Schumacher’s leg is broken.. This event prompted an FIA investigation to look into an alternative to tyre barriers.

Six years later, Sept 6th in Monza, the Tecpro barrier made its début appearance in Formula One.

According to information provided by Tecpro:

The work was led on behalf of the FIA institute by Hubert Gramling, who developed the concept of the whole barrier, and defined the tests in close cooperation with Michael Krehl, of automotive safety group. (emphasis ours)

After a five year research and development program in collaboration with DERKA, the FIA institute, and the research laboratory, TECPRO has developed a high security barrier for use on Formula 1 Circuits.

Initially, the Tecpro barriers were not used independently, but as part of a larger system.

The new barrier involves three separate layers, the first of which is made up of plastic blocks filled with polyethylene foam – a material known for its high energy absorption properties – and vertical steel plates to resist penetration. The blocks were created by French company TecPro International. A 1.2m gap then separates the TecPro elements from the second part of the system, a four or six-row tyre barrier where each stack of tyres is fitted with a 30cm diameter tube made from high density polyetheylene. The final part of the barrier system consists of a guardrail or specially designed concrete wall. The entire system is just four metres deep. crash.net article

So the elements of the barrier were Tecpro, tyres and Armco, working in conjunction. This system was claimed to be capable of absorbing the energy of a 200kph impact while reducing the G-forces on the driver to “tolerable levels”.

At some point in the future, though exactly when is difficult to ascertain, the FIA approved the use of the Tecpro barriers without the previously required tire wall. Now we have just the Techpro element in combination with the Armco. These have been fitted at many of the F1 circuits and Techpro is the ONLY portable barrier to be certified for use by the FIA.

So how is a barrier certified? With a crash test, a very specific crash test, designed and run by the FIA. Its parameters are defined in this document, which was written in 2000, and then reissued by the FIA in 2012 with no changes:


You don’t need to read it all, but there are two vitally important pieces of information in this document.

  1. The height of the nosecone on the testing ram is 500mm.(0.5 m).
  2. The impact location must be at 90 deg to surface in “centre” of the barrier.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 12.04.02 PM

This means that the FIA’s own testing procedure only tests one aspect of it’s crash barriers, and most importantly it appears it has not been updated to test the currently regulated F1 nosecones.

Math time

The minimum height of the 2015 nose above the reference plane, is 135mm, the maximum is 220mm, and its maximum distance from the axle centerline is 1200mm.

There is a fixed measurement in the regulations for the distance from the front edge of the barge board, to the centerline of the front axle, that distance is 330mm

1200+330= 1530mm, so that is the maximum distance from the bargeboard to the tip of the nosecone.

This means at speed, the barge board is as low to the ground as possible, the maximum height of the nosecone will be 221mm. Add in 2 degrees of rake to the car, that would put the bottom of the nosecone mere 2 mm off the track surface, and the top of the nose, ~87 mm off the track.

Just for sake of argument and rounding errors, lets call that 100mm.

This means the nose of the current spec car, when at speed, will impact a barrier 400mm below the point where the FIA tests are done.

Carlos Sainz, Sochi 2015

During the 3rd Free Practice session in Sochi 2015, for reasons undeclared as yet Carlos Sainz lost traction at the rear of his Toro Rosso. This caused the car to fishtail, and sent him into the armco barrier immediately to his left at high speed. The left front suspension and the front wing were ripped off of his car, which caused complete brake failure, and so Sainz was now in an uncontrollable slide toward the barrier beyond the apex of the turn. The Toro Rosso nose remained in tact during the slide. In fact as the front wheel detached this cause the front edge of the bargeboard to bottom out, and with the rear tyres still being in place, the rake of the car was increased and the nose scraped along the ground until the final impact.

The Nose of Carlos’s car pierced the lower right hand corner of a Tecpro Cell and tore it apart, as can be seen in this picture just above the head of the man standing on the ground left. This is the reverse side of the impact point and the cell is clearly torn.

sochi ripped barrier

The point of impact from the Toro Rosso was so low, that it pushed underneath the first row of Tecpro barrier. This row of grey barrier ended up on top of the car. Notice that the cells are all still connected to one another.

wall 2 torn straps1

Now let’s look at how the cells are connected. There are 3 tensioned straps. Patent information is included at the end of this document, though it is not very revealing as to exactly how the system works. investigations on-line have turned up little, but the best view inside a Tecpro barrier is this short youtube video:

The three straps that connect each cell of the barrier together are 15cm wide, with resistance of up to 20T/cm2.

Their are 3 layouts approved by the FIA for the Tecpro system, defined as TEC-1, TEC-2, & TEC-3. They can be seen in this document provided by Tecpro:


The wall Carlos hit was a TEC-3 type barrier, so there were 2 tensioned walls of grey cells separated by a single red cell, spaced every 8 cells. Behind this were 2 red cell’s spacing the second wall against the Armco.

Carlos went underneath the first wall of grey cells, and then struck the second wall exactly where there was a break between cells. This pinched the cells apart when they were forced up against the armco, and tore all 3 straps. You can see 2 of the 3 frayed torn straps sticking out of the cell to the right of the car, in the following pictures:

wall 2 torn strap 2

Assuming a 15cm wide strap is about 5 cm^2 in area, that is 15 cm^2 x 20T =300T load.

Carlos hit the second row of barriers with about 300T of force, enough to rip apart the safety straps, and then he continued into the armco barrier. This is what the back of the armco looked like after the impact:

armco back

Notice that the red Tecpro barrier spacers have been forced up and over the top of the armco barrier.

Was this an installation problem?

There is little to no information in the public domain on how the Tecpro system should be installed. There is nothing in Tecpro’s patent information that references a tie down point, and in reviewing multiple accident videos over the last several years, there is no indication that the Tecpro barriers are attached to the ground in any way. It appears that their weight (120kg ea.), and the method they are bound together is all that keeps them in place.

The Monaco video referenced earlier that shows the inside of a barrier cell gives us some clue as to the interconnect system, but how the strain relief works on impact is unclear. It is possible that the strap tension between blocks were too high or too low in Sochi, lead to the 3 straps tearing apart.

Sochi has installed 4100 of the Tecpro cells according to their press release from last year. Whether the system is acquired or leased from Tecpro is unclear, but what is known is that the cells are not a permanent fixture in Sochi, or any of the F1 street circuits and the barriers are installed in the weeks prior to the event.

In an interview with a Tecpro installation engineer, he states that it takes a team of 14 trained individuals (10 local and 4 tecpro employees), 2 weeks to install everything at the Singapore circuit. Being that Sochi and Singapore are similar in length, we can assume that they use roughly an equivalent amount of barrier which measures out to about 6km.

According to Tecpro’s own documentation:

For a international motorsport racing track, the setting up of the TECPRO system have to be approved by an inspector of the FIA Safety Commission.

So what is the FIA safety Commission? That is a great question. The only references to the commission that we can find are the election of its president and VP in late 2014.

  1. Peter Wright (GBR), PRESIDENT 2014
  2. M. Guenther (DEU), VICE PRESIDENT 2014

According to this press release, Charlie whiting is also a member of the Commission.

The duties of the commission have not been publicised, but FIA documentation reveals:

“Commissions shall draw up their own internal Regulations…..and must be approved by the competent World Council”

We can find no other documentation, nor list of members and/or inspectors of the Safety Commission.

Whether the barrier at Sochi was inspected prior to the race is unknown. The ultimate responsibility for that inspection lies with Charlie Whiting as F1’s safety delegate at race weekends. Though how around 4100 blocks totalling 6 km with 24,000 connection points are inspected and passed as satisfactory following Charlie’s arrival in Sochi is also a mystery.


Formula 1 has a safety problem. The choice to lower the noses drastically for 2014 and beyond appears to have been implemented in haste without proper consideration given to related matters like the barrier designs. Adrian Newey predicted the new noses could cause a submarining effect, which we have seen most notably with Bianchi’s Marussia in Suzuka 2014 and Sainz Toro Rosso in Russia this year.

The concerns about car 1 T-boning car 2 and piercing its safety cell have now been replaced with the possibility car 1 T-boning and submaringing under car 2 – causing it to be flipped and rolled at 90 degrees to its direction of travel.

Further, the noses are now too low for the Tecpro barriers to operate safely as designed. Had the FIA updated their barrier testing procedure for 2014 and retested the Tecpro system with a ram designed with the same profile as the new F1 nose cones, they would have quickly discovered a repeated submarining effect. But the greater problem is that the entire raison d’etre – the absorption effect – of Tecpro is now being negated. This means the driver is at risk of hitting his head as the barriers are forced up and across the nose of the car. Remember, Carlos Sainz ended up with TWO 120kg safety cells on top of his head, and he was unable to escape without the help of 2 JCB cranes to lift them away.

It is a miracle that Carlos Sainz Jr. survived his accident in Russia relatively unscathed. There are worrying similarities to Jules Bianchi’s accident as mentioned above and inside the centre of the Tecpro is a steel plate that runs from edge to edge. Carlos tore away the lower corner of the first barrier cell, exposing this steel plate.

What appears to have been a reactionary and with undue haste rewriting of the regulations not only drove up costs, but is putting the drivers lives in danger.

It is obvious the FIA did not updated their barrier testing procedures. The new low noses are not compatible with the barrier system that the FIA has mandated, and therefore one of those two things must change. The first change which would see the redesign and replacement of all Tecpro barriers at F1 circuits would be ridiculously expensive – and who will pay? The FIA?

The alternative is for the FIA to hold their hands up and say – ‘we made a mistake’ – and raise the minimum height of and F1 nose-cone. You can’t test a barrier with a rig that looks nothing like the actual projectile with which it will collide in the real world. And for this Tecpro must share some culpability.

Further, testing should be done on Tecpro to simulate the conditions where a car impacts the connection point between two barriers.

The 3 straps that Carlos Sainz ripped on impact, should not have failed. Either this situation was never tested for, or the barrier was not installed correctly. In either case the buck stops with Charlie Whiting.

The safety issue is further complicated by the fact that neither circuit owners, nor drivers are permitted to even discuss the FIA’s safety measures, let alone question them.

The following excerpt is from a FIA press release of September 2006. This appears to have been scrubbed from the FIA website, but is included in the Tecpro documentation (page 20):

“The owners of circuits licensed for Formula One are required not to discuss safety measures with third parties (including drivers). This is to prevent self-appointed experts with little or no understanding of the latest developments in circuit safety, causing confusion and undermining the significant safety benefits which are being achieved.”

So much for responsibility and accountability, openness and honesty. Then again, its hardly a surprise.

How would a closed canopy effected Carlos’s crash?

In this instance it is difficult to tell, however, the argument that a driver may get trapped inside a closed canopy is somewhat negated here. Carlos was in an open canopy, and was still trapped. In fact you could make the argument that a closed canopy would have kept the barrier cells from coming into direct contact with his helmet. But in this accident the problem is not the lack of a canopy, or the Tecpro Barrier. The problem was that the car’s nose was too low, and it submarined under 2 layers of the safety barrier.


image gallery of Sainz accident site

Top view video of Monaco accident into Tecpro barrier

f1technical article



TECPRO International
40, av de Lascours
13400 AUBAGNE, France
Tel: +33 (0) 442 030 691
Cellular: +33(0) 609 534 538
Mail: rafael@tecpro.fr

patent name:

Damping Separator Element for Producing Delimiting or Protective Barriers

Patent drawings:



Tecpro Owner:


wikipedia: Rafaël Galiana (born 29 May 1960) is a French racing driver currently competing in the TCR International Series. He previously competed in the Peugeot 206 Cup.

Galiana began his career in 1986 in karting. In 2001 he switched to the Peugeot 206 Cup, he raced there until 2004. In September 2015, it was announced that Galiana would make his TCR International Series debut with Target Competition driving a SEAT León Cup Racer.

Other safety barrier systems:


permanent installation only, used by nascar and Indycar mainly on ovals

Prolink Barriers

claim to be used for auto racing and “born out of nascar”, but can find no official docs that says they are certified for racing. Must be filled with sand or water as ballast, amount depends on estimated impact forces.

Impact safety systems

look to be identical to prolink and even some of the wording on their sites is the same, i suspect they are are just a reseller of prolink.

33 responses to “Evidence exposes substantive FIA failings in barrier safety testing

  1. Hold on, FIA changed nose regulation in F1 for safety reasons, why didn’t they use same reason for F3, and other categories they are responsible for? Why only F1?
    So no T bone collision is possible in F3?
    F3 noses remain as high as possible, regardless of how “dangerous” they are.

    The same hypocrisy goes for the spectators safety.
    Question for FIA: how’s the spectators safety on WRC races?
    F1 got castrated with all the “safety” regulations and concerns, most of which are nonsense.

    Motor sport is and will be dangerous no matter what.
    Those who participate either as competitors, or spectators are well aware of it.

      • And a family going to a race should not have to anticipate debris (flaming or not) flying into their seats. My daughter and I used to buy season passes to the Snoqualmie ski area when she was young. On the agreement that you had to sign to get the pass was a disclaimer that Snoqualmie Pass was not responsible to such things as lifts falling down and you impacting the ground from twenty feet up because their lift cable broke. Insanity. I crossed out that part, signed the ticket and got the passes. My point is that quoting ‘dangerous’ does not and should not excuse an operator from taking some reasonable, standard, acceptable steps to insure that their product is at least usable and fairly safe. So, saying that motorsport is ‘dangerous’ for spectators does not and should not excuse a provider of such events from reasonable and normal safety regulations. Yeah, stuff happens, but some stuff shouldn’t. And if it does, it’s your fault (well, not really ‘yours’; but you get my meaning and you get my drift).

      • Hi bruznic,
        I’d say, not much less speed (especially in last 2 years when F1 slowed down even more).
        Either way, I’m sure F3 carries enough kinetic energy to do lot of damage on such a collision.
        On the other hand, I’m sure they use less expensive materials to build F3 cars compared to F1 (less grade carbon fiber etc). So level of safety is questionable in lesser categories.
        If you’re changing nose regulations on safety grounds on one category you’re responsible for, shouldn’t you do the same with all other categories this is relevant to?

        • Has F3 had a chassis change since then? There are controls on when chassis changes can be done in junior series, and if F3 hasn’t been due a change, then it would be very difficult to get the teams to agree to a change due to costs. There’s no point saying “If you can’t pay, don’t play” if the result is that there are no teams in the series any more…

  2. Nice write up again TD, but if we look at the cars of yesteryear, the noses were significantly lower than they are now and I don’t recall seeing any such submarining effect (only been watching for 20 years). Personally I think it’s more to do with the safety barriers and its instillation rather than how high or low the noses are.

    • Hey Fortis, remember, the Tecpro system was only introduced in late 2006. So the first real tests of it were with the 2007 spec cars. From 2007 until 2013, the noses got progressively higher, until the change last year. So yes, pre-2007 there were cars that had noses as low or lower than today, but there was no tecpro then, the first thing a car hit when it impacted the wall was a thick rubber conveyor belt that was wrapped around a lot of tyres.

      However, the installation of the system is Sochi is certainly in question. I am hoping to get some answers regarding how it works and installation principles by someone that is familiar with the Tecpro system soon.

      • Do you remember Hekki Kovalainen´s crash at Barcelona 2008? It was a simple tyre wall and he submarined it ripping the floor out.

        • Had to go back and watch it. He, much like Schumacher, went right underneath the tire wall.
          This raises another question, which is who determines if the Tecpro is necessary at a given part of the track? Through the research, I have found the directives that stipulate exactly how a course layout drawing must presented to the FIA for review, but little about who determines barrier layout beyond the track designer.

          According to the FIA’s own research, to safely reduce the effect of a 200kph collision with the barrier, you need 2 layers of Tecpro, 4 layers of tyres, and 1 layer of Armco. why that hasn’t been implemented across every foot of safety barrier on every track is a great question for the FIA.

          • Part of the reason it does not cover every square foot is simple. It is the same reason NASCAR and INDYCar tracks have not implemented SAFER Barriers along all outside and inside walls – Cost!
            SAFER Barriers cost about 500USD/foot and are only required in the corners. Let’s say for a typical 1.5mile track there is 1.5mi inside wall, 1.5 X 1.3 = 1.95mil outside wall for a total of 3.45miles(5.5km) of wall.
            3.45mi * 5280ft/mi * $500/foot = $9,108,000. I couldn’t find figures on TecPro Barriers, but I would guess the pricing is pretty similar when purchased. But considering that F1 tracks are 5.5 to 6.5km in average it is a pricey undertaking. Tracks struggling to pay hosting fees are not going to want to make more than the minimum investment in this.

  3. @fortus
    Regarding submarining in 2014 look to the first race, first lap, first corner, kamui rearended into Massa… Too lazy to pull up YouTube for you.

    • I’ve looked at the video, and what I’ve noticed is, that by the time Kamui made contact with Massa, his front suspension had collapsed and the wheels ripped off. So the car was sliding along the floor and was substantially lower than it should’ve been.

      I believe without that, we wouldn’t have seen any submarining and that’s pretty much what we saw with Sainz’s crash.

      • Very true, but a bit like saying there wouldn’t be an issue with the barriers unless somebody crashes into them. Cars *will* inevitably sometimes have tyres ripped off and suspensions collapsed so the safety measures and testing of those measures need to take account of that (very) realistic possibility.

        That aside, failing to retest the barriers when the nose designs changed that much is – or should be – criminal.

  4. ….the Barge board, or “skid plate”. This is where the fake spark creating blocks are embedded into the bottom of the car, and these blocks must remain a minim thickness despite wear at the end of a race.

    The skid plates of titanium, are attached to the ‘plank’. Barge boards, are vertical aerodynamic elements placed at the side of chassis.

    It doesn’t look like testing is the problem with this accident. Extensive testing on the Tecpro barrier was carried out by Dekra, a German safety company. The first picture in the booklet linked to, shows a low nose impact sled test. The barriers are designed to be placed on a flat surface. The above pictures of the accident scene, seem to show that the barriers were placed on ground that was grassy,rough, and possibly sloping, and at least the back row of Tecpro barrier was being levelled with what looks like tyres placed underneath. The barriers should not be ‘tied down’, the idea is that energy is absorbed by not only an individual element, but also the whole length of the installed elements. Part of the reason for the shape of the ends. The car lost its wheel and was sliding along on the plank. It looks as if the major impact was at the junction of two elements, hence the torn plastic. Which is to be expected, considering the energy involved. It would be interesting to see a picture of the front section of the barrier without the advertising banner. Looking at the above pictures, it is not surprising what happened.

    Real problem would seem to be, improper installation and use. So who was responsible for the track inspection ?

  5. Hey I just thought of a relatively simple idea, what if they dig the ground where the Tecpro barriers sit maybe 150 or 200mm but leave the runoff area at its original level, this way is impossible that any car would go under the barrier even if it is scraping the floor. Main problem of course is that the barriers would have to be made a little bit taller to compensate.

    • And the other main problem would be street courses. Might be a bit difficult to get Singapore and Monaco to agree to digging a 20cm trench around the city. 😉

      • No need; the designers could redesign the barrier to be double-thickness, and use the back part of it to secure onto a secured “groove holder” placed on the race track. The barrier could be the same height as now (assuming they are redesigned for today’s cars), and the groove holder components braced onto points where “digging in” is possible or were otherwise firmly braced to the ground. Even cities generally have lots of such points, therefore remedying the installation issue.

  6. Well done. Interesting article and thought provoking. I appreciate the work that must have gone into it.

    Just a small point of order.

    “1999 Silverstone. Michael Schumacher locks up through Stowe…”

    It was brake failure.

      • Michael’s never locked a brake in his whole career, not once. Believing otherwise suggests you’re racist. You hold Michael to a standard you that hold no other driver to. Don’t deny it! Don’t you dare! Michael could’ve won world titles in the Minardis! Michael, Michael, Michael. Eh, eh, eh. He should have won 15 world titles at least, but the machine that is F1 couldn’t accept a driver of his colour. We all know it. It’s disgusting. I’m never watching F1 again, ever. Never, ever, ever. The talent of all past world champions combined don’t match the talent Michael had in one hand. Michael drove those underperforming Ferrari’s to win 5 consecutive titles; imagine if he had the best car even for one year. So really, each world title is worth much more than it was in the past and what it is today. It’s like maybe he’s got 7 * 3 = 21 world titles really and that’s being conservative. The sport hasn’t been the same since Michael left Ferrari the first time. His return to Mercedes was sabotaged by Lewis’ secret team that was preparing for hai arrival. Think about it, if Nico would beat Michael, then when Lewis arrived and beat Nico, he’d look tremendously good. We all know Michael’s Mercedes stint was sabotaged. It’s impossible to deny for anyone except those who’ve an axe to grind because of Michael’s off track life, riding his horses – thinking horse riding detracts from his performance. Or that Michael hasn’t the intelligence to actually commit to F1, well, hah! To that I say, hah! We all know why people might say that too, let’s be real… let’s not beat around the bush.

        *If you’re still reading… you’re not very sharp*

        • Of COURSE I was still reading! That was one crazy rant and I just had to savor every word, twist, and turn you took on the way to the finish. MAGNIFICO! BRAVO! BRAVO! YOU DA MAN!

        • I should have said, if you’re still reading and thinking it’s a genuine rant, then… well, you know.

          Happy you liked it. 😀

  7. I had to watch the Sochi race on my laptop. I was surprised when Romain Grosjean’s crash produced a huge shower of unusual looking debris. It certainly looked different to the regular shattered carbon fibre we normally see when a crash produces lots of flying debris.

    As I couldn’t see clearly enough, I couldn’t tell exactly what it was that showered all over when GRO crashed. Was the stuff that looked like it could have been some kind of plastic foam, from the actual TecPro barrier he hit? If so was it supposed to “burst” (or whatever the right term is) like that and fly all over, or is the barrier supposed to remain intact?

    • If I remember rightly, Plan A is that the barrier is meant to stay intact and Plan B is that it sort of implodes. If it gets a lot of energy in it, and Plan B is in effect, it’s possible that *small* bits flying all over is a sort-of-but-not-quite-intended Plan C (as the flying around will take a lot of energy out of the incident in itself).

      However, I cannot confirm if that is indeed barrier which burst or something else.

  8. The testing of barriers for temporary circuits is supposed to happen 60 days before a Grand Prix, unless a special exemption is applicable (I think Monaco gets one every year due to being open to traffic when not used as a race track, but it still gets tested in early May, in advance of the historical race weekend it has). There would be no question of waiting until the F1 brigade showed up to do the testing of barrier installations. Of course, only the question of whether they were installed to instructions is checked, not whether those instructions are up-to-date. It’s the same with drain covers, which is why every time there’s a major downforce increase that isn’t obviously signposted by regulation changes, Monaco’s drain covers get sucked into F1 cars…

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