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.
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.
- The height of the nosecone on the testing ram is 500mm.(0.5 m).
- The impact location must be at 90 deg to surface in “centre” of the barrier.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
- Peter Wright (GBR), PRESIDENT 2014
- 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
40, av de Lascours
13400 AUBAGNE, France
Tel: +33 (0) 442 030 691
Cellular: +33(0) 609 534 538
Damping Separator Element for Producing Delimiting or Protective Barriers
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:
SAFER BARRIER website
permanent installation only, used by nascar and Indycar mainly on ovals
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.
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.