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Author Topic: Drivers Overalls  (Read 4202 times)

Offline Wizzo

Drivers Overalls
« on: April 23, 2006, 04:05:18 PM »
The dangers of accidents involving fire in Formula 1 have been minimised dramatically by major investments in the safety of both the cars and the race tracks. The drivers’ overalls have also been enhanced consistently over the past 30 years and have contributed to the high safety standards in top-class motor racing. Like a second skin, they protect the drivers against flames and temperatures of up to 840°C.

It appears that, in the founding years of Formula 1, comfort and elegance were the primary concerns even for World Champions in their choice of working clothes. For instance, the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio preferred to climb into his car in a polo shirt and cloth trousers, while Michael Hawthorn never drove a race without a bow-tie. Even in the 1970s, the drivers’ racing overalls were made of highly flammable cotton, which did not provide any protection against fire. A general change in thinking came only after Niki Lauda’s fiery accident in 1976 at the Nürburgring: it was no longer regarded as a sign of weakness if the drivers expressed concerns about their safety. 

From then on, the drivers’ clothing has been improved continuously. In 1979, Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti competed for the first time in over-alls made of five layers of fireproof material, as used by NASA for space suits. The magic word in modern Formula 1 is Nomex. Not only the overalls but also the shoes, underwear, gloves and balaclavas are now all made of this special synthetic fibre, which is an aramide like the related material Kevlar. It is not only extremely resistant to heat and fire, but also protects the driver against caustic gases and acids. Even so, Formula 1 overalls are comparatively cheap – they cost about 1,200 euros each.

As every last gram counts in Formula 1, the low weight is another advantage of Nomex. Racing overalls that normally consist of three layers of fireproof material weigh scarcely 1.9 kilos. Every suit is custom-made and tailored to fit the driver precisely with the help of state-of-the-art 3D computer programs. The manufacturers set particularly great store on ergonomics, because perfectly fitting overalls are an important prerequisite for a good performance by the driver. “The overalls must become a part of the driver,” says Dickie Stanford, the Team Man-ager at BMW WilliamsF1, “because otherwise he won’t be able to concentrate on his job of driving the car as fast as possible and winning races.”

To make sure that the overalls do not cling or pull anywhere, a particularly flexible material is used for the shoulder area, which gives the drivers the necessary freedom of movement when steering. The innermost of the three layers has no seams, which is extremely comfortable for the drivers, because a fraying seam can be real torture over the full distance of a race and may make the crucial difference in the battle for hundredths of a second. However, the perfect fit is not only a question of design and comfort, but also of safety. As the strains on the drivers have increased due to the high centrifugal forces in the ever-faster race cars, the manufacturers of the suits – that have varying thicknesses depending on the particular race – have come to rely on breathable materials. In a hot-weather race such as Malaysia, the drivers have to do extremely hard labour in cockpit temperatures of over 50°C.

The Formula 1 regulations place high requirements on the drivers’ race clothing. The overalls are subjected to strict tests before being approved by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The material is not only washed 15 times and chemically cleaned 15 times, but must also endure a baptism of fire – in the truest sense of the word – and with-stand a temperature of 820°C for 10 seconds. The BMW WilliamsF1 Team takes three sets of overalls for every driver to each grand prix. A driver uses approximately 16 suits per sea-son, and it may even be a few more if the sponsors change in the middle of the year. The suits are taken to the cleaners after every race, which can lead to difficulties: when Dickie Stanford tried to collect the team’s overalls after the Australian Grand Prix in 2002, the cleaners was closed because the staff were on strike. It was only two days later that a WilliamsF1 employee managed to collect the cleaned overalls and take them to the next race in Malaysia.

And did you know...

... that drivers in Nomex-3 overalls can survive for 35 seconds even in temperatures of 840°C? By way of a comparison, the maximum temperature in a sauna is 100°C, in an apartment fire it would be up to 800°C and the lava in a volcanic eruption reaches between 750 and 1,000°C.  :swoon:

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