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Safety Matters
Steven Roy

Steven has been obsessed by motor racing in general, and Formula One in particular, for as long as he can remember. He can always be called upon for informed opinion on any aspect of F1, be it the sport, technology, business and politics or its history.

F1 designs nose forward // Could the increasing trend for thin noses cause a safety issue?

Published

Close up of STR8 and CT03 noses

There is one design trend in F1 that I am not at all happy about because it increases the chance of someone being hurt in the event of an accident. The noses of the current F1 cars are far too small. The frontal area in event of an accident should be increased to a sensible minimum size so that the load of any accident is dispersed over a wider area.

Unfortunate but lucky

What got me thinking about noses was the accident involving the Force India front jack operator in the recent test at Jerez. It goes without saying that someone being hit by a Formula One car in any conditions is not something anyone wants to happen but I believe the current noses increase the chance of serious injury resulting.

We have grown used to the sight of mechanics occasionally being hit by cars and where once the idea was appalling now it is just something that happens from time to time.

It was totally my fault. We were doing some aero runs and everything was cold. The brakes were too cold, the tyres were too cold and I came in too fast.

There are no reset buttons in real life like there is in the simulator - and there are no mechanics standing in front of the car in the simulator either! It was quite unfortunate but luckily he is okay.

- James Rossiter, test driver, Force India

I don't want to bore you with a physics lesson that most of you already understand anyway but it is necessary so sit up and pay attention. That includes you at the back of the class reading Autosport. The force or momentum of an accident is the same regardless whether the nose is flat or pointed as both are functions of the mass of the car and either its acceleration or velocity. However the pressure on the mechanics leg or potentially some other body part like a head in a more serious accident increases inversely proportionally with the area of the item that hits him. So the smaller the area the greater the pressure on, for example, a bone.

Of course as with most things you don't really need to know the physics or the formulae involved to understand this. Imagine the difference between a woman standing on your foot in a flat shoe and then with a stiletto heel. Ouch! She still weighs the same so the force and momentum are the same but the pressure on your foot is greatly increased with the stiletto. There is a reason we cut meat with a knife rather than a plate.

Bigger, fatter, better

While it was the risk to mechanics that got me thinking about the noses their design also increases the risk to other drivers either through the nose coming into direct contact with a head or by increasing the damage to another car in a collision. It is now very difficult for a car to come into contact with another driver's head but the possibility still exists. It goes without saying that the smaller and pointier the nose the greater that chance is because a bigger, fatter nose is more likely to come in contact with part of the car and dissipate some energy or be deflected away from the head completely.

As ever there is more than one way to skin a cat. While it would be a good idea to make noses more bulbous it would also be a good idea not to have someone standing in front of them with a little plastic sign and a jack handle to protect him against three-quarters of a ton of carbon, metal, petrol and driver that is aiming at 2 square inches of his lower leg. It seems odd that the most technically advanced sport in the world has not been able to solve that when NASCAR did years ago. In NASCAR no mechanic is allowed over the wall until his car has stopped. The stopping is achieved by a mechanic holding a sign with the driver's number on a long pole where he wants the driver to stop.

NASCAR pit stop with poles
Credit: Jay Williams / Creative Commons

The other way to tackle this problem and not change the nature of F1 pit stops is to have what in essence is a remote controlled front jack with the operator standing to the side of the stopped car level with the front wing. It is perfectly possible to design a jack that lies flat on the ground and is activated by pneumatics or hydraulics to raise once the car is in position and to drop to let the car go when the stop is completed. It would mean that drivers would be penalised more for not positioning their car accurately in their pit box or overshooting but there could be a reserve jack operator with a conventional jack standing by ready to deal with that. Or we could just go back to onboard jacks and have someone plug a hose in to activate them.

As with many of the things that concern me about F1 there are numerous easy solutions but the odds are nothing will be done until someone is seriously hurt. I wonder how pointed the authorities will let the noses get before they act.




  • Good line of thought. I wonder whether the FIA specs for the (eg sidepod) crash structures are good enough to cope with the forces involved in one of these spearings. Aren't the tests typically done with larger metal blocks being slammed into the carbon-work?

  • The noses may be thinner but they also seem to be wider this year at least for some teams.

    I've often wondered why F1 still persists with men standing in front, it supposed to be a tech sport yet an onboard jack system would be so much more impressive to the man on the street than would a bloke lifting a car with a jack. Practically every other branch of racing uses it and it just looks and sounds cool, that hiss as it releases and the car drops!

  • Good line of thought. I wonder whether the FIA specs for the (eg sidepod) crash structures are good enough to cope with the forces involved in one of these spearings. Aren't the tests typically done with larger metal blocks being slammed into the carbon-work?

    It's a long time since I even read anything on crash tests. I think they used different shaps to represent different areas of the car but I really can't remember.

    The noses may be thinner but they also seem to be wider this year at least for some teams.

    That is true but if it hits the shin bone of the jack man it doesn't really matter if it is an inch wide or a mile wide. Same for a driver's head but the wider it is the more chance of it hitting the car and being deflected.

    I've often wondered why F1 still persists with men standing in front, it supposed to be a tech sport yet an onboard jack system would be so much more impressive to the man on the street than would a bloke lifting a car with a jack. Practically every other branch of racing uses it and it just looks and sounds cool, that hiss as it releases and the car drops!

    I would guess the current jacks are faster because the car stops on top of them and the operator lifts by reflex action. With an onboard pneumatic jack he has to find the hole to insert the nozzle in after the car has stopped.

    It is very low tech compared to the other option though. F1 had onboard jacks in the 80s on some cars altough I remember som genius only putting two jacks on the car so it was lifted by a couple of 2 or 3 inch diameter pneumatic rams. One was at the front and one at the rear so while they were working on the cars the mechanics also had to balance it.

  • I would guess the current jacks are faster because the car stops on top of them and the operator lifts by reflex action. With an onboard pneumatic jack he has to find the hole to insert the nozzle in after the car has stopped.

    The cars already have big powerful batteries, why not exploit that by using some kind of servo system rather than pneumatics. It could even be linked with sensors in the pit box to automatically actuate?

  • The cars already have big powerful batteries, why not exploit that by using some kind of servo system rather than pneumatics. It could even be linked with sensors in the pit box to automatically actuate?

    That is definitely possible. I hadn't considered a fully on board system. That opens up some interesting possibilities. I have this vision of someone barrellinng into the pits far too fast, the jacks activating and the car skidding on through. Obviously that would not happen in reality.

    The same thing could be achieved by installing a compressed air cylinder and some pneumatics.

  • How about using a system similar to maglev trains, so the cars end up hovering a few inches off the ground due to some powerful electro-magnets?

  • The same thing could be achieved by installing a compressed air cylinder and some pneumatics.

    Sportscars and touring cars have onboard systems, they plug in a hose and it raises up.

    F1 stops are too fast and busy at the moment but they do need slowing down. If we're running F1 and removing people from pitstops like we always say we would, then we should have a system like that. Of course F1 drivers are a lot more impatient than sportscar drivers and they'd probably try to drive away before the stalks have retracted all the way.

  • How about using a system similar to maglev trains, so the cars end up hovering a few inches off the ground due to some powerful electro-magnets?

    That is a properly radical approach. However I am not sure how it would work. The car would need to be seriously modified to make it work as would the pit lane if you are going to install the hardware required. Of course you could go the whole hog and have cars enter the pits and be carried all the way through on a maglev. That would let cars be electrically powered though the pits without mowing people down. Then you could have the mechanics working on the cars as they go giving the illusion of an assembly line and making it more relevant to road cars.

    Who knows using the maglev may take us back to having metal cars. Now that's radical.

    If we're running F1 and removing people from pitstops like we always say we would, then we should have a system like that.

    That makes a lot of sense although if I am running F1 there are not going to be any routine stops. There would be a lot fewer people working on emergency pit stops though.

  • As I understand it, the whole nose section is a crumple zone, so on impact it is designed to disintegrate and release some of the energy of the impact. The bulkhead, which is just in front of where the wishbones attach (I think), is a much larger surface area. This is why the noses have become so funky in the last few years, because they're trying to direct the airflow under the cars but still have to have sufficient area of bulkhead above, so the chassis height ends up getting higher and higher. This meant that the nose height was getting closer and closer to the top of the side crash structure. If you look at the older Red Bulls you can see this happening. That's why the front of the nose has had to come down. Frankly I think scrapping the low nose rule for 2014 was a mistake. They did want them to bring it down even further which would bring back those early '90s style noses I think, but that's all gone now I think.

    It does still seem strange that the FIA have allowed the frontal surface area of the nose to become so thin, especially on the Mercedes, I think it looks like a real knife-edge. If the car was to end up backwards in a pack (like what happened to Schumacher in Abu Dhabi) a couple years ago, I'm not sure I want to know what the result could be.

    I think if they brought the noses down so they had to be directly attached to the front wing, rather than via wing pillars, it would actually improve the look of the cars immensely. I do like the look of them this year though.

    As for the pit stops, there are some great ideas there! If they had a long pneumatic plate that ran along the length of the car under the plank they could line it up really easily use that to raise the car up without a front (or rear) jack-man. I guess we'll have to see what the FIA come up with over the next couple years.

    On another safety note, what do people think to enclosed cockpits? I think giving them a canopy over the cockpit would be a brilliant idea and could even lead to open face helmets which could lead to some interesting camera shots.

  • On another safety note, what do people think to enclosed cockpits? I think giving them a canopy over the cockpit would be a brilliant idea and could even lead to open face helmets which could lead to some interesting camera shots.

    I'd love to see some way of protecting their heads without that device trapping them in there. I don't know how you'd do both.

  • There's some really good canopy talk on a previous Saftey Matters here: sidepodcast.com/f…ntion-to-the-head Lots to think about.

  • As I understand it, the whole nose section is a crumple zone, so on impact it is designed to disintegrate and release some of the energy of the impact.

    That depends on what they hit. The noses are carbon fibre so it shatters rather than crumbles. If it hits a solid object it will shatter but if it hits a shin bone my money is on the carbon fibre.

    On another safety note, what do people think to enclosed cockpits? I think giving them a canopy over the cockpit would be a brilliant idea and could even lead to open face helmets which could lead to some interesting camera shots.

    You will never see open faced helmets in F1 again. For me the only thing open faced helmets should be used for is carrying water. They are worse than useless in any kind of accident. It winds me up no end that Top Gear use them. Even with a canopy in place a full face helmet is essential in case the canopy breaks or something penetrates it. The full face helmet also stops the driver's face hitting the steering wheel in an accident.

    If you look at an open faced helmet it only protects the back of the head which is effectively one piece of thick bone. It doesn't protect the nose which is the first part of the head to reach the accident or the bottom jaw which hangs on two very fragile hinges. It doesn't protect the eyes either. In a lot of ways if a partial helmet was going to be used it would make a lot more sense to use one that covers the bits of the head an open face helmet doesn't cover rather than the bits it does.

  • They are worse than useless in any kind of accident. It winds me up no end that Top Gear use them.

    you can't see a driver with a closed helmet and audience demands that people look like people not robots (see also top gun - technically inaccurate but a better film given you can see the actors). i can't imagine top gear would last a single series with f1 helmets (apart form the stig).

  • you can't see a driver with a closed helmet and audience demands that people look like people not robots (see also top gun - technically inaccurate but a better film given you can see the actors). i can't imagine top gear would last a single series with f1 helmets (apart form the stig).

    I understand why people want them but for safety reasons they are never coming back. If we did have open faced helmets F1 wouldn't be worth watching because 30 minutes of every race would be spent looking into the eyes of one driver or another and you would have no idea what was happening in the race. It used to be bad enough when they had a camera facing Mansell's face. Every race we spent ten minutes looking at the front of his helmet.

  • it is necessary so sit up and pay attention. That includes you at the back of the class reading Autosport.

    *shuffles uncomfortably*

    I wonder how pointed the authorities will let the noses get before they act.

    any suggestions to what an ideal f1 nose profile might be?

    off the top of my head, the williams 'tusk' nose would presumably be safer, although those uprights could still do some damage. sidepodcast.com/p…sk-nosed-williams

  • any suggestions to what an ideal f1 nose profile might be?

    That is more difficult to answer than it should be. I would like something big and round and close to the ground. No edges or folds on it either. And of course if it is bigger it creates drag and ruins aero efficiency giving us better racing

  • off the top of my head, the williams 'tusk' nose would presumably be safer, although those uprights could still do some damage. sidepodcast.com/p…sk-nosed-williams

    I think it is probably better because the wing will hit first and it is breakable. If it hits hard enough to go jam the nose into someone it is still better than what we have unless the down pointed nose traps a foot.

  • any suggestions to what an ideal f1 nose profile might be?

    Ideal for cars, probably something quite pointy like a jet-fighter. But as Steven says ideal for us, something bulky with some interesting aero characteristics (as well as being easy on the eyes).

    If it hits hard enough to go jam the nose into someone it is still better than what we have unless the down pointed nose traps a foot.

    My thoughts would be that hitting(/breaking) a leg is better than trapping a foot or shattering an ankle.

  • My thoughts would be that hitting(/breaking) a leg is better than trapping a foot or shattering an ankle.

    Definitely. If a foot got trapped eventually either that foot is going to get ripped off or its owner is going to fall backwards and get the car on top of them

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