A short history of crash barrier technology in F1


Racing is a tricky business and between mistakes
and failures a driver can never guarantee that their car will stay on the track.
With spectators, marshals, TV and track staff needed nearby, impenetrable perimeters around
the track are needed to stop any out-of-control cars.
With such high speeds involved in racing, motor sport has had to come up with all manner
of solutions to stop an uncontrolled car without injuring the driver. In this video we’re
going to look at the brief history of barrier technology in F1 and how thoughtful engineering
has helped solved the problem of cars flying off-circuit, as well as introducing some problems
of its own. Douglas Adams once wrote, ‘it’s not the
fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.’ And so it is with racing accidents.
The risk of serious injury in a crash is mostly from massive acceleration Acceleration is the rate of change in velocity.
Acceleration produces a force acting on you. You can very gradually drive a car from zero
to two hundred kph and not really feel anything, but an F1 car can do it in a few seconds and
it’ll feel like you’ve been kicked in the chest. It can come to a stop even quicker.
Acceleration and deceleration are essentially the same thing, by the way. 0 to 200 kph in
3 seconds has the same acceleration as 200 to 0 in 3 seconds… just in the other direction.
The two components of acceleration are: the change in speed, and the time taken to change
speed. If an F1 car drives straight into a rigid
concrete wall at 100 kph, it’s going to go from 100 to 0 in milliseconds. That’s
huge deceleration, and the larger the deceleration the larger the force you’ll experience as
a driver and the more dangerous it will be. This is massive energy transfer to your body,
your organs and your brain. F1 accidents will often be reported in “g”
– e.g. a 21 g accident. G is a unit of acceleration and if you know that slamming on the brakes
in a normal road car at 60 mph will produce less than 1 g of deceleration you can start
to imagine just how massive a 30 g impact can be.
A big part of the design of F1 barriers in F1 is to reduce the deceleration by lengthening
the time and distance is takes to stop an F1 car upon impact.
I’ll talk about this ability to reduce deceleration as ‘absorption of momentum’ or ‘energy
absorption’, with the barrier ideally taking away some of the energy of the impact from
the car and driver. And the kinetic energy of a moving object
squares with speed, so an F1 car going 150 kph has 2.2 times the energy of a car going
100 kph. At 200 kph the energy is 4 times greater. You can see how the duties of a crash
barrier start to stack up! Back in the way back when, straw bales were
often used as trackside barriers. Circuits were frequently constructed in towns,
airfields and public roads and drivers would be exposed to trees, telephone poles and walls
– hefty objects they really didn’t want to hit.
Straw bales, then, were cheap and accessibly items that, having some weight to them, could
absorb some of the momentum of a moving car when struck. If you collide with a stationary object and
make it move, this is a transference of momentum from one object to another. Think snooker
balls. Straw bales are a light touch solution that
allow cars to slow down more gently than driving into a tree.
They do, however, come with a huge list of negatives.
They could snag the car and flip is over, which is especially dangerous when your car
looked like this. In snagging a car they could also send it
into a tight spin, which is a large transfer of rotational energy that can lead to injuries
like whiplash. Once struck, straw bales leave straw all over
the track, which is slippery and dangerous. And, worst of all – it turns out that straw
is extremely flammable. The most famous bale-related horror was when Lorenzo Bandini crashed and
flipped at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1967, ending up trapped and on fire in a pile of
straw bales. He ultimately succumbed to his burn injuries.
Bales were banned in 1970. Catch-fencing was a pretty popular form of
barrier for a while as a relatively cheap and cheerful way of keeping cars from flying
off circuit. This is a simply a wire fence design, cabled
together to form a long chain of fencing at the edge of the track.
Cars could fly into it and the fence would deform and ‘catch’ them, absorbing the
impact by putting the car’s energy into deforming the shape of the fence.
Unfortunately, this too was fraught with problems: The fence actually deformed so readily that
it can wrap around the car and it make it difficult to extract the driver. In cases
of fire or injury you can quickly see the problem here.
The fencing could also wrap around the drivers themselves – Carlos Reuteman was nearly
choked by one at the 1981 South African GP. And – as the fencing deformed so easily,
the posts that held the catch fencing up could be whipped around with speed and could strike
and injure the drivers. At that same South African GP, Geoff Lees was knocked out by
a catch fence post. They are also no easily rebuilt once they’ve
been hit, which is a problem if you want to keep a race going without delay.
This type of catch fencing was also banned and if you hear the term catch-fence in F1
today it’s normally in reference to reinforced debris fences which are never the main component
of stopping cars. One thing that’s important to consider in
barrier choice and placement is the angle of impact.
Around a corner, a car is likely to fly off the road and hit a barrier at a steep angle
[angle is trajectory, not car-pointing angle] On a straight, a car is more likely to hit
the barrier at a shallow angle. What we’re actually interested in in both
cases is how much speed the car is carrying perpendicular to the barrier. Whatever its
trajectory, we can think of a car’s energy being carried in two component directions:
parallel to the barrier and perpendicular to the barrier.
In a steep angled crash, most of the speed will be carried perpendicular to the barrier
and we’ve got to consider how to absorb that energy into the barrier.
But in a shallow angle, most of the energy is carried parallel to the barrier with only
a small component straight into the barrier. In these cases we need to absorb the energy
in this parallel direction by minimising the deformation of the barrier and slowing the
car down with friction by forcing it to slide along the wall instead.
Concrete walls have done a great job at this. They are terrible at absorbing energy in the
perpendicular direction as they are extremely rigid and immobile. You really don’t want
to hit them head on. But they are great at deflecting cars and absorbing momentum by
friction. Along straights we can increase the chances
of a shallow crash angle by bringing the walls closer to the track edge. When the car loses
control it take time to travel through a curve that will transfer its trajectory from parallel
to perpendicular – bringing the wall closer forces it to hit the wall at a shallow angle.
This works great if you’ve got less space on your circuit or want to bring a grandstand
up close. The long back straight in Canada is a great example of this.
A more common sight in F1 to the concrete wall is the humble guard rail.
The guard rail has a distinct wobbly W-shape to it and there’s a good reason for that: See, if you bend a plane of material in one
direction it’s really hard to bend it in the other direction. Try it with a piece of
paper – once you’ve bent it over, it really doesn’t like being bent the other way. That’s
also the reason we hold a pizza slice with a bend, by the way, because it won’t sag
if it’s already curled along it’s length. So a guard rail is very strong along its length
and if a car hits it at a reasonably shallow angle it will deform only slightly, absorb
the energy of the impact and redirect the car along its length, bringing it to a stop
without throwing it back out onto the track (in most situations).
The post and spacers behind the rail are designed to bend and deform to absorb some of the impact.
Of course, severely damaged guard rails are hard to repair, can be expensive to replace
and only really work in lower speed areas with limited run off space, like in Monaco.
They’re ideal for Monaco. But for maximum versatility, let’s meet
a well-loved and famous friend, the Tyre Wall. This is simple to describe – it’s a bunch
of tyres stacked and lined up to make a soft wall for the cars to safety crash into .
We’ve got advantages right off the bat: used tyres are cheap and readily accessible.
Tyres are soft and squishy, which is great for energy absorption – energy from the
speeding car goes right into deforming the rubber like a spring.
Over the years we’ve improved the efficacy of tyre barriers in a number of ways.
The tyres are strapped or bolted together, not stacked loosely.
Loose tyres will be scatter upon impact leaving only tyres directly in the impact zone to
absorb the energy. Strapping tyres together allows the barrier to act as one elastic unit.
Upon impact, the tyre wall in its entirety spreads the energy absorption out through
its structure. The more tightly you attach the tyres to each
other, the stiffer the wall, just like a more tightly strung trampoline.
Similarly you can adjust the stiffness of a tyre wall by the number of rows of tyres.
You tend to use between two and six rows in one tyre wall, with more rows creating a stiffer,
less flexible wall. A stiffer structure is better in zones where a high speed impact
is likely as they can absorb much more energy, where a shallow, soft wall might allow the
car to hit the back wall. Tyre walls are now wrapped in large belts
or coverings. This is useful in a number of ways:
1- with exposed tyres a glancing blow can snag the car into an jarring spin. A smooth
surface will allow the car to glance off the barrier in a shallow collision
2- it is much harder to penetrate a tyre barrier that’s covered. With exposed tyres, a car
can embed itself like a dart, making extraction difficult and increasing the chances of being
hit in the head – though this is less likely now we have the Halo.
Another innovation that often goes unseen is that tyre barriers in F1 tend to have inserts
– these are plastic tubes that sit inside the tyres themselves, making them harder to
squish – i.e. it takes more energy to deform the tyres. This can double the energy absorption
ability of a tyre wall. Finally let’s quickly look at Tecpro barriers
These are specifically designed, tessellating crash barriers that come in two flavours:
A red ‘absorbent block’, a hollow foam block that squishes fairly easily
And a grey ‘reinforced block’ with strong foam skin, a squishy foam core and a thing
steel wall inside to present cars from penetrating through the barrier,
They are actually quite similar to belted tyre wall in what they are trying to achieve
but are designed to be quite adaptable in how they can be arranged as well as their
tessellating shape allowing them to fit around different corner shapes.
They have had a few minor problems over the years. One is that, with the low noses on
F1 car, they can be lifted upon impact and end up burying the cars instead of slowing
them down correctly. [PICTURE OF SAINZ]. Maldonado actually managed to rip a TecPro
barrier free in Monaco and drag it onto the track so perhaps their weight is not quite
correct for all situations. The matter of bringing fast moving out-of-control
cars to a half safely and in a controlled manner is a very tricky business and a lot
of engineering and study has gone into finding solutions that are adaptable, affordable,
reuseable after impact and rebuildable (to avoid long session delays).
In F1 in particular, it seems that our best friend will continue to be the humble, adaptable,
predictable tyre barrier and it’s easy to see why.

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100 thoughts on “A short history of crash barrier technology in F1

  1. A lot of people are asking why I didn't include Gravel Traps:

    Well, gravel traps aren't barriers. But I DO have a full video on run-off area design that will go into all the different types of run off areas and how that's changed over the years and why different designs are used in different places.

    And then, to complete the trilogy, there will be a video on the actual safety mechanisms built into the cars. Once you've seen all three parts it'll be clearer why drivers can walk away from ridiculous accidents.

  2. Can you do something about the safer barrier? Everyone is talking about it. I have seen them but they look like more wall.

  3. Wouldn't more rows in a tirewall make it softer? If you stack springs on top of each other, the deflection for a given force grows linearly with the number of springs you stack. Put a force on one tire and it compresses say 0.1 meter. Put that same force on two tires and the total compression is 0.2m. Of course the tires are chained together etc but I'm pretty sure the more rows equals softer tire walls.

  4. I always wonder about what would happen If you Stop from let's say 1 Km/h but in a really short time. Is it possible to die?

  5. I love how, despite the incredibly advancements in technology and engineering, the best solution is just a wall of tires.

  6. 0:10 was watching with my sound off for a second and that picture looked funny. Like no, crashing into a crowd of innocent people is frowned upon 🚫🚷

  7. Yeah, I remember in go karting, I went flying straight into a tire wall, because I tried to overtake and went wide, since o was going full throttle, because you could do that in that turn, I got my leg stuck under it because of the impact, took 4 staff members to take me out, but I am ok, my leg is ok, and it was right at the end of the time attack so it was all ok.

  8. Catch fencing for barriers is a scary thing throughout all racing events. Not only can any smaller debris easily pass through, like bits of metal and rubber, but in the case of Nascar driver Russell Phillips (RIP) it can literally turn into a cheese grater and rip you to shreds. Not a comfortable sight to see. Some form of flexible see through plexi-glass or rubber-like wall could be thought of so spectators can still see the action but not become part of it so easily. Just my thoughts. Very cool vid thank you for the info.

  9. Honorable mention should go to SAFER Barriers. While F1 doesn't run on road course ovals anymore for the time being, it has become a very popular upgrade for existing concrete barriers, and has been required for any NASCAR course and by extension any IndyCar oval or roval for some time.

    What you basically have is the existing concrete barrier, a stack of hollow rectangular steel tubes on the outside, and polystyrene foam spacers in between at regular intervals. Hence, Steel And Foam Energy Reduction, SAFER. It's a cheap and easy-to-install upgrade on existing tracks where installing guard rails isn't feasible due to end wall strength requirements which led to concrete being used in the first place, and holds its form well with relatively minimal deformation while absorbing a large portion of the crash energy, compared to pure concrete which can deform against the vehicle, with the resulting dent torqueing the chassis and causing a violent spin, not unlike how tire barriers could do so prior to the outer fence. SAFER also has the advantage of being inexpensive, easy to install, and only taking up an additional 1m of runoff or track space in standard form.

    What it is not good at is absorbing very high-energy, more perpendicular impacts. Tire barriers work much better here since they can deform much more, but it is still a better alternative to just a plain concrete wall, especially for fast corners.

  10. Maldonado should work for the FIA in the safety barriers dept bc he had a lot of crashes so he has alot of experience

  11. Im not that much of a fan of racing, but I started watching this video and it made me realize how complex the racing platform is.

    Ur vids just make me love racing more and more

  12. May be the most informative piece of information I came across this morning. What an amazing explanation.

  13. I have crashed a go kart into a tire wall at fun spot and the karts go at least 10 to 15 mph and even at low speeds I probably pulled 5g, 5 times my weight, and that hurt.

  14. I've yet to watch one of your brilliantly-presented videos and not come away having learned something new!

  15. With stacks of tires up to 6 rows deep, I'm surprised they install plastic inserts inside the tires, except maybe the deepest row or 2. The driver needs that wall to be as squishy as possible to slow the car a little slower rather than the wall being stiffer if he's going to survive it. In the corners, where head-on collisions are most likely, they should have rows of airbags on the backside of a wall of tires. Expensive but F1 has the money.

  16. Good video. Im our two wheeled world we had an amazing barrier come onto track in the 90s called "Rectocel" it stops a bike/rider softly without a recoil effect bouncing both back out on to the track.

  17. The quality of videos on this channel are amazing!
    I wasn't even that interested in Formula 1, but after watching a few I am now subscribed. 😀

  18. Tyres are also ideal, because while the material itself is "heavy," and so will resit deformation, they don't produce a large amount of force afterwards to "spring" the cars, or any debree and such back. Unlike an actual spring. Which will produce an almost equal "potential" force back on the object, the more it is compressed, or stretched (hooks law). We also like to keep the inserts to the outer most layers of tyres. This means, that the cars will first hit a softer layer. Meaning the cars momentum is reduced over a longer period of time. Reduce the moment force on the driver, and internal parts. The Car itself, just like you or me, has internal components (like an engine, or fuel tank) that don't like big forces. No different that our organs like being priced up against a rib cage.
    But by he time the car ahs say reached the final layer(s) of tyres, and the fixed outer wall, the remaining momentum is slow enough, that a faster deceleration is ideally now safe.
    Your seat belts in you car do the same. By producing the same force, over a longer period of time.

    The other cushions involved. Are the cars themselves. Whole they look like they blow up spectacularly in a crash, and look devastatingly mangled. This is because of crumple zones. Exactly the same as the crumple zone built into a car. These hopefully keep a pedestrian alive, even if severely injured, and the car will (to a percentage) wrap around them, rather than hit them at full force. This helps to start moving the pedestrian in the direction of the car, so by the time a harder part hits the pedestrian, the reletive speed of the car to the pedestrian, is slower. Even if the pedestrian is now moving relative to the external environment.

    The F1 cars are designed with intentionally weak components. Such as the nose, wings, tail and wheel structures. These stay rigid under the forced applied by the engine, and cornering etc. But will intentionally provide only small resistance against a crash, before a harder component hits the colliding body. Idealy this too will. Not not be a rigid structure.

    In short. This means, that a car is gradually applied more and more resistance (even if in the space of a worst case 2-3 seconds)
    Because of the square law shown above. Idealy, the force experienced by the driver, and any fragile car components (again, engine and fuel tanks being the main risks) the graph of force experienced over time is linear. Rather than exponential. Simply because, the force applied, is lower at higher speeds, and higher at lower speeds. A car, is much easier to replace, than a drivers neck. Or worse, the drivers life.

    Another example is Nascar. I'm. Not a fan of the racing, but the engineering is orgasmic to an engineer/nerd like myself.
    There are tiny veins fixed to a cars roof. These look almost like a joke. I've seen some new drivers (like when Hammond first drives Nascar for top dear) say "that's what will save my life in a spin?!" But the amswer is yes. The friction from the air resistance is actually quite high with high speeds. Then after a few moments, much larger air breaks will deploy. Providing huge resistance, but at a marginally slower, but safer speed.

    Even the use of a 20-50 meter sand trap on a corner is all about providing a very small, but constant and critical amount of resistance. It may not look it to a spectator. But watching the car speed on the quipment, if a car under steers onto a sand trap, or looses control, the speed goes down very fast, and any car still with control find it very difficult to keep up, or regain speed before returning to the track.

    Sorry for the rant anyway, but to me this is what I get off to xD
    The wife is just someone to share it all with (don't worry, she knows xD).

  19. I think a form of tear proof high tensile yet elastic fabric should be developed to make high speed crash barriers. I don't know how it could be mounted, perhaps drawn between stacks of tyres or posts/pylons designed to collapse on direct impact. ….. meh,..perhaps not, just another one of my dumb brainwaves.

  20. Heavy Crash was in DTM Zandvort 2004.
    That was the proof that Tyre Barrier are good for frontal Crash.
    But bad, when the Car came with +200Kmh sideways. In those Case Walls are actually better.
    I think thats the Reason they have Walls in Ovals.

  21. Thank you Chain Bear for the crash barrier history. I have a suggestion regarding tire barriers. Why not place the tire barrier a few feet away from (in front of) the solid barrier behind it to allow the tires to be deflected by the car before they are compressed by the solid wall. This spacing could provide an initial energy absorption which might reduce the damage done to the car, and further reduce injuries to drivers.

  22. that pizza reference actually helped me a lot
    I feel kind of dumb tho
    because why does it have to be explained in pizza form for me to understand XD

  23. Another reason guard rails are frowned upon is that in extremely high-energy accidents they can open up by deforming vertically and violently scissor off pieces of cars and even drivers. A combination of this tendency plus the fact they were sometimes rusty or poorly secured is what killed Cevert, Rindt and Helmut Koenig in three utterly horrific driver-mutilating accidents.

  24. Nascar safer barriers help absorb some of the energy that otherwise would have impacted the crashing driver… but it wont exactly help if you happen to be Clint Bowyer in the 2007 Daytona 500.

  25. In the light if the crash happened at spa 2019 on f2 will you make a video about the barrier and what happened on his wreck

  26. Still think that tire walls in this days are not the most trustworthy option because you go against one and it might absorv the impact but bounces you back to the track causing an even worst accident

  27. A tire wall with more rows of tires is SOFTER, not stiffer; it absorbs more energy because there's more wall to deform, and it deforms more.  Other than this error, this is a good video.

  28. 8:33 also exposed tyre barriers can make the car flip around, like what happened to Senna at Hermanos Rodríguez and Hockenheim in 1991

  29. Aren't tyre barriers filled with water, in the tube that goes inside a single tyre pole? I could have sworn I have noticed that.

  30. shouldnt they use like cushions, similar to pillows? an external layer that is really soft then as the layers go by they get harder and harder until the pillows hit a barrier stopping the car as it is? (it would obviously have blankets and debris fences) havent thought of anything else just that idea

  31. “Let’s spend thousands on design and saving lives”
    One dude not paying attention at the safety meeting: “hehe tire”

  32. The simplest solution is often the best solution. Why spend extra money on fancy metal bars and foam walls when you can just stack up a bunch of tyres

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