Navigating Thrills and Risks: How Technology is Improving Motorsport Safety

Author: Mark Taylor, Managing Director for Motorsport

I have seen first-hand the unimaginable changes that technology has brought to motorsport since I started out in the 1980s. These developments have played a major role in improving safety, performance, and fan experience. Whilst there is no doubt that preventive measures to reduce the severity of an accident are far more desirable than relying on insurance, it is better to take steps to decrease the risk in the first place.

Here are some of the ways that technology has evolved the sport during my career.

The HANS Device Enhances Driver Safety

Improved safety, for example, the introduction of the HANS device (Head and Neck Support) has helped to reduce the risk of serious head and neck injuries in crashes.

In the 2022 British Grand Prix, F1 driver Guanyu Zhou, was involved in a horrific crash at the start of the race. His car flipped over, skidded upside down along the track before hitting the barriers and flipping over again. Zhou was able to walk away from that crash unharmed, and he credited the HANS device for protecting his neck during the impact. The HANS device has been recognised as saving countless lives in motorsports. It is a simple but effective piece of safety equipment that has made racing much safer for drivers.

Fire Retardant Clothing and Other Safety Innovations

Other safety innovations include the use of fire-retardant clothing and devices, roll cages, and impact-absorbing barriers. F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, put all these devices to the test when his car hit the barrier at high speed during the 2016 British Grand Prix. Palmer was able to emerge unscathed, and he credited the safety measures in his car for saving his life. The safety innovations in Palmer’s car included a carbon fibre monocoque chassis, a HANS device, and a fireproof suit. The reduction to the severity of the incident was also aided by the crash absorbing barriers on the side of the track.

Palmer’s crash is a reminder of the importance of continued safety advancements in motorsports. It is worth noting that at both events, the safety catch fencing ensured the protection of spectators from the cars and flying debris that could have otherwise reached the onlookers gathered at the side of the track.

Onboard Display Warnings and the Virtual Safety Car

The onboard displays on F1 cars warn drivers of yellow and red flag incidents, and the sport has the technology to deploy a Virtual Safety Car which stops the racers temporarily. This allows the organisers to restrict speed and, once the track is safe, to commence the race again.

Real-Time Tracking in International Rallying

In the world of international stage rallying, cars can be tracked in real time on both competitive and non-competitive road sections, even when they are out of the sight of spectators and officials. This allows the organisers to monitor the progress of the cars and check in with the driver and co-driver if they have stopped.

In this way, the organisers can determine whether the car has stopped due to a mechanical breakdown or an accident and decide if they need to deploy safety resources or slow down or to stop other vehicles that are following.

Staying Safe in Motorsport

Despite the many advances in safety technology in motorsport, the danger remains ever present. Motorsport will forever be a high-speed, high-stakes sport that involves pushing the limits of human and machine performance. Even with the best safety equipment and procedures in place, there is always the potential for accidents to happen.

The inherent risks of motorsport make it essential for drivers, teams, and fans to be aware of the potential dangers and to take all possible measures to ensure safety. By doing so, they can continue to enjoy the thrills of motorsport without compromising their safety.

Image credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography