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The Wonders Of Modern Formula One Safety Clothing

Jan 31, 2008
Clothing within the world of Formula 1 is often overlooked when considering the vast array of other high tech safety equipment. A Formula 1 helmet has a clearly defined purpose; to protect the drivers head in case of high velocity impact. The Formula one safety clothing also has a primary purpose; to protect the driver in case of serious fire.

Fire has become less of a problem for Formula 1 in recent years but this has not led to a disregarding of safety clothing. During the GPs of the 1970s fire was a regular occurrence where drivers were injured and killed in horrific blazes; mainly due to the unplanned ignition of fuel after accidents.

The clothing that is used in Formula 1 today is made from fire-proof materials that are so efficient they can protect a driver as his car burns around him. The items of clothing include overalls, gloves, boots and balaclavas in an attempt to shield every part of the driver's body in the event of a fire.

Modern overalls are constructed from a form of Aramid plastic fabric that undergoes stringent tests using a variety of white hot propane flames. In a sport where weight is paramount the material must also be light. The length of races, usually in sweltering conditions also means the overalls must be breathable to allow for the kilograms of sweat produced by drivers to escape. The many patches that adorn the Formula 1 clothing are also made of this special material so as not to act as a catalyst of fire - the thread used to sew the patches also adheres to this fire retardant principle.

One other feature of Formula 1 safety clothing; and more precisely the overalls are the two 'handles' situated above the drivers shoulders. These have the simple purpose of allowing stewards to pull the driver away from a car safely whilst causing the least possible injury. As well as clothing design, the seats in Formula 1 cars are fastened by just two bolts resulting in the quick release of the driver in the event of accidents. The shoulder straps are engineered to take the weight of both driver and seat to ensure speed of rescue is rapid.

Gloves may seem a minor element to Formula 1 safety clothing but are arguably the most important of all. They must be made as thin as possible to ensure the driver can maintain his connection to the car whilst also remaining fire-proof enough to protect. The same can be said for Formula 1 boots as the soles of these are made extremely thin so the driver has the closest contact with the pedals of the car.

The exterior clothing is only part of the Formula 1 safety equation; all the drivers wear a full set of 'racing underwear.' Made up of long johns, vests, gloves and a balaclava this is also made out of fire resistant material and acts as a further level of protection if a fire ever does break out.

It is not just the driver that has to wear the levels of safety clothing. Pit crews must wear equal amounts of safety gear as the pit lane is the most dangerous place on a Formula racing track. The chance of fire as refuelling is undertaken is still a risk although modern valve systems have minimised the chances of fire. Testament to the success of the safety clothing was seen during the 1994 season when the Benetton pit crew and driver Jos Verstappen survived a terrific blaze that resulted from a fuel leak.

There is no doubt that the safety clothing has made Formula 1 far safer, looking back to the fifties when drivers wore cloth overalls, goggles and leather driving caps the advance in technology is almost unbelievable. In one of the most dangerous sports in the world it is reassuring to know that so many designers are producing items of clothing with the driver's safety as their primary concern.
About the Author
Motor sport expert Thomas Pretty looks into the changes in Formula 1 clothing that have made the sport much safer. To find out more please visit http://www.official-merchandise.com/
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