July 02, 2007

Firesuits

In the F1 UPDATE! comments, Steven asks: "When did pit crews start wearing helmets and firesuits? They must boil in those things on a hot day.

The drivers have to wear that kind of gear, too, but when they're driving they've got airflow to keep them cool."

The pitcrews do it for safety reasons, of course, and it's been standard in F1 for 20+ years. Considering that the pressurized fuel rig spits out 12 liters/second, one little mistake can cause... well, here, look:

Benneton's Jos Verstappen suffered one of the most incredible pitstop fires of all time in the 1994 German Grand Prix. The fire was caused by a mis-seated fuel hose that accidentally discharged (because of this very incident, a change was made to the refuelling rigs that won't allow them to start pumping until they are positively placed). The fuel sprayed out, covering everybody in the pitbox (including the cameraman), the car body, and most damaging, the engine and exhaust pipes. A huge fireball erupts.

The result? Very minor burns only. Why? Because of the flame-retardant suits and helmets. Oddly enough, Steve Matchett, the gearhead member of The Legendary Announce Team, is actually in this event... he's the rear jack man. You can see him around the 31-second mark in the lower-right-hand corner; he's got the rear of the car in the air already, and he's bent over the jackhandle.

He was completely unhurt, if I remember correctly... despite looking like his left leg is entirely ablaze.

Regarding the drivers being cooled by the airflow, it ain't so. Drivers have lost 15 pounds in some races (Bahrain and Malaysia are killers), because their firesuits DON'T allow air to get in: if a breeze can get in, fire can get in. It gets worse, of course... they're sitting in front of a very hot running engine, mere inches above the hot asphalt. Cockpit temps have been measured as high as 140 degrees. When in the garage, you'll often see drivers with a hose running under their helmets; this is an air conditioner, essentially. When sitting on the grid pre-race, there's almost always an umbrella sitting in the cockpit, keeping the area shaded. When it comes to the race, you'll occasionally see drivers rolling the tops of their gloves down, exposing an inch or two of their arms, just so the airflow cools SOME part of their bodies.

That's actually against FIA regulations, by the way.

Remember, everything in a F1 car is built with aerodynamics in mind. Airflow into the cockpit means drag, and drag means slow. Heck, I think it was one of the Red Bull team members that was told to change the maker of their helmet, because the brand they usually wore messed with the airflow, which was designed using a different brand. It gets that finicky. It wouldn't surprise me much to hear that, below the neck, there's NO airflow at all in the cockpit.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:12 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 At Indy, the rule is that fuel has to be gravity fed. They can't use pressurized fuel lines, precisely because of this kind of safety issue.

I'm sure there are fuel leaks but I don't think I've ever heard of a case where fuel was sprayed all over the place like that and resulted in a monstrous fireball.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 02, 2007 06:10 PM (+rSRq)

2 I believe Steve Matchett of the Legendary Announce Team (and formerly of that Bennetton team) mentioned that very thing during Sunday's race.

Posted by: Mallory at July 03, 2007 10:42 PM (Bc7do)

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