MONTVALE, N.J. (July 25, 2000) -- When the FÃ©dÃ©ration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of Formula One, was looking for expertise to test the HANS (Head and Neck Support) driver protection system, it went no further than...
MONTVALE, N.J. (July 25, 2000) -- When the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of Formula One, was looking for expertise to test the HANS (Head and Neck Support) driver protection system, it went no further than one of the leaders in automotive safety, Mercedes-Benz.
Following the death of Formula One champion Arynton Senna and the serious injury to Mika Hakkinen in the mid-1990's, the FIA approached Mercedes-Benz and asked its engineers to assist with the further development and testing of the device for use in open-wheel auto racing.
As a joint venture between the FIA, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren International, the objective for the project was to develop the driver restraint system for head-on and oblique frontal impacts in open cockpit race cars. In dozens of crash tests performed by Mercedes-Benz safety engineers, the HANS proved to be particularly effective in minimizing the head's extreme accelerated movements and in reducing neck strain. The device prevented the driver's head from hitting the edge of the cockpit or the steering wheel during an accident. Without the HANS device, the driver could suffer serious neck and skull injuries, including a potentially fatal basal skull fracture.
"We were happy to bring our knowledge and our many years of experience of safety engineering for production vehicles to the HANS project," said Jürgen Hubbert, Member of the Board of Management of DaimlerChrysler AG. "We consider our development and testing work to be a significant contribution towards making auto racing even safer."
The basic HANS concept was invented by Dr. Robert Hubbard, professor at the biomechanic constructions research laboratory at Michigan State University, and Jim Downing, a sportscar racing veteran and chassis builder, for use in sports car racing. HANS is a rigid, collar-shaped carbon fibre shell that is held onto the upper body by the seat belts and fastened to the helmet with appropriate tethers. Drivers still have full movement of their heads while wearing the device. Made from a composite material, the HANS weighs less than two pounds.
"This is a major step forward in the search to introduce ever improved safety," said Max Mosley, president of the FIA. "It is particularly significant that this research has been carried out jointly with one of the world's major car manufacturers. This shows how motor sport is a research medium for the motor car industry not only for performance, but also for safety."
Through testing with the West McLaren Mercedes Formula One team, further adjustments are currently being made to the HANS system to improve driver comfort. The FIA Safety Commission and DaimlerChrysler safety experts have recommended its introduction in Formula One for next season. Several drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series are currently wearing the HANS device.
"With the testing that Mercedes has done, the HANS has proven to be a benefit to us," said Mercedes-Benz Champ Car driver Mauricio Gugelmin. "Just looking at the videotape of the tests will show you. I think it could be the same step forward in safety as when we switched from wearing leather helmets to the ones we have now."
"Our medical people support its introduction into CART for next year," continued Gugelmin, who is also president of the CART Driver's Association.
"The drivers want to see it introduced next year, and it is high on our agenda with CART. But I also want all of the drivers to have the chance to test it first this year, before it becomes mandatory. Some drivers are particular about their comfort, and they have to try it and feel good about it."
The Mercedes-Benz FO110J V10 engine powers the West McLaren race cars of two-time defending Formula One Driving Champion Mika Hakkinen and his teammate, David Coulthard. In addition, Mercedes-Benz supplies the IC108F turbo-charged V8 engine to four teams competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series.