After its successful deployment in US racing series and German Touring Car Masters, the Head And Neck Support system (HANS)could also be used to improve safety in Formula One in the near future. The Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is generally ...
After its successful deployment in US racing series and German Touring Car Masters, the Head And Neck Support system (HANS)could also be used to improve safety in Formula One in the near future.
The Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is generally enjoyed by the drivers and is considered one of the most challenging circuits in the racing calendar. One of the highlights is the combination immediately after the first corner. The "S" is a left-right-left sequence in which the cars hit 220 km/h, subjecting drivers to centrifugal forces as high as 3.5 g -- that's three and a half times their body weight.
A driver's head and neck are subjected to high stresses in such combinations, and professional drivers pay special attention to the neck's muscle groups in their fitness programs. Only from rigorous training is it possible for them to resist the centrifugal forces for all 53 laps of the season's final race.
But there are some situations in Formula One for which no amount of neck training can prepare a driver. In the event of an accident, the head and neck are the most vulnerable parts of the body -- and to protect them as much as possible, the FIA mandates extremely strict cockpit construction standards. For the 2001 season, it required the cockpit walls at driver's head level to slope up towards the airbox at an angle of at least 16 degrees. Lateral cockpit crash tests have also been mandatory since 2001.
One of the most revolutionary innovations in this field is the Head And Neck Support system, also known as HANS, which will probably be used for the first time in Formula One in 2003 and was tested by several teams in training at the Italian Grand Prix. HANS features a carbon fibre collar connected securely to the upper body, with straps attaching it to the helmet. HANS is intended to prevent drivers' heads from being thrown forward in an accident, a common 'whiplash' situation which could lead to an over-extension of the spinal column.
Drivers face theoretical deceleration stresses of up to 80 times the force of gravity in an accident. In such a situation, the weight of their head and helmet increases quickly from 7kg to as much as 560kg. HANS would help to absorb this strain, as well as prevent the driver's head from hitting the steering wheel or the front edge of the cockpit.
In terms of racing safety, the development of HANS is a success story. The system was designed at the University of Michigan. Commissioned by the FIA and in co-operation with its inventor Dr. Robert Hubbard, Mercedes-Benz further developed the 1996 version of the head and neck support. In practice, HANS has initially proven successful in the US NASCAR and ChampCar racing series, and has subsequently been tested by drivers in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM). It was mandatory this season in the DTM, and has been fully accepted unreservedly by the drivers. DTM driver Manuel Reuter, for example, praised HANS as an "excellent invention that has already proven itself countless times."
Formula One drivers have already had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with HANS in the 2002 season. BMW WilliamsF1 driver Ralf Schumacher praised the system on his team's internet site. "In general, I think all systems and measures that improve driver safety are a good idea. HANS is one of these, and I hope that those drivers who still have problems with the system will get over them relatively quickly."