During the last British Grand Prix, we were able to witness a start that was one with the most incidents we've had in a long time, and it all happened before reaching turn 1 of the circuit. Firstly, a hit by Sebastian Vettel to the Williams of Alex Albon caused the British-Thai driver to hit the inner wall of the circuit in a very hard way, this caused the Williams driver to be taken to hospital. Secondly, a "sandwich" between Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri, George Russell's Mercedes and Guanyu Zhou's Alfa Romeo caused the Chinese driver's car to overturn, reach the sand trap at turn 1 and due to inertia, the Alfa Romeo jumped the tyre barrier, ending up between it and the containment fence that protects the grandstand that is in that part of the circuit. Formula 1 cars have a centre of gravity that is extremely low, making it very difficult for them to overturn, as they are “glued” to the ground.
However, if this kind of accident was to happen, an F1 single-seater has a roll hoop, which is the component with the highest height of the car, this has the function that the entire weight of the car is sustained from there, as long as it does not break, in addition to the fact that thanks to the roll hoop, the driver's head will be safe and sound from a possible impact with the ground. In Britain, the roll hoop of Guanyu Zhou's Alfa Romeo broke, yet the Chinese driver's head did not hit the ground, although he was within a few millimetres of it. This caused concern on the part of the drivers, teams and the FIA has worked immediately to solve it, that is why the Federation has decided to make some changes to the 2022 and 2023 Formula One Technical Regulations, this with the aim of improving safety for the drivers, where they highlight the new standards that the roll hoop should have.
“Safety is absolutely the highest priority for the FIA.” Commented Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who serves as the FIA President.
“It was evident that an update to the requirements for the roll hoops was needed after the crash of Zhou Guanyu at Silverstone, and while this incident showed us all how remarkable the safety in Formula 1 is, it also proved once again that we must continue to innovate and pursue safety matters without compromise.”
The points to note about these new changes are simple yet technical. To combat the effect of bouncing or better called porpoising, the FIA has confirmed that the floor edges will be raised by 15mm, as well that the diffuser throat height will be raised. A new sensor will be installed in all of the 20 cars that are competing in the Grand Prix, so the FIA -as well as the teams- can monitor the phenomenon more effectively. Finally, the FIA has also allowed the teams to increase the stiffness of the diffuser edge.
Regarding Zhou’s accident during the 2022 British Grand Prix, and as the roll hoop came off the chassis, the FIA has shown three key findings after the investigation of that accident. The first one what that the pointed top of the roll hoop dug into the tarmac, which contributed to the high horizontal force which led to it breaking off. The second key finding was that the wording, as currently in the regulations, allows teams to homologate their roll hoops with forces acting through a lower point than intended. This can lead to the roll hoop resisting forces that are lower than originally intended by the regulations. Finally, the FIA has said that a significant increase in roll hoop strength should be implemented in F1. These were the specific points that the Federation found during this accident. But what are they going to do? These are some of the changes to the 2023 F1 Technical Regulations in order to improve drivers’ safety when a car is upside down. A change to require a rounded top of the roll hoop, which reduce the chance of it digging into the ground during an accident, a change to ensure a minimum height for the point of application of the homologation test, creation of a new physical homologation test where the load pushes the roll hoop in the forward direction, as well that the definition of new tests to be carried out by calculation. Not only all these new measures, but the FIA has also confirmed that in 2024, the intention is to proceed to a significant overhaul of the roll hoop tests to ensure that cars in the future resist significantly more severe loads.
As the FIA President commented, the FIA has always shown interest in improving the safety of these new Formula 1 cars, and if there is something that needs to be improved (like the roll hoop as shown in Silverstone), the Federation will work as soon as possible in order to solve this issue.