For competition drivers, as much as performance is everything when it comes to practice and winning the race, ensuring personal comfort and headspace is just as important to keeping your head in the game when it comes to race day. We dived into some of the FIA tips for the working environment (inside the car) to make the space as driver-friendly as possible.
Please note: modifications made to race cars for comfort or safety are generally allowed when they don’t have any effect on performance, it’s always worth checking any relevant regulations for your championships before making alterations.
The following recommendations are taken from the FIA “A Driver’s Guide To Safe Motorsport” which has been published in partnership with the FIA Institute.
FIA homologated seats have a strong, tight fitting with side support for the hips, shoulder support close to the driver and a side and rear headrest.
How to improve racing seat comfort
When the seat is installed in the car:
- How is the seat reclined? Check that the racing seat’s back as the FIA state that it’s preferable that it’s not inclined more than 30° from the vertical.
- The rear headrest surface should be vertical.
- The lateral headrests should be as high and as close to the head as is practical for movement and vision for the driver.
- When it comes to comfort, the seat should only be used with the seat padding supplied by its manufacturer, as excessive padding will diminish the protection provided by the seat and seat belts in case of an accident.
- In the event of an accident, the combination of seat and belts will only work if the seat remains attached solidly to the floor – follow the manufacturer’s instructions or enlist the aid of a scrutineer for proper installation of these crucial components, and then check the seat, mounting hardware and floor regularly.
Safety Racing Harnesses
A racing harness is one of the most important safety items required for a racing driver. There are plenty of options to consider when buying a new racing harness and with the 6-point harness being the safest option, it’s almost the most popular.
How to improve racing harness comfort
- Use a 6 point harness whenever possible, as the safest FIA approved harness and the most comfortable fit.
- They offer the best protection when they are as short as possible, so always keep your belts tight.
- The lap belt should cross the pelvis not the abdomen: the outer edges should make contact with the bony points of the pelvis but not cross or cover them.
- When the shoulder belts are tightened, they shouldn’t pull the lap belt off the pelvis and onto your abdomen. This can usually be avoided by tightening the lap belt first and by making sure that the crotch straps are of the proper length.
- It is important to keep the shoulder belt adjusters as low as possible, away from the neck – severe injury is possible, if they are badly located.
- Harness belts are designed to stretch to absorb shock. Wear them as tight as possible (whilst still breathing) to avoid excessive forward movement in an impact. Leaving the crotch straps loose for example, increases the jolt when the slack has been taken up instead of absorbing it. It's a good idea to give them a final tightening on the grid if you can, after they have settled in the formation, parade or pace lap.
Race Car Nets
The FIA can’t stress and over-emphasise enough that window nets for closed cars are vital for safety, especially when it comes to saving hands and arms in a roll after a collision. When it comes to the inside of close cars, fitted nets are intended to limit side head and shoulder movement during impact, as well as supporting the seat, too. Nets are an important addition to help minimise serious injury and improve safety.
Race Car Padding
When it comes to race car padding, look for any corners and edges in the cockpit where your head, hands and legs might make contact with other equipment. Round them off and/or pad them with appropriate energy absorbing materials (to FIA specification for the head and Confor, Sunmate or similar foam for limbs).
- To identify these areas, sit in the car and kick forward and then outward. If there is anything that makes contact with the ankle, shin, or the leg, especially at the knee, it should be padded. If not properly padded, it will cause pain and possible injury in a shunt.
- If there is an exposed gear shift lever, the mechanism should be protected by a smooth casing to prevent the pivot point assembly at the base of the lever from injuring your thigh in a side impact. Use a thick rubber cover over the mechanism and leave the actual shift lever exposed, protect yourself from the mechanism.
- Pad every tube of the roll cage closer than 50 cm forwards and sideways of the head, with stiff foam to FIA specification.
IMPORTANT: Although FIA specification rollbar padding may feel as hard as wood and cannot be compressed with the fingers, it is only intended to be hit by a helmeted head in an accident. It has been scientifically developed to combine with the impact reducing properties of your helmet, to allow you to survive the kind of blow which has severely injured or killed drivers in accidents in the past. Common foam rubber will do nothing to help in that situation, even if more comfortable for a light tap on the head.
Race Driver Clothing
The FIA say that it’s advisable to wear knee pads as pads cover the outside of both knees and the inside of one knee. This protects the knees in a side impact and particularly the vulnerable upper part of the knee on the outer side of the leg (which can even suffer in the constricted environment of a single-seater cockpit regardless of accidents), as well as the outer, lower part of the knees. An important nerve passes close to this bone and is vulnerable to being damaged as well. Wearing proper knee pads also helps prevent the insides of the knees from striking and damaging each other.
- Ankles can be protected using the same principle with padding inside the socks or padded boots.
- Elbow pads are recommended, particularly in single-seaters where the elbows can be subject to chronic irritation. Another source of irritation is wearing flame resistant overalls without the mandatory long sleeved FIA approved underwear. Not wearing the long sleeve underwear lets the overall fabric rub on the unprotected skin of the elbow.
Note: in all cases select and install padding that will not interfere with the control and operation of the race car.
Race Car Ventilation
Scientific studies have shown that physical and mental capacities diminish after the body’s core temperature exceeds 38°C in human beings. If temperatures in your cockpit are likely to be high, arrange for sufficient ventilation to cope with ambient temperature and humidity, giving equal attention to ensuring air can exit as well as enter the cockpit.
Sun screens on windows and fitting insulation against the heat from the engine and exhaust will help. Above all, ensure your proper hydration during the event as the loss of liquid through sweating can reach between 0.5 and 1litre per hour of driving. This can jeopardize safety and a reduction in performance for drivers.
Personal Driver Comforts
Please be aware that if you are installing drinking bottles, radio equipment, mobile phones, video cameras or any other objects in the car, that they can be lethal if not properly fixed and fitted. If they come loose and lodge under the brake pedal for example, strike you or you strike them in a crash, this could have disastrous consequences. Fix them to withstand a 40g deceleration and, if hard or sharp, mount them well away from you and consider padding.
Light can dazzle the driver in some situations and can lead to accidents (sun low in the sky or the headlights of following cars). A stripe in the upper part of the windscreen or tape in the rear window can prevent this.Not sure if you’re following FIA Standards or choosing the right performance parts or safety equipment for you or your championship, get in touch with the team and we’d be happy to help offer advice and recommendations based on our own experience and expertise.