Development of penetration resistance in the survival cell of a formula 1 racing car

G. Savage, I. Bomphray, M. Oxley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The success of composite materials in providing stiffness efficiencies and weight reduction in Formula1 cars is well documented. Much of the sport's improved safety record in recent years derives from the controlled fracture behaviour of composite materials. Research and understanding of the impact and fracture behaviour of these materials has enabled the design of a sophisticated driver protection system into the vehicles' structure at minimum weight penalty. The chassis itself has evolved into a "survival cell" capable of tolerating damage from minor incidents whilst at the same time being able to protect the driver in the event of a major impact. Coupled with this are specialised structural devices designed to absorb vast amounts of energy by controlled fracture and disintegration. A number of safety issues have been raised by injuries caused to pilots by Foreign Object Damage. This has generally involved penetration of the survival cell by broken pieces from their own or other competitors' vehicles. In an attempt to combat this potentially very dangerous occurrence, a "side intrusion" test has been introduced. Each team is required to submit a panel for testing which is representative of the construction of their monocoque. The centre of the panel is loaded by a special device. A minimum load must be reached prior to full penetration, coupled with the absorption of a minimum amount of energy. The pass criteria for the test also stipulate a non-catastrophic failure mode.
The introduction of mandatory safety tests has resulted in chassis design becoming increasingly dominated by strength considerations. The fracture behaviour of the composite materials used strongly influences the ability of the structure to meet the requirements of the regulations. The penetration test
tends to be periodically made more stringent (as indeed are the other safety tests) requiring greater loads and energy absorption. The various factors involved in resisting penetration of the survival cell are discussed along with a review of the appropriateness of the test to increased survivability of the driver.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-571
Number of pages7
JournalAnales de Mecánica de la Fractura
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2006


  • survival cell
  • formula 1
  • racing car design


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