BELL RINGS IN SAFETY CHANGES

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BELL RIGS IN SAFETY CHANGES

NEW VISOR PANEL DEVELOPED AFTER MASSAS HORROR CRASH URING QUALIFYING FOR the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, a coil spring fell off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn and hit Felipe Massa on the

head. No doubt everyone who has seen video footage of the accident realises just how lucky the Brazilian was. Yes, Massa suffered severe injuries and was out for the rest of the season, but it could have been so much worse. Especially when you read some of the statistics.

Between the spring bouncing on the tack and hitting Massa’s Schuberth helmet 0.014 seconds elapsed he really had no time to react. The spring hit his visor at 168mph the impact equivalent to two tonnes. Massa was knocked out and, with his foot planted on the Ferrari’s Throttle, went straight on at Turn 4 and into The barriers. It’s a testament to Formula 1 safety standards that he survived.

But the visor did break, and it was only thanks to a large dose of luck that Massa didn’t lose his left eye. With the help of Fl helmet manufacturers the FIA Institute looked into ways to improve visor technology and this year Bell Helmets has introduced the ‘visor panel’. The panel fixes onto the top of the Mercedes

existing visor and is made from aramid fibre used in bulletproof vests and carbon fibre. The result is a visor that is significantly stronger. Asked how it works I was told “there are some secrets we can’t tell you”. Bell would only confirm that it helps the visor’s rigidity while maintaining elasticity.

All Bell drivers on the Fl grid now use the visor panel. Sebastien Buemi, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Jarno Trulli, Sergio POrez Jerome D’Ambrosio, Pastor Maldonado and Vitaly Petrov have had them on their helmets since the start of the year, but thankfully they haven’t been put to the test.

The visor has always been a weak point on a helmet and always will be, but with the new panel Bell is adamant that it’s safer. What Bell isn’t sure about is why other manufacturers aren’t developing something similar.

I’m not sure either, but Schuberth’s report on Massa’s accident makes it clear that it wasn’t the actual visor that shattered. The visor withstood the initial Impact and It was only when the spring rolled away that it caught the visor mechanism and the titanium screw that fixes the visor to the helmet. A washer on the left-hand visor hinge broke and the visor lifted away from Massa’s helmet. The carbon fibre-reinforced plastic washer was consequently replaced with a titanium version for the next Grand Prix. Even in the event of such a failure on a Bell helmet in the future, the new panel should stop the visor popping off, as Massa’s did.

The visor panel is another step forward, and having had a small accident recently that resulted in quite large consequences (see last month’s On the Road) I welcome any improvement in driver safety. We’ll never stop accidents in motor sport, but we can be better prepared for them. The visor is only available to Fl drivers at present, but as with all such technology, expect it to filter down soon. IM)

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