F1's new racesuit fire standards that arrived just in time for Grosjean


Tougher fire protection standards for F1 racesuits were brought in this year, and may have helped ensure Romain Grosjean escaped from his blazing car in Bahrain with only burns to his hands.

Romain Grosjean puts on a balaclava before racing for Hass

Florent Gooden / DPPI

The temperature of a blazing Formula 1 car can be between 800C to 1000C. Romain Grosjean sat at the centre of such a fire for 28 seconds in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

And yet the Haas driver escaped virtually unharmed.

Surviving the 53g crash was a testament to the strength of a modern F1 car. Having the time to free himself from the wreckage amid the flames and intense heat — which took three attempts — showed how far fire protection has advanced, with the latest improvements only being introduced this year.

Since the start of 2020, a new regulation from F1’s governing body, the FIA, has required race clothing to offer around 20 per cent more heat protection. This translates to vital extra seconds that may have made a difference in Grosjean’s case.

The new standard now gives drivers at least 17-18 seconds before temperatures rise uncomfortably high. On current evidence, it appears that Grosjean’s upgraded suit outperformed that benchmark.

At the same time, his helmet helped to block smoke from the fire.

Related article

But while there were no injuries reported under his suit, the Frenchman did suffer second-degree burns on his hands. He described seeing his gloves turn black as he lifted them out of the car and into the flames.

It’s a sobering reminder that no clothing can offer protection from fire for long, but also an example of the compromises that have to be made to ensure drivers are fast, as well as safe.

“The glove is the only element where there’s one layer of protection, says Christopher Hillard, a spokesman for Alpinestars, which makes Grosjean’s Hypertech V2 racing suit. “Drivers need to feel the steering wheel.”

Racewear is tested by measuring the time it takes for the temperature at the inner layer to rise by 24C when the outer layer is exposed to a block heated to almost 1000C.

For gloves, the minimum heat transfer standard is eight seconds, under the latest regulations. Racesuits must now resist the heat of a fire for at least 12 seconds — up from the previous 11. From this year, underwear must resist heat transfer too — for at least five seconds.

Romain Grosjean in Haas overalls

Underwear must now offer heat protection for 5sec

Grand Prix Photo


Racesuits have to offer at least 12sec of heat transfer protection

Grand Prix Photo

Much of the heat protection is down to the Nomex material used in suits, which doesn’t catch fire or melt but — as Grosjean described — will become charred in a fire, while its fibres thicken. These actions absorb energy and delay heat reaching the driver underneath.

“Over the years there has been increasing emphasis on making suits more lightweight and comfortable,” says Hillard. “And the FIA was worried that this could be at the expense of safety.

‘The new regulations are a way of making sure that safety is not compromised and the challenge for us, as always, is to make the most comfortable, lightweight suit that exceeds the standards.

“Its clear in this case that they have done.”