In Detail: F1 Cockpit Head Rests

A feature of every F1 car since 1996, the cockpit headrest padding has evolved to become a critical safety feature.  Introduced as part of the response to the incidents of 1994 and in particular the Wendlinger Monaco accident, the regulations are now very specific in regards to the shape and material of the padding.  Although outwards these are simple pads, their design is tightly governed by the regulation the final detail is balanced between the drivers and the aerodynamicists.

Although some form of headrest has been a feature of the formula many years, the vestigial pads behind the drivers heads did little for the drivers protection in any form of accident.  Often teams would fit a small section of padding to save the drivers from the cars acceleration.  Even before 1994 the head rules were imposed in 93 and 94 to enforce a headrest behind the drivers of head firstly with a minimum area, then with a minimum thickness.  But Wendlinger’s side on crash out of the tunnel at Monaco, saw the low cockpit sides and lack of padding fail to save the driver from head and neck injuries from the lateral impact.  In the wake of the crash Sauber unilaterally elected to fit higher and padded cockpit sides, then these protective structures were written into the rules in 1996.

As a result of crash tests carried out to investigate the mechanic of crashes in F1 cars, the FIA recognised that in a side impact the drivers could be shaken from side to side, resulting in injuries, to the brain, head and neck.  Having padding would reduce the loads the driver is subjected to preventing serious injury.  Meanwhile the further extension of the rear headrest will reduce the accelerations seen by the drives skull in rear impacts and from whiplash in frontal impacts.

Initially the rules used a line in between the front and rear roll hoops to define the position of the padding, with 75mm wide pads being required either side of the drivers head.  The regulations evolved to make these designs longer (reaching the steering wheel) and the front and side pads made from one piece.