The popularity of motorsport has soared over the past few decades. More and more money is being invested into F1 every year. Along with the popularity and money has come significant improvements in the ability of race cars. Testament to this is the capability of the latest Mercedes F1 car, with a top speed of 330 kmph and an impressive 0-60mph time of 2.2 seconds.
Despite all the technological advancements within the motorsport industry, with cars travelling at such high speeds and drivers willing to take risks in order to please crowds, race tracks are more dangerous than ever. Earlier this year at the Mexican grand prix, Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was recorded driving at 231.5 mph, one of the fastest speeds ever recorded.
With the aerodynamics of cars designed to help reach optimum performance, it could be argued that the preference of stream lining and achieving the best levels of downforce comes at the expense of the safety of the driver.
Undoubtedly safety standards have improved since the very first Grand Prix in 1950. Since the fatalities of Ratzenberger and Senna in 1994, there had been no driver deaths during world championship events for over two decades until the recent death of Jules Bianchi in July 2015 following his injuries sustained during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
As well as the use of carbon fibre replacing aluminium in order to increase protection for drivers in the event of a crash, F1 officials have also introduced numerous safety standards. Grooved tyres have replaced racing slick tyres to effectively reduce speeds especially when cornering. Many circuits throughout the world have also redesign their track layouts to significantly improve driver safety and minimise the top speeds that can be reach along any one stretch of track.
The inclusion of Armco crash barriers along long stretches of track and corners have led to a significant reduction in the loss of life to both drivers and spectators. The barriers mean that collisions are more likely to be restricted to the track rather than causing extensive damage off the race course and hitting fans and spectators. Originally introduced with the backing of the world famous Jackie Stewart following an accident that left him with a broken collar bone and ribs being lucky to escape with his life. Crash barriers were initially met with pessimism from many drivers, mainly due to the fact the aluminium cars of the time were not strong enough to disperse the extensive crash energies involved in colliding with a steel barrier. However after many circuits began to erect the crash barriers subsequently resulting in fewer injuries and deaths, it wasn’t long before the entire motorsport industry was in support of the new safety measure.
To this day crash barriers are responsible for saving countless lives in F1 and other motorsports. The transition from aluminium to carbon fibre cars also mean that cars were much better equipped to handle collisions with a crash barriers and effectively protect drivers at the same time.