DECEMBER 4, 1995

Airbag research

ALTHOUGH there are reports in Europe that Mika Hakkinen's accident in Adelaide has accelerated research into the use of airbags in Grand Prix cars, work has, in fact, being going on since May 1994 when FIA President Max Mosley included airbag research in his brief to the then new Advisory Expert Group.

Some airbag work was carried out earlier this year at the Motor Industry Research Association headquarters in Nuneaton, England, but this was only to establish baseline figures, using what is known as a HyGe crash simulation. This involves an F1 chassis - a McLaren - being fitted onto a sled which is then fired in the opposite direction to the impact the test is looking to simulate. The effect is identical and, using this technique, can be carried out without the chassis being damaged. The data from several of these simulated crashes - using different decelerations, speeds and durations - is used to create a Mathematical Dynamic Model (known as MADYMO) in a computer simulation, which is capable of carrying out a wide variety of different tests in a much shorter space of time than is the case with HyGe. Once the optimum results have been achieved in this theoretical testing, the results are checked with further HyGe tests.

The only air bags used to date have been large 60-liter models. These showed that there was a small reduction in the likelihood of a driver suffering head injuries - calculated using what are known as Head Injury Criteria figures.

That study concluded that more research was necessary to establish the right size of air bag needed in F1, its vent holes, triggering methods and inflation speeds. That work is currently underway and should be finished early next year.

In the United States, incidentally, a research program under Houston's Dr. Sonny Rush is investigating the use of airbags for American Football players. These devices are inflated when a pressure sensor in the dome of the helmet registers a particularly heavy impact and they protect the neck and upper spine from damage. It is possible that these could find a use in both motorcycle and car racing.