Racing to safety: Formula 1 adopts polyurethane safety blocks

Singapore, Silverstone, Monaco, Monza, Barcelona, Abu Dhabi – all these places have at least two things in common: they all host Formula 1 races, and were amongst the first to adopt new replacing racks of old tires as safety barriers on the high-speed race tracks.

Spectacular overtaking manoeuvres and high-speed duels between virtuoso pilots are what the public yearns for. Unfortunately this is not a risk-free sport and accidents happen. Research on how to install higher security measures for drivers has long focused on the car’s cockpit; however, a new system was recently introduced that significantly improves driver safety on the racing track. Old tires are being gradually replaced by a new generation of safety blocks which make spinning off the track less hazardous.

Polyurethanes are used to allow drivers like Scott Speed to get out the car safely.

These safety blocks are made of polyurethane foam with impact absorption properties up to 40 per cent higher than tires. Each block weighs 120kg and measures 1.5 x 1.2m. In order to make them easily interlocked, they always have a convex and a concave end. The polyurethane block is shaped around a steel sheet, which is then filled with polyurethane rigid foam. Filling the block is the most complicated part of the production process because the manufacturer needs to avoid any deformation. The block must also be held together tight for another 15 minutes after the filling, to allow polymerisation.

In the wake of the safety blocks’ great success on the racing track, tests are being carried out on how to extend the use of this special foam beyond safety blocks and comfortable racing seats.

Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the next race you can see these innovative safety blocks: the Formula 1 Gran Premio de España Santander, 11-13 May 2012.

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