PPE Within Motorsports – A Lifejacket for the Track

DuPont experts Amr Moniem and Yves Bader share their views on the role safety apparel plays within F1 with examples of how Nomex® aids drivers on the high-risk racetrack environment

Amr Moniem
Global Market Manager
– DuPont

Yves Bader
Development Manager Mechanical Protection and Consumer Apparel – DuPont

The sport of Formula One prides itself on the highest of safety standards. This isn’t surprising when you look at the exceptionally sophisticated and complex designs of the cars on the track, and the speeds they produce. But these safety standards also go far beyond the cars themselves. Behind the scenes, there is constant innovation and enhancement of the personal protective equipment (PPE) which keeps drivers protected from injury in emergencies and keeps their support teams safe in the pits. The incidents at the November 2020 Bahrain GP showed us – in a shocking real-world setting – the importance of this equipment.

We caught up with Yves Bader (Development Manager, DuPont Mechanical Protection and Consumer Apparel) and Amr Moniem (Global Market Manager, DuPont Personal Protection) to understand a bit more around the engineering that goes into cutting-edge PPE, and what’s needed to ensure the safety of not only drivers on the track, but of professionals working in dangerous environments across other industries:

What DuPont materials are found within F1 driver apparel and what role do they play?

Yves: Racing suits across F1 and other motorsports trust DuPont’s Nomex® fibers, an incredibly durable, inherently flame-resistant meta-aramid fiber. The unique composition of Nomex® is non-flammable so it helps play a pivotal role in providing long-lasting protection for F1 drivers when they need to escape a fire on the track or during a pit lane incident.

When Nomex® is exposed to intense heat, its fibers thicken and carbonize which absorbs heat energy in the process. This material solution is incredible because fibers will also not melt, or drip, or support combustion. Because they are inherently flame resistant, the performance can’t be washed out or worn away.

Amr: The protection of motorsport teams was a major driver in starting the intensive campaign for Nomex®, in part a reaction to the tragic death of several racecar drivers in fire-based crashes in the 1950s and 60s. The first real test of Nomex® came in 1969 when American racing driver Mario Andretti survived an Indy 500 fireball wreck wearing a racing suit made with Nomex®.

Nomex® then expanded to wider industrial usage through the 70s, setting new industry standards for testing capabilities of PPE. By the 80s, Nomex® was included in the suits of NASA astronauts and today Nomex® has revolutionized PPE and safety standards for apparel across many industries. In motorsports it’s now commonplace, used by 95% of all racing professionals around the world and providing thorough body coverage.

What examples have we seen of Nomex® in action in F1?

Amr: The most recent notable incident was the shocking crash at the Bahrain GP in November where the driver made impact with the circuit’s safety barrier at 137 mph, sustaining an impact of 53G and splitting his vehicle in half. The driver was exposed to flames for approximately 28 seconds after emerging over the barrier and seeking medical attention.

Medics found he had only sustained minor burns on his hand and feet – the only areas not covered by his Nomex® suit. In this instance, the material of the suit not only resisted the heat from the flames, but also self-extinguished to ensure the driver sustained minimal injuries. While graphic, the crash is an illustration of incredible safety-specific material science, technology and engineering advancements.

What other industries utilise Nomex®

Yves: Outside of motorsport, Nomex® and its excellent physical and thermal properties can be found protecting workers in manufacturing, transportation, law enforcement, the military and emergency services – all industries where individuals need durable and lightweight apparel suitable for coping with the risk of exposure to flames. 

Hazards are obviously unpredictable but alongside heat and flames, Nomex® protects wearers against arc flash and molten metal splatter. Chemical, petrochemical and utility workers wear clothing made of Nomex® as a protective barrier against the intense heat from flash fires and electric arc hazards, to give the wearer precious seconds of escape time if there is a serious plant incident. 

How does DuPont test Nomex® to ensure it is suitable for the high-risk environment of an F1 track?

Yves: Our team is always diligent with our testing process, so much so that we have set industry standards for testing. But the main instrument we use to test performance levels of fire-resistant garments is DuPont’s very own Thermo-Man®.

Thermo-Man® is a laboratory manikin that utilizes skin model software to determine predicted burn injuries during a carefully controlled, reproducible short duration fire, simulating actual flash fire conditions. This life-sized thermal burn injury evaluation device uses 122 sensors to measure the heat transmitted from a fire through test garments to the surface of the manikin. Our computer programming then continues the data acquisition for 1 minute and calculates the predicted percentage of second-and third-degree burns and indicates burn locations on the body.

If you have any questions for Amr or Yves, or wanted to find out more about the work DuPont does within Personal Protection, you can visit our website for more information and contact details: dupont.com/personal-protective-equipment.html