So many factors go into making even the lowest levels of racing car, and many of these factors are rarely discussed outside of the workshops. When you look at touring cars, you might see the rough shape of a familiar family car but that’s where the similarity ends. The car has a full roll cage fitted, totally stripped out and rebuilt interior, body kit, new wheels, new transmission, totally new engine and all associated equipment; basically it’s not the same car. But for anyone watching motorsport all this is often taken for granted, and this comes into sharper focus when you throw in a driver or two.
In Formula One, the drivers and cars do get a lot of technical attention and even the tyres make the news but I don’t think I have ever had a heated conversation about the fire safety in place in all FIA and MSA motorsport events.
Every single official race car, driver and event has to meet intensely strict guidelines on fire safety, I think everyone notices the drivers putting on their fireproof nomex balaclavas and suits but do we think about what’s going on inside the cars? Gone are the days of drivers in top level racing just having a fire extinguisher somewhere handy, the systems are now highly advanced. Drivers can hit a button in the cockpit and multiple jets of foam or gas can be discharged into the engine bay or other areas where fire has taken hold. This kind of technology is not exclusive to F1 either; you can even get plumbed in car systems fitted to your track day or tuned road car.
The world of fire safety in motorsport is not a dull one – it is far from that boring talk you have to go through at work each year about meeting points in the event of a fire. A fire for any driver is one of the worst-case scenarios, it strikes fear into the heart of even the most seasoned racers. As such, the work that goes on in development and installation is as interesting as it is important.
What a lot of motorsport fans may be surprised to know is that possibly the most important company in motorsport fire safety is based in the UK. FEV works from a highly unassuming industrial unit in West Sussex where literally leads the world on keeping our sport safe. One of only two suppliers to the F1 grid and many other levels of motorsport, they also created a safe replacement for Halon gas! I spoke to David Sexton, Director at FEV, about some of his thoughts on fire safety, secrecy in motorsport and more.
Hi David, thanks for speaking with us today.
How long have you worked with motorsport teams and individuals?
Hi, no problem, happy to discuss. We have worked with a number of teams and individuals since 1995.
How many different levels of motorsport do FEV get involved in?
Good question… We’ve worked on many different levels in truth. Track days, hill climbs, 750 Motor Club – which covers bike sport cars, Mx5, Clio Series, BMW compact. Customers who race in the Britcar Series, Rally Cross, World Rally, touring cars, LMP Le Mans prototype, ALMS American Le Mans Series, BTCC British Touring Car Championship, WTCC World Touring Car Championship, F1, Dakar Rally… and I am sure many other forms.
How secretive are motorsport teams at different levels?
Secretive! When you get to the level of manufacturers involvement, it is all kept very secret.
When you think back to the fire safety in F1 years ago, what do you think? Any scary stories you can think of?
I think at the time, the fire safety is the best available, and only when new ideas, new products and new techniques are available do products get better. You have to go back a long way to say fire safety could have been better. Obviously pre rules, nobody gave much attention to all safety in motor sport, not just fire equipment.
How safe is F1 now in terms of fire, would you even jump out of a car if there was just a small fire?
Fire safety in F1 is very good, and drivers do not always jump out of cars with small fires because they have such good trackside support, and the under garments they wear are so good.
Are there any innovations FEV have been involved in with F1 that you’re allowed to share with us?
The biggest innovations, in general fire safety for motorsport was down to Derek Jones of FEV with his invention of the internal bladder technology – and the technology of using a specific gas. At the time there was only AFFF and only the dip tube fire system.
What technology can we have in our own cars, which are clearly not quite F1 cars… but driver’s cars and cars that visit the track occasionally?
Most of today’s fire extinguishers are handheld, or even systems that can be used in road cars. We do supply these to a certain amount of customers who have maybe got a highly tuned road car or they’ve upgraded to use it on a track. There are some new products coming to the market over the next few years but they are in development at the moment.
Britain is a leading light in global motorsport with a number of teams having bases here, we continue to produce some of the best drivers in the world throughout a number of levels of racing and I think it’s very satisfying to know we are also a leading light in keeping those drives and cars safe and helping keep motorsport going at every level!