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Safety in Formula 1 has grown by leaps and bounds since the early days of the sport. After Ayrton Senna‘s tragic death at Imola in 1994, the sport took drastic measures to improve driver safety. The mission spearheaded by Professor Sid Watkins and Sir Jackie Stewart meant we did not have a driver fatality again for almost two decades. It isn’t uncommon to know that F1 is the pinnacle of racing technology and innovation. However, there was a time when one such racing tech led to a piece of driver safety equipment that kept the likes of Michael Schumacher in the laps of the gods and protected.

Carbon fiber is the holy grail of fabrication material in Formula 1 nowadays. It’s sturdy, but most importantly, it is lightweight. Nowadays, teams rely solely on the compound to build their cars and other racing equipment. That being said, back in 2004, the maestro that was Schumacher employed the same material to his benefit in terms of performance and driver safety.

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According to the F1 man, Vincenzo Landino, “In 2004, Michael Schumacher’s Schuberth RF 1.5 helmet was a prototype made of multi-layered carbon fiber. It was so strong that they rolled a tank over it, and it stayed intact.” Back in the day, the helmet cost around $20,000, a drop in the ocean for $780 million worth Schumacher.

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The use of this multi-layered carbon fiber technology didn’t just come in handy for Schumacher. In a sport where safety is always a talking point, Felipe Massa was lucky to be alive thanks to this Ferrari x Schumacher innovation.

Felipe Massa walked away from potential death thanks to Michael Schumacher

Felipe Massa is arguably one of the unluckiest drivers to have ever graced the F1 grid. In 2008, he lost the championship to Lewis Hamilton on the last corner of the last Grand Prix. Come to think of it, his luck made up for it just a year later at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

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An errant steel string struck Massa. It had come off of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn which was ahead of him during Qualifying. It knocked him unconscious. However, the same tech used in Schumacher’s helmet is what saved the Brazilian’s life.

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“The double carbon feature was incorporated in later helmets and played a key role in minimizing the consequences of an accident suffered by Felipe Massa at the 2009 Hungarian GP, where he was struck by a steel spring,” explained Landino.

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Watch This Story: Most Dangerous Crashes in F1 History

What driver safety innovations do you think have had the biggest impact on the sport?

Written by

Anirban Aly Mandal

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Anirban Aly Mandal is a Formula 1 Author at EssentiallySports. In his pursuit for a Bachelor's degree in Law from Symbiosis Law School, he has written multiple academic papers centered around the domain of motorsports. Not only that, but due to his love for F1, he aims to work as a legal advisor in the most prestigious racing series in the world some day.
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Edited by

Akash Pandhare