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Felipe Massa's accident

Small impact – great effect.

 
 
 

The Massa accident – Hungarian GP – 25/07/2009

The tragic incident

During qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, a spring which had just fallen off Rubens Barichello's Brawn-Mercedes hit Ferrari driver Felipe Massa on the head. The accident happened so quickly that Felipe Massa had no time to react to the object as it flew towards him: 0.014 seconds elapsed between the spring striking the track and hitting Massa.

Ten days after the accident Schuberth met Andy Mellor, the top helmet expert of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), in Paris. Together with him the marks of the crash on Massa's helmet of the type RF 1.8 were analysed millimetre by millimetre.

Here are the most important results: The visor is always a critical point on every helmet. During the accident it was hit by two thirds of the spring and nevertheless withstood the impact of over two tonnes. But a washer in the left-hand visor hinge broke as a result of this impact. In view of this finding, Schuberth changed the material used to make the washer for the next GP: titanium instead of carbon fibre reinforced plastic.

 

Point of impact - 0.000 sec.

The spring (internal diameter 38.5 mm, external diameter 61.9 mm, free length 127.2 mm, 7 turns) hits the helmet and the visor at a speed of 270 km/h and a self-weight of 833 g. The point of impact is c. 50 mm from the centre axis. The impact area is c. 40 mm on the visor and 20 mm on the helmet shell. This results in an impact energy of over 1.5 kilojoules.

 

Elastic deformation and initial delamination - 0.002 sec.

The spring hits the upper edge of the visor on Massa's helmet with its sharp edge at an angle of almost 90 degrees. This leads to elastic deformation of the visor and then of the shell by c. 20 mm. First layers of the carbon fibre shell begin to delaminate.

 

First cracks form - 0.005 sec.

The carbon fibre structure in the area of the visor cut-out begins to crack. The structure there is more than 5.5 mm thick and consists of 18 layers of the toughest fibre in the world, Toray T 1000. A subsequent vertical crack of 5 mm appears in the carbon fibre shell. The visor withstands the impact by means of elastic deformation despite being hit with the full force.

 

Vertical cracks form in the structure - 0.007 sec.

The helmet now absorbs all the energy of the spring. The maximum vertical crack
in the 5.5 mm thick carbon fibre structure reaches a length of 20 mm. At this point in time the shell of the helmet and the inner shell of particle foam are strong enough to stop the spring on its horizontal trajectory. The trajectory of the spring then reaches its turning point and begins to rebound from the structure.

 

Rebounding of the spring - 0.0010 sec.

The impact is not even (one-sided) and now causes the spring to turn through almost 50 degrees. During this turning process further energy is transferred to the carbon fibre shell. The structure cracks horizontally by another 80 mm and caves in, but remains composite.

 

Spring rolls away - 0.012 sec.

In rolling away the spring now hits plastic parts, the visor mechanism and the titanium screw. While rolling away it destroys the upper plate (carbon fibre reinforced plastic) of the face shield carrier. The titanium screw withstands the impact. The visor is still in position.

 

Separation - 0.014 sec.

After separating from the helmet, the spring also damages the headrest on the left-hand side of the vehicle.

 
 
 
 
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