The FIA is set to introduce a new race glove into Formula One that sends potentially life-saving data from driver to medical crew.
Stitched into the glove is a flexible sensor, measuring just 3mm in thickness. It is the sport’s first biometric monitoring device and is set to be inserted into every drivers’ gloves next season in a bid to monitor their vital signs during the race.
The project, which is being supported by the Global Institute for Motor Sport Safety, has been led by FIA Deputy Medical Delegate Dr Ian Roberts and F1 Medical Car Driver Alan van der Merwe.
“We know that the monitoring of people is essential in terms of their medical care,” Roberts said in an interview with the FIA’s AUTO magazine. “Drivers in incidents are no different. We would like to start monitoring and assessing them as soon as we possibly can. But the equipment that we currently use is relatively bulky and is only applied after the incident has happened. There are also times when the driver isn’t immediately accessible to us, so if we can’t see him or we’re not actually next to him, there’s limited information that we can get.”
F1 driver Carlos Sainz’s accident during the 2015 Russian GP is a case in point. The Spaniard lost control of his Toro Rosso at Turn 13 during the third practice session and hit the barrier head-on at 153km/h. Fortunately, Sainz was unhurt but it was difficult for the F1 medical team to know this, as the first row of the barrier came to rest on top of the driver. So when they arrived at the scene they had to wait until the barrier was removed from the car without knowing the extent of his injuries.
“Accurate monitoring was impossible until we got hands-on, and obviously we couldn’t do that until the barriers were moved,” says Roberts. “If we had monitoring on him straight away we could have planned our rescue even better than we did. With this new technology, the moment a driver has an incident we will receive physiological readings and biometrics, so he is continually monitored from point zero right through to the initial response and on to the medical centre.”
Initially the devices will use an optical sensor to measure ‘pulse oximetry’, or the amount of oxygen in the blood, alongside the pulse rate.
“That gives us the most ‘bang for buck’,” says Van der Merwe. “Pulse oximetry is one of those metrics where for a little information, you can deduce quite a lot from it. You can change what you are doing in a rescue scenario based on that one metric.”
F1 is just the first step for the device in motor sport as the idea is to filter down the technology to other championships, with the help of the Global Institute.
“The Global Institute has been instrumental in allowing a project like this to take shape, to give us the avenues to have access to the teams and track time,” adds Van der Merwe.
Going forward, there are already plans to implement sensors for respiratory rate and temperature. In addition to the safety benefits, these will help teams and drivers with performance monitoring.
“They’re the next two big things,” says Roberts. “Respiratory rate gives a very good indication of a driver’s state of health and stress, while temperature is well known for affecting performance. They are the two for us that we’re going to be looking at more than any others.”