The harness has only been a mandatory part of a Formula One car since 1972, which was complimented in 1996 with the energy absorbing Confor foam (which goes around the top of the monocoque) and in 2003 with the Head & Neck Support (HANS) device, which prevents the head from moving too much in the event of an impact.
The belts are made of polyester and nylon, and the fittings are made of stainless steel, titanium and polycarbonate. The belts can handle 14.7kN – approximately 1.5t – which is stipulated by the FIA. The entire harness can be quickly released by turning the central latch.
The belts need to be tightened by a person other than the driver – not because the driver is lazy – but because the driver cannot bend his arm enough to get the correct amount leverage needed to get the belts on properly.
If the belts don’t hurt, then they aren’t tightened hard enough!
Martin Brundle – Ex-Formula One driver and ITV Commentator.
Occasionally, the belts can work loose, in which case the driver needs to pit to have them tightened again. Eddie Irvine had this problem in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix when his belts were undone after his car was restarted from a dangerous position.
As well as ensuring drivers are securly fitted in the car, they must also be able to vacate the vehicle in a timely fashion. The FIA allow five seconds for the driver to release his straps and any radio cables that are plugged in, to remove the steering wheel and get out of the car. A further five seconds is allowed for the driver to replace the steering wheel and put the car into neutral. The FIA have also made it mandatory now that the whole seat is to be removable in order to prevent spine damage in the event of a serious accident. The HANS device (Head and Neck Support) is fixed onto the rear of the drivers helmet and snuggly sits in the rear of their tailor-made seats.