Romain Grosjean’s heart-wrenching accident in Bahrain at the end of last year has put a new focus on the safety of driver gear. The Frenchman’s main injuries were on his hands, leaving him with major burns. It is well known that F1 driver safety gear has to be fireproof, and undergoes testing for both direct flames and heat transfer. Since the start of 2021, the FIA safety department has been carrying out research to improve the heat transmission protection of drivers’ gloves in response to Grosjean’s incident.
Last weekend, at the Turkish Grand Prix, five drivers with four glove suppliers were given new prototype gloves to test during the practice sessions. The drivers and suppliers were Lewis Hamilton (Puma), Carlos Sainz Jr (Puma), Daniel Ricciardo (Sparco), Sebastian Vettel (Alpinestars) and George Russell (OMP). Algemeen Dagblad, a Dutch newspaper, reported earlier this week that the gloves have been approved.
Ricciardo provided his feedback after the test. “I used them…I didn’t notice the difference. I’m also not very fussy with kit…but completely fine for me. It’s a nice addition without any downside.” Race director Michael Masi added “The initial feedback from the drivers is ‘Yup, all good’. There is a couple of fine-tuning elements with a couple of the brands but nothing insurmountable.”
F1 gloves in detail
The FIA-approved racing gloves are made of Nomex and fine leather around the palms. Despite being flame retardant, they are relatively thinner, with only one layer of fire-resistant material. A thin glove allows drivers to easily feel the vibrations of the steering wheel and make any necessary adjustments. Nomex is a laboratory-tested human-made fiber that is used to create most components of a driver’s kit. It is heat and flame-resistant, that won’t melt or drip. When the fiber is exposed to intense heat, it thickens and carbonizes—absorbing heat energy in the process and providing those extra seconds of safety.
The main issue with kit improvements is the fine line between fire resistance and driver comfort and feel. Since a regulation change ahead of the 2020 season, race suits have to resist at least 12 seconds, while shoes and gloves must withstand 11 seconds (with the exception of glove palms which have to withstands eight seconds). But, because of a driver’s need for dexterity during a race, particularly the regular use of buttons on the steering wheel, improvements to gloves are more difficult to achieve.
As with all parts of the sport, gloves have to fulfill a range of requirements to be authorized by the FIA. Mandatory from 2018, gloves feature a biometric sensor. The sensor allows teams and the FIA to monitor the progress of a driver’s physical condition during the race, including blood pressure and heart rate. For best heat protection, the inside is sprayed with latex for improved grip and resistance.
When it comes to the design of a glove, teams can customise the color to fit their overall team kit, and/or add advertising, only on the outer layer or through an additional fire-resistant layer. The use of leather “is limited only to the tactile areas of the hand.” as per 4.7.2 of the FIA standard. This ensures that the important points of contact between the hand and the steering wheel have the best amount of grip available. As per regulations, “the thickness of the leather shall be maximum 0.8 mm and preferably as thin as possible to limit the strain due to shrinkage.”
As we can often see in close-ups of driver’s gloves, the gloves feature internal seams on the thumb and external seams on the other four fingers. This provides optimum levels of comfort and feel. The inside seams on the thumb offer excellent levels of feel on the buttons of the steering wheel, while the external seams avoid any pressure points on the hands while driving.