Sid Watkins Lecture 2017 – Laurent Mekies

Laurent Mekies is the deputy race director for all F1 events, taking over from Herbie Blash full-time this year.

But his lecture was much more in keeping with his past roles as an engineer for various GP2 and F1 teams.  Indeed, whilst explaining Fernando Alonso’s Melbourne roll-over, he laughed “from the in-ear accelerometers you can see that while the car is upside down in the air, not a lot is happening.  This is the engineer’s sense of humour.”

Laurent focused on the work of the FiA Global Institute.  Carrying out around twenty projects at a time, these range from barrier configurations (redressed after Sainz’s Sochi impact, where the car decelerated from 153kph – around 95mph – in just 4 metres) through car design and even the testing of the safety testing measures.  Interestingly, preventing accidents is not in their remit, only the mitigating of their effects.  More on this later.

Some interesting bits and pieces:

  • Sid Watkins was working on an F1 airbag that was eventually replaced by the current Frontal Head Restraint system – the HANS device.
  • The FiA carries out about twelve in-depth accident investigations each year across all FiA series, although if a national motorsport body, such as the MSA, has a major incident it can draw on the Institute’s expertise.
  • Original testing of the Techpro barrier system was many years ago, and incremental changes gradually took the concept out of its optimum operating window.  New configurations are now certified up to impacts at 165kph ready for F1 2017.  The FiA also liaises with other series such as Nascar and Indycar over requirements.
  • Tracks are designed to funnel cars to accident zones.  This is done by using concrete and armco barriers close to the track on straights and in braking zones so that any car that loses control is sent down the straight-ahead, where run-off, barriers and medical staff are concentrated.  Indeed, some tracks have been asked to move barriers closer to the track for this purpose.  The Sainz and and Alonso accidents are good examples of this.

Finally, I spoke to Laurent to ask him about that original remit – mitigating accidents, but not preventing them:  Where do track limits feature?

“Ah, this is interesting, because yes, one of our ongoing projects is to work with track limits, though not really for preventing incidents, but because other safety changes have impacted the way that circuits are designed.  So yes, hopefully soon there will be something to put forward there.”


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