The HANS device

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This slightly strange looking piece of equipment is a HANS device, one of Formula 1's most important safety innovations.

Standing for Head and Neck Support system, the HANS device works in conjunction with the driver's helmet and seatbelts to drastically reduce the forces exerted on a the head and neck during an accident. This helps to reduce the risk of head and neck injuries, which are two of the most common injuries in high-speed racing accidents.

“The HANS device essentially consists of a carbon fibre collar, two helmet tethers and some lightweight foam padding,” explains Peter Hodgman, McLaren Racing's Vehicle Technology Laboratory Manager. “In basic terms, it works by connecting a driver's head more securely to the rest of his body. This helps to control the force with which the head swings forward during the rapid deceleration of a major accident. “Without a HANS device, although the torso is strapped securely to the seat, the head is free to move about. In a high-speed crash, that forward movement can be extremely violent, which is what causes the serious neck injuries. In extreme impacts the driver's helmet can also hit the steering wheel or the cockpit edge.”

The HANS device fits snugly over the driver's shoulders with the tall, central part directly behind his helmet. The tethers are attached to anchors on the helmet's sides using quick-release clips, and adjusted so that the driver can move his head enough to drive comfortably. Once the driver is seated in the car, the seatbelts are tightened so that they press down on the HANS device's two ‘arms' and hold the collar in place. For comfort, two sets of seatbelts are sometimes used – one set to secure the driver and the other to secure the HANS device.

During an impact the amount of helmet movement is controlled by these tethers. This dramatically reduces the energy absorbed by the driver's head and neck and transfers the loading from the top of the spine to the forehead, which is far better suited to taking the force. It also helps to prevent the driver's helmet from hitting the steering wheel.

Simple and effective, but the precise size, and shape of the HANS device, and the position of the helmet anchors (located around the head's centre of gravity to ensure any forces are spread evenly), are the result of many years development. “The HANS collar was originally developed in the mid-1980s by Dr. Robert Hubbard, a professor of biomechanical engineering at Michigan State University in the USA ,” recalls Hodgman. “The early versions worked well, but they were designed for use in sports cars, so were too big and the wrong shape to be used in a Formula 1 cockpit by a driver sat in a very ‘prone' position.

In 1997, Hubbard started working with Mercedes-Benz to develop and evaluate HANS prototypes using a specially adapted crash-test dummy sat in a single-seater monocoque mounted to a high-impact test sled. “McLaren's involvement began in 1998,” he continues. “Our job was to refine the design and reshape it so that it would fit in a Formula 1 car, and was comfortable for drivers to use for long periods of time without compromising the performance developed in the sled tests."

Eventually, after years of testing and refinement, a design was developed that everyone was happy with – including the FIA, who made use of a HANS device mandatory for all Formula 1 drivers from the start of the 2003 season.

Technical specifications

Size: 315 x 279 x 165mm
Weight: 630g (no padding)
Material: Carbon fibre

Special thanks to McLaren