Now well established as part of Formula Ones safety regulations, Nomex is a type of flame retardant material used in drivers overalls. More than just simply an overall, though, Nomex is a highly specialised synthetic material from DuPont, and has been used in Formula One for over 40 years as a way to protect drivers from emergencies. Why, then, is Nomex so special, and how does it fit into other safety procedures within Formula One?
Nomex is a fiber that was developed as a solution to safety standards in racing, and shares characteristics with other high resistant materials in NASA space suits and high risk activities. Nomex driving suits in Formula One make up multiple layers of clothing for drivers, which include overalls, balaclavas and fire resistant gloves; these are all set to FIA Standard 8856-2000, and are also used for firefighters and other types of protective clothing that require fire safety.
The development of Nomex came through the work of Wilfred Sweeney. Part of DuPont, Sweeney was working on a US Army contract, and discovered Nomex while researching the potential of new fibers to resist flame. He found that Nomex could be created as a high molecular weight material that could stand up to extreme heat. Nomex was then adapted for race driving as part of a response to track injuries caused by cockpit and crash fires.
Materials like Nomex help to significantly reduce risk for Grand Prix drivers, and are designed to allow drivers to survive for up to 11 seconds at 840 degrees. Stricter regulations have been brought in over the years to make sure that all items of a drivers overalls and protective gear are manufactured to the correct standard. Nomex is regularly tested to find high levels of flame resistance, and is a standard part of the FIAs safety rules for the sport.
Drivers wearing Nomex clothing typically receive two to four layers of overalls, long johns, protective underwear and gloves. Nomex overalls are subjected to about 15 washes and 15 dry cleaning runs before being tested for use on the track, and are designed to be able to, on average, stand up to 600 to 800 degrees. Nomex driving gloves are also adapted to include suede palms, which can increase movement and flexibility during a race.
Modern Nomex overalls are designed to include floating sleeves and fabric handles, which allows for drivers to be lifted from their cars after an accident. Work is also regularly carried out to ensure that Nomex is able to protect drivers from any chemical leaks, which may occur during a crash. The durability of Nomex items is also strengthened by its flame resistant coating being impervious to repeated washing. To this end, Nomex is also worn by pit crews, rescue personnel, and track officials.
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