Are you sitting comfortably?
Every millimetre matters when you're subjected to more than five times the force of gravity, dancing on the edge of adhesion as your retinas are racing out of their sockets.
Paramount to driver safety and comfort, perfecting an F1 seat fit is essential if a driver is to feel at one with the car – if they are to focus on extracting the maximum performance from the machine beneath them.
Just as no two F1 drivers are the same, neither are their seats. The car must become an extension of a driver's body and the following steps help make this a reality.
Step One: Take a seat
Donning their race suit and boots, the driver steps into a mock-up of the cockpit – or the chassis itself – and sits on a bag that's filled with expanding foam.
As the driver sits back, the foam takes shape around them – meeting the contours of their body and the internal shape of the chassis.
Step Two: Get comfortable
The driver replicates the movements they will make when driving, such as turning the steering wheel, to ensure that their arms and elbows also feel comfortable as the foam expands.
The foam mould can be trimmed and adjusted to better fit the driver and the chassis.
Some drivers describe themselves as wanting to feel ‘stuck' in the car. They're looking for near-zero head, neck and shoulder movement when driving to ensure that their perception, which is key to nailing every corner entry and apex, doesn't change should physical fatigue occur when driving, although there are other drivers who prefer a little bit more freedom.
Step Three: The digital model
The foam mould is electronically scanned into CAD software to create a 3D model of the seat. This model is used to produce a mould upon which layers of carbon fibre are applied and then cured in an autoclave to create a carbon fibre seat.
Openings are cut into the seat for safety devices such as seatbelts and the HANS (head and neck support) device.
Step Four: Take a seat, again
Back to the cockpit and the driver will try sitting in the carbon fibre seat, providing any feedback that can be used to adjust and refine. The carbon shell can be optimised to the driver's requirements.
Step Five: Made to measure
The pedals must be within easy reach, and it must be possible to fully rotate the steering wheel. To meet safety requirements, the driver must not be too high in the cockpit; this is to minimise risk to the driver in the event of a roll or side-on impact, for example.
When seated in the cockpit, the driver is carefully measured to ensure they abide by the minimum dimensions specified in the regulations.
A lower driver contributes to a lower centre of gravity, aiding car performance. However, the driver cannot be too low, as a clear field of vision is essential.
Step Six: Are you sitting comfortably?
Padding can be applied for comfort although weight is kept in mind, as adding padding increases the weight of the seat.
A layer of gold foil can be cured onto the carbon fibre at the rear of the seat to reflect infrared rays and protect the driver from the heat coming from the powertrain behind.
Step Seven: The acid test
The only way to definitively know if the seat fit has been successful is once the driver has taken to the track with the seat in the car and they've provided their feedback.
If the seat fit is not perfect, further minor adjustments are made. If more significant changes are needed, or the driver is far from comfortable in the seat, the whole process can be followed again in pursuit of the perfect fit.
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