Formula 1 races have quite a few surprising twists and turns, but crashes are the kind that have you holding your breath. While these range from minor to more serious events, you may wonder what happens to such a powerful car after the crash.
When an F1 car crashes, the safety of the driver and clearing the vehicle from the track comes first. After this, it is transported back to pits for evaluation. F1 cars are completely stripped down, and each part goes through visual or NDT inspection. Faulty parts are replaced, but the car is ultimately rebuilt and put back on the track.
The testing varies depending on the component, and F1 teams have a cost cap overlooking them during this time. Because the entire point of the testing is to make sure the vehicle and their driver are safe, there are specific methods used to keep the process comprehensive and efficient.
If possible, the driver will exit the vehicle immediately after the crash. If not, others are already hurrying to the site to help get them out and provide immediate medical attention. An FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) doctor is usually the one to do this one-site before transferring them to a medical facility.
Drivers involved in a crash that measures more than 15-g must go to the medical center for greater testing, even if they feel fine, and those in a worse state must go to the hospital. If the driver does not need extra attention, they wait for a ride back to the pits.
If possible, the driver will drive the car back to the pits. Those that cannot move are relocated behind the barrier until the conclusion of the race. More disastrous wrecks lead to a red flagged session until it can be cleared from the track.
Inspection and speculation starts the moment the car crashes. Even before the vehicle gets back to the pits, the team takes what they know from the wreck to theorize what might be affected and what should be done next.
This doesn’t forego a full inspection of the vehicle, but it’s at the top of each team member’s mind, and it’s what they’re there to do.
Because a visual evaluation can only do so much, F1 cars are also subjected to NDT inspections to determine the state of the vehicle. It is only after this point that reconstruction can begin.
You can get a good idea of what is going to be wrong by looking at the vehicle. While surface damage isn’t indicative of every issue under the hood, it usually helps you set your priorities and have a better understanding of the journey ahead.
Furthermore, F1 cars are stripped down regularly. Every Sunday, the team takes the car apart for transportation, and it’s reassembled the Thursday before race weekend. This is exactly what happens when the vehicle is involved in a crash.
The non-structural carbon parts are inspected for any damage, and the team holds onto whatever they can. Any mechanical parts are usually sent off for more intensive evaluation.
The chassis is one of the parts that are a real pain if they’re compromised, so inspectors determine its viability early on. If this is cleared, reassembly is much more straightforward, and there’s less time lost waiting for repairs or replacement parts.
After the car is disassembled, many of its parts must clear Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) before they can be used again. This helps vehicles stay under the cost cap of F1, limits what gets thrown away, and ensures the integrity of these components.
Not every part needs to go through NDT; this usually applies to mechanical parts that support or move the vehicle, such as:
The actual testing differs depending on the part.
Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI) looks for fine green lines to find any defects in these components, and it’s often performed before each race weekend.
More intensive tests, like those that involve a digital x-ray machine, require the team to send off parts for testing. Some take upwards of an hour to perform per part, and some parts must go through multiple tests before they are cleared.
Each F1 team keeps a record of these tests, including routine evaluations, to have a full history of the vehicle. Some issues start small but eventually require replacement. Each test helps identify cracks or other flaws that may cause the part to fail, and compromised parts can be repaired or replaced before an issue pops up.
It can take a while for these parts to ship across whole continents, go through testing, and receive the repairs they need to get back to work. F1 teams cannot afford to keep their car out of races for this long, and they may use backup parts to keep the vehicle going.
Teams usually travel with several spare parts to prevent down time. As long as the chassis is intact or they have another chassis build, they can use these spares to keep the vehicle safe and allow ample time for reconstruction.
Once everything is in top shape, the team can put their knowledge-set to work and showcase their individual roles in rebuilding the vehicle. From the chassis, they add on the front suspension then the engine.The rear suspension and gearbox are usually built together and attached to the back of the engine, then the floor and bodywork is added on.
This is a very bare breakdown on how reconstruction goes, but understand that the team works in a specific order and applies all their knowledge to this task.
After everything is assembled, the car goes through final inspections on the fluid system and power unit to make sure everything is where it should be.
A car crash in an F1 race is unfortunate any time it occurs, but teams have a clear understanding of what happens next.
They make the best use of their time and resources to ensure the safety of the driver and others on the track, as well as protect the integrity of their vehicle.
(Top photo: Scuderia Ferrari, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)