Introduced to Formula One racing in 2003, the Head and Neck Support (HANS) system consists of a carbon fibre shoulder collar which is secured under the driver’s safety belts and connected to his helmet by two elastic straps. In the event of an accident, HANS is intended to prevent a stretching of the vertebrae and to prevent the driver’s head from hitting the steering wheel.
Invented in the mid 1980s by Dr Bob Hubbard, a biomechanical engineering professor at Michigan State University in the USA, the passive HANS system works on a simple principle. In the event of an impact, the helmet straps control the movement of the driver’s head, while the collar absorbs and redistributes the forces generated by the head’s pendulum momentum - forces that would otherwise be absorbed by the driver’s skull and neck muscles, causing injuries ranging from whiplash to neck or skull fractures. The helmet loading is also transferred from the base of the skull to the forehead, which is far better suited to taking the force.
The original HANS device went on sale in 1990, but its large collar was unsuited to single-seater series with narrow, tight cockpits. However, after Mika Hakkinen's enormous accident in Adelaide in 1995 (in which he fractured his skull) the FIA instituted research to establish the best way of protecting Formula One drivers' heads in major impacts. Airbag and 'active' safety systems were briefly considered, before the focus shifted to development of a HANS system suitable for F1 racing.
Did you know …that in tests HANS was shown to reduce typical head motion in an accident by 44 percent, the force applied to the neck by 86 percent and the acceleration applied to the head by 68 percent - bringing the figures for even large impacts under the 'injury threshold'?