Formula 1

HANS Device inventor Robert Hubbard dies

2 Mins read
Credit: Red Bull Content Pool / Mark Thompson / Getty Images

The engineer who was instrumental in the design of the HANS Device, Dr Robert Hubbard, has died.

The equipment, which has now become standardised and made mandatory across many forms of motorsport, including Formula 1, was designed by Hubbard and his brother-in-law alongside IMSA SportsCar Championship contender Jim Downing.

Hubbard played an important role in road safety before he came up with the idea of the HANS device.  He studied for a PhD focusing on the mechanical properties of the skull bone, during which time he was working at the University of Michigan Highway Safety Research Institute.

In a similar vein, he worked for General Motors in the 1970s, investigating injuries and developing dummies used in crash tests.

The concept for the device was developed after Hubbard and Downing made the connection with drivers being killed and their heads not being supported, which resulted in them suffering from basilar skull fractures.

The death of Patrick Jacquemart, a friend of Downing,  who crashed in testing at Mid-Ohio in 1981 behind the wheel of a Renault 5 Turbo, was the duo’s main motivator to come up with a solution.

The team battled through resistance, although they pushed forwards and developed their original design into something much more practical than the original prototype; further tests assisted Hubbard in creating research papers which proved the HANS’ worth.

The first production example of the pioneering safety device went on sale in 1991, and its potential spread, leading to research being carried out by General Motors, with Ford later joining in.

There was an increased focus on safety in F1 following the deaths of both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, with the HANS device also piquing the interest of Professor Sid Watkins, as well as the FIA.

As a result of extensive testing by Mercedes engineer Hubert Gramling, the device was successfully implemented into F1 in 2003.

Helmet with HANS

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

The HANS device became compulsory for those racing in Indycar, but at the time there was still a divide in their use in other US motorsport categories.

It was also used in NASCAR as a result of a number of recent accidents, but the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr – the biggest name in the series – during the 2001 Daytona 500 would prove to be a decisive moment.

Downing later said that sales of the HANS device were around 250 when it was initially released, but had increased to 3,000 by the end of the year – a testament of its effectiveness, proven by the countless lives saved through its use.

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F1 reporter for The Checkered Flag. Also a second year Journalism student at Robert Gordon University. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @findlaygrant5.
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