Kris Nissen

‘It’s totally ridiculous’ not to follow FIA’s safety rules on underwear and jewellery

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The FIA’s clampdown on drivers wearing jewellery and non-compliant underwear prompted a mixture of criticism and derision from competitors.

Lewis Hamilton turned up at an FIA press conference in Miami wearing every item of jewellery he could lay his hands on, while Sebastian Vettel briefly sported a pair of boxer shorts on the outside of his overalls before one session.

However Grand Prix Drivers Association chairman Alexander Wurz recently gave his full backing to the FIA’s tough new line. He described how he learned the importance of following the rules after speaking to former sportscar racer Kris Nissen, who was badly burned in a crash in 1988.

Nissen, now 61, told RaceFans he believes strongly that today’s drivers should follow the FIA’s requirements on fireproof clothing. He suffered burns to more than a third of his body when his Porsche 962 sports-prototype car crashed at Fuji and caught fire.

He joined Kremer Racing in 1987, the year after he won the German Formula 3 championship. The team ran Porsche’s all-conquering 962, powered by a twin-turbocharged, three-litre flat-six engine.

Prior to Fuji’s 2005 renovation, its huge 1.4-kilometre main straight was still preceded by a fast corner, and cars reached top speeds well in excess of 320kph (200mph) before braking for the slow first turn. However, during practice at the track on July 22nd, two days after his 28th birthday, Nissen’s Porsche failed to slow.

Press coverage of Kris Nissen's 1988 Fuji sports car crash
Press coverage of Nissen’s fiery 1988 crash
He remembers little of what happened, but fellow driver Paolo Barilla was standing nearby when the 962 shot past the first turn.

“He told he saw the car basically not braking but continuing,” Nissen explained. “He said ‘the brake lights went on one or two times, like if you are pumping the brake. Then the car disappeared at the end of the straight.'”

The straight had been shortened 14 years earlier for safety reasons. Nissen’s car continued down the track towards the disused former banked first turn. “On the old part of the circuit there was like a high kerb and this kerb destroyed the bottom of the car,” he said.

“It was a 962 with aluminium monocoque. Because the bottom was destroyed, the fuel tank also was damaged and the fuel was running out of the car. The turbos are very hot, probably the fire started because of the turbo getting in contact with the petrol.

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“But I remember nothing. The first thing I really remember is two or three weeks later in the hospital.”

Fortunately for Nissen, Barilla reached the scene of the crash. “I was sitting for a long time in this fire. My life was saved by Paolo Barilla.”

Grosjean ‘still got some burns and he wore everything correctly’
The pair met recently and discussed the crash. “He explained how he went to the car and how he took the fire extinguisher and tried to put the fire out and how he pulled me out of the car.”

Nissen was taken to hospital in Fuji and was later transferred to Tokyo. He spent two weeks in a coma and eventually returned to racing 11 months after his crash. He admitted he had neglected to wear part of the required safety clothing.

“I was wearing the correct helmet, correct gloves, correct FIA shoes,” he recalls. “I was not wearing the underwear, I was wearing normal boxer shorts and a normal T-shirt, which was my mistake and my fault.”

The purpose of the fireproof garments is to delay how quickly heat reaches the skin, he points out. “You don’t get the fire directly on your skin, you get the fire on your overalls and the overalls get hot on the inside and overalls is directly on your skin. Then it will create more heat and sooner than if there is something between.”

Nissen suffered burns to “around 35% of my body” in the crash. “I had burns on both hands, burns on my arms, right and left. I have burns on the top of my legs and a small burn on the under part of my right leg.”

Some of these burns were exacerbated by his choices of underwear and jewellery. “Actually, where I had my boxer shorts and my T-shirt I had no burns,” he points out. “But of course, if I would have had that long underwear I would have much less burns on my leg and on my arms.”

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He was also wearing two additional items on his arms. “On my left hand I had a plastic watch and under the watch, there are no burns. On my right hand I was wearing, I still have it, a gold [bracelet]. And this one was heated by the fire or by the heat. It made an additional burn in my right [wrist].”

Nissen returned and later ran Volkswagen’s motorsport division
“What I can tell you 100% is if you want the absolutely best safety you should not wear any metal at all, in my opinion,” he adds. “Metal should absolutely not be worn. I think other things will not really do any harm but it’s not necessary.”

He admits he does not agree with drivers choosing not to follow the FIA’s safety requirements. “It is totally ridiculous not to follow these rules. It is totally ridiculous not to do as much as you can for your own safety.

“Even with the FIA-approved underwear and gloves and shoes it’s a question of how long you are sitting [in a fire]. If you look at Romain Grosjean, which was a very heavy accident, we’ve all seen it and he managed to come out on his own quite fast, luckily, and that’s good. But still he got some small burns on his hands. And he was wearing everything correctly.

“So I think it’s very important that the people understand that you do not have full safety but you have much better safety if you are wearing the FIA-approved safety equipment.”

“I don’t want to make any advertising regarding my accident or anything,” Nissen adds. “But I am happy to tell every race driver that it is the best idea to follow the rules and for sure it is not a good idea to wear any form of metal.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “‘It’s totally ridiculous’ not to follow FIA’s safety rules on underwear and jewellery”

  1. the article accidentally forgets to mention Lewis wears the full correct underwear and isn’t wearing any metal or jewelry apart from a tiny nose pin that’s under a helmet visor.

    Thus, there’s no connection at all between Nissen’s accident and Lewis Hamilton.

    1. No it’s not but Vettel and Lewis were talking that underwear didn’t matter as it was under everything. It’s not that they could be hurt by tiny pieces during a accident but if serious after that it can harm drivers indirectly and directly.

      1. Hamilton is not objecting at all to the underwear rule. He’s been open to evidence all the time, and said so, for example after Grosjean’s accident. He’s agreed about all the jewelry apart from the nose pin which is pearl and a non-ferrous pin. So it’s a fake and rather dubious article, one of a long and unsavoury series of them. Vettel isn’t mentioned…

        1. @zann

          Vettel isn’t mentioned

          Vettel is mentioned in the second sentence.

          1. So he is, fair play @keithcollantine. I don’t think he needed any more persuading though, he was sensing what I’m sensing. It just needed the line to be drawn in a sensible place, before it became a power thing. And now the unfortunate Kris Nissen doesn’t really need to be quoted pressing the general point, which has been accepted after all.

    2. @zann exactly, you should be looking at the car which is clearly wearing a lot of metal, too much, thankfully this year they are not using rocket fuel, E10 for the win!

      1. Rules are rules, means to be followed. Now its cuz LH doesn’t means anything other than he must forget about his antics.

        E10 is not rocket fuel fool. read before talk no sense

        1. So what about Magnussen and Gasly? They both also break the jewelry rule but due to contradictions in the rules they’re allowed to wear their wedding ring and religious necklace respectively. If anything the current rule is not fit for purpose.

          1. i agree

          2. Where is that story originating.. wedding ring and necklace are not allowed. Maybe a short period like hamilton, but still jewelry and thus forbidden.

          3. ThreePurpleSectors (@)
            19th May 2022, 22:34

            @Craig, exactly! Which shows the controversy isn’t about safety. Fire isn’t going to discriminate based on your reason for having jewelry on your person. Wedding, religious, family, tradition, or if you just like to wear them has no bearing on safety.

        2. They didn’t say it was rocket fuel. Did you not read the comment?

      2. E10 isn’t rocket fuel, but is more oxygenated than normal fuel. So it can burn a bit hotter, in theory.

    3. ThreePurpleSectors (@)
      19th May 2022, 22:29

      @zann, Completely agree. In todays F1 you can turn a molehill into mountain if you can link the issue to Hamilton. This is why we had so much issue with the “bling” and “rapper” comments people always make about Hamilton. These are all coded language that are later used down the line. Everyone knows Hamilton wears a nose pin and earrings. None of which are safety concerns. So why are people pretending he’s jumping in the car covered in jewelry like Mr.T?

      Its obvious the reason for all this is not safety. Its politics by the governing body. Some might say retaliation. No matter the reason, the media is game to play along and the fans are willing to play along with the facade of a safety concern because “Hamilton.” Even this article reads as proganda to manufacture consent because what happened to Mr. Nissen and the controversy we’re dealing with here couldn’t farther apart. But if you need to present certain driver or drivers as a irrational and anti safety, you need pieces like this.

  2. Maybe someone the drivers SHOULD listen too as he experienced precies that. Never wear non fire/heat proof underwear otherwise it melts beneath your fireproof overall.
    And there is plenty comfi fire/heat protection underwear around…

    1. Actually the underwear he wore did not melt under his overalls but he conceded had he wore the mandated underwear it would have provided more protection for his arms and legs as the fireproof undergarments would have extended to his ankles and wrists.
      You shouldn’t be changing the facts of what he actually said in the article. The specific part he mentions is that non fireproof garments would transfer heat from the outwards facing side to the inside quicker and hence be more likely to cause a burn on a drivers skin quicker if they were to heat sufficiently.

    2. And yet, why is there a rather selective approach in the official guidelines that only addresses some items of jewellery?

      As Magnussen noted, why do they not affect items such as wedding rings, even though the same arguments used for other items, such as a piercing, would also apply to that? Why do the guidelines leave those out?

      1. Because you can remove a hand but a head would be hard much harder……

  3. Simple, follow the safety protocols and rules, stop acting like a rebellious high school teenager or a Diva.

    1. Agreed, if rules are to be followed all rules apply!
      No exceptions.

      1. Except then it’s unlikely you’ll win a championship ;)

    2. ThreePurpleSectors (@)
      19th May 2022, 22:41

      @illusive, Gotta love the law and order crowd. Stranger things have happened. We’ve seen rules not followed and rules that didn’t exist get written and applied retroactively. Remember Spa? Hello Sochi practice start zone!

  4. A driver who didn’t follow the rules is now insisting current driver should follow the rules?

    1. Who better than that to educate the drivers thinking they should be above the rules.

      “I was wearing the correct helmet, correct gloves, correct FIA shoes,” he recalls. “I was not wearing the underwear, I was wearing normal boxer shorts and a normal T-shirt, which was my mistake and my fault.”

    2. That’s what adults do: they learn from their mistakes and share the knowledge and experience to protect the younger generation from repeating their mistakes.
      What do you not get about this? Are you 12 years old?

    3. CheeseBucket
      19th May 2022, 13:56

      Yes. Are you stupid? He learnt his lesson and doesn’t want it to happen to others.

  5. I remember reading an interview with Kris Nissen somewhere, where he told of meeting Niki Lauda. Lauda looked him up and down, and remarked “we look like the brothers from a familiy barbecue that went badly wrong”.

    1. That definitely sounds like something Niki would have said!

  6. This whole thing is getting a bit ridiculous now… Decide what the rules are and enforce them. If drivers don’t conform to the rules, they don’t race. Simple.

    There is no need to have months of discussion around this. It’s either dangerous to wear jewellery and the wrong type of underwear or it isn’t. If it isn’t dangerous, move on. If it is dangerous then do something about it. Get a grip of your sport FIA.

    1. The problem is the rule isn’t fit for purpose and is undermined by other rules (wedding rings are allowed, as is jewelry that counts as ‘religious’, while glasses arn’t even covered in the rules to my knowledge). What should be happening is the RDs should be reminding drivers of jewelry while updating the rule rather then being openly combative about the issue when there’s more significant things to deal with.

      1. And this is where this whole thing gets silly.

        The FIA is simply enforcing a common sense rule. You can indeed debate the exceptions at some point through the regular means. Even the rule if you want.

        But they’re not being “combative” about it, one of the drivers is. So to put that on the FOM, who have simply announced about 3 months ago now that they would start enforcing a rule, then started enforcing the rule months later, and then were even kind enough to give a driver another two-race exemption to comply with the rule. If that’s what counts as “combative” the world would be a much nicer place to live in.

        1. It’s interesting how you completely ignored what I said to attack one particular driver who wasn’t even referenced in my comment.
          But as I say the rule isn’t fit for purpose. If we were going for ‘common sense’ we’d be considering how secure items are and if they’re liable to move then they get banned (such as Gasly’s necklace). However common sense isn’t in any form of affect or such a rule wouldn’t be contradicted by others.

          1. There is no contradiction in the rules here, Craig.
            There is, however, inequality and selectivity in their application.

            And the only combative element here is the pushback against enforcing existing safety regulations.

          2. As far as i know there is no permanent exeption for wedding rings and necklaces..

  7. I get why this is a rule. And I get why new FIA head MBS has directed questions as to the scant bit of enforcement of it over the last 16 years, towards the previous administration. And I would get it if this has become an insurance issue and FIA simply now has to make it a no tolerance rule because of that. It hasn’t been presented that way though.

    For me I would think the underwear thing should be a no-brainer. I think not wearing all the right clothing should be penalty worthy as that protects large areas of skin.

    But regarding jewelry, I get that watches and necklaces (who wants the extra weight of those on board these days anyway?) could pose a bit of added danger to the driver and/or be ‘in the way’ for emergency workers doing what they have to to save a driver, but I think the odds of a wedding band or a nose or an ear piercing adding danger is so slim that it should be up to the individual drivers if they want to take that risk, or at most perhaps the wearing of those things should result in a tiny nominal fine that goes to charity.

    So to me, unless it is an insurance issue, if a driver wants to risk a slightly more disfigured nose or ear or ring finger from metal heating up that should be up to them. Watches and chains? They probably don’t want the added weight anyway and those I can see as being more dangerous and therefore the removal of them more strictly enforced. The undergarments? No-brainer. Heavy fines and/or penalties for not wearing those.

    1. Actually, I don’t think the underwear thing is about not wearing fireproof long-johns, which I am sure all the drivers do, but rather underwear under the long-johns. As long as that is cotton and not synthetic I don’t think there should be an issue. When I raced that’s what I’d did, cotton tee shirt and street underwear under the protection layers. All that can do is improve heat insulation.

  8. If we’re gonna carry on talking about this everyday, then I’m gonna say that cars are less likely to catch fire if they hit tech-pro than if they hit concrete.

  9. I met Kris once about 20 years ago. I got the impression that he is a friendly and straightforward guy. Quite succesful, too.

  10. Having a rule, stating it’s for safety reasons and then having several exemptions doesn’t make a lot of sense. Also all the talk of jewelry being an issue for emergency medical personnel again doesn’t make a lot of sense as they are highly trained professionals and if they can handle me being brought in with jewelry on, they can certainly deal with an F1 driver wearing jewelry. Given, the amount of discussion/noise about this issue and the fact that the rule hadn’t been enforced for years, perhaps the FIA should have a moratorium on enforcing the rule, meet with the drivers, teams, medical professionals, EMTs etc and come up with a rule that is sensible and doesn’t have exemptions.

  11. Rephrase the rule to read ‘Drivers need to take off any jewellry before the race’ and be done with it. Allowing tracks like Jeddah and discussing whether piercings are a safety risk is kind of strange. Also Sainz would have preferred some tecpro-barriers instead of prescriptions rgd jewellry last race.

  12. It’s really quite simple: The rule has been on the books for years. After the Masi incident the new race directors are gonna follow the rules to the letter. If you don’t like the rules then change them, until then no jewelry.

  13. Steven Williamson
    20th May 2022, 5:58

    I believe Hamilton is going to claim he’s being singled out, and use this as an excuse to retire.

  14. This article is almost entirely out of context. The argument put forward is not relevant for today. In relation to lewis. Yes safety is important. But hthen ehat about metal fillings in 1s mouth should drivers remove them before a race too? And how many years ago are they talking about? Has there been no improvement in driver ppe all these years?

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