The suit is constructed of either Proban or the same Nomex material as the driver's helmet. As previously stated, Nomex is a fire-retardant material that protects the driver and crew in the event of a pit fire or a fire caused by an accident. It is also used by firefighters to protect them from heat and smoke.
NASCAR has a unique safety protocol for its drivers and crews if there is ever a fire during a race. The driver will always know what to do if there is a fire, but some things should be noted: drivers cannot exit the vehicle on their own unless it is in safe mode; they cannot be rescued while the car is still running; and they must wait for the fire to be put out before they can be removed from the car.
Drivers are not allowed to wear underwear under their racing suits because this could lead to skin burns from friction during high speeds. They do, however, wear shorts underneath their suits when it is warm outside; this allows for more movement in the car and reduces the chance of being penalized for improper uniform attire.
Race cars reach temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius) during a race, so a driver needs to be protected from heat exhaustion as well as serious injuries if he or she comes into contact with a flame.
Firefighters wear Nomex or Kevlar suits. Both are fire-resistant fabrics that assist prevent the firefighter from becoming engulfed in flames or suffering burns while battling a nearby fire. Nomex and Kevlar are sometimes combined. For example, a combination jacket/pants set might be made out of Nomex with embedded kevlar fibers.
There are two types of firefighting equipment used by firefighters: protective clothing and weapons. Protective clothing includes coats, pants, boots, and gloves. Weapons include axes, hoses, ladders, and tools. Firefighters must be careful not to injure themselves while wearing protective clothing. Axes can cause serious injuries if not used properly. Hoses can be very dangerous if not handled properly. Ladders can lead to injury if not used correctly. Tools can be very useful in treating patients or building structures. However, tools can also cause injury if not used carefully. For example, a tool called a "spike" can be used to stop blood flow to a vehicle's fuel tank to end its movement on the road if it is going to explode.
Firefighters usually receive training on how to use their equipment before they go into action. Sometimes, new employees will be given a trial run with a non-live situation to make sure they don't have any problems operating certain devices.
Drivers' overalls are fireproof and lightweight, making them pleasant to wear and letting the drivers' bodies to "breathe" even in the suffocating 50 °C of the cockpit. The race suits are comprised of three layers of Nomex, a high-tech material that can withstand direct flame exposure for 15 seconds. The driver is also protected by a seat cushion that expands to absorb the shock of collisions.
There have been fatal accidents during F1 races caused by fires within the cockpit. In 1999, Patrick Tambay died after flames burst into his helmet while he was changing a gearbox on his car at the French Grand Prix. In 2008, Iker Casillas lost control of his car during a break in the rain and hit a concrete barrier with his head. He died several days later from his injuries.
However, all these incidents occurred before the introduction of the safer carbon fiber cockpits in 2014. Drivers now wear fire-retardant coveralls instead. This change was made to prevent further deaths or injuries due to flammable materials used in previous versions of the suit.
The fact that F1 drivers are well protected against fire isn't very surprising considering the high level of skill they need to drive at such high speeds. What is rather amazing is that many other types of athletes don't enjoy the same level of protection.