LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One technology used by McLaren's Lewis Hamilton on the racetrack is also playing a role in protecting troops in Iraq and keeping factory workers on their feet.
An exhibition at London's Science Museum, timed to coincide with the start of the Briton's title defense in Australia this month, opened Wednesday to highlight ways in which the sport has influenced sectors as diverse as healthcare, domestic plumbing and the defense industry.
"Contrary to popular belief, Formula One is not all about glitz and glamour, parties and celebrities," said McLaren chairman Ron Dennis in a speech, with one of his cars suspended upside down above him.
"Of course it attracts more than its fair share of all of these but...at its heart, it is about technology and scientific innovation."
The 20 examples on display range from composite materials used on the 2003 Beagle 2 Mars lander to slip-resistant Wellington boots whose soles have tread patterns similar to Formula One tires.
The caption accompanying that exhibit explains that, in a seven-month trial of the footwear in a pet food factory in Doncaster, northern England, not a single person had a 'slip accident'.
Other items show how:
- Technology used in a car's hydraulic dampers to absorb bumps on the racetrack had been applied to a lightweight leg support to help reduce knee and leg injuries. This had been tested on U.S. Marines who suffer regular injuries in fast-moving inflatable boats.
- The use of carbon-composite materials could absorb energy and protect seated troops from mine and car bomb blasts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- Medical teams now employed pit stop techniques to streamline the handover of patients from surgery to intensive care in hospitals.
- Using Formula One-style fuel caps on battlefield tanks kept sand out during refueling.
"Successful teams in this high-stakes sport innovate at an incredible rate," said Dennis. "We make a change to our cars every 20 minutes throughout the entire Formula One season.
"Such technologies often have their genesis in racing cars and then find suitability to products or situations never foreseen by their creators," he added.
"Industries as diverse as leisure and entertainment, healthcare, defense and even space exploration are featured here today and they are just the tip of the iceberg."
Formula One, long accused of being a gas-guzzling millionaires' playground of excess, is keen to establish a greener image with more of a social conscience and greater relevance to the world at large.
Max Mosley, the head of the sport's governing body the International Automobile Federation (FIA), has pushed new technologies such as the KERS kinetic energy recovery systems that harness energy generated by braking that would otherwise be wasted.
"The FIA is determined to ensure future investment in motor sport will also help drive the development of technologies that will benefit the public at large," Mosley said last year.
Teams such as McLaren, partially owned by Mercedes, are trying to build new revenue streams by diversifying away from their core business.
Williams have already developed a flywheel KERS system that they hope will have wider, and potentially lucrative, applications in areas such as the transport industry and elevators.
Dennis said all teams needed to "work harder and smarter than before" to improve and sustain the sport in the face of new challenges.
"It is my fervent hope that the rate at which we as a sport innovate and change can provide inspiration to other industries and act as an engine of growth," he added.
While the sport is busy cutting costs in the face of the global credit crunch, some of the items on display carried more old-style price tags however.
The makers of what was presented as the most advanced bicycle in the world, with sophisticated electronics and a fully-integrated multi-channel data recording system, said it carried a price tag "starting below 20,000 pounds."
Editing by Clare Fallon