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Did Michael Schumacher’s helmet cam cause brain injury?

Family of Formula 1 driver reported to have blamed camera mount

When Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher was severely injured in a skiing crash, suspicion fell on the camera mounted on his helmet as one of the causes of  damage to his brain. That possibility emerged again this weekend after a French journalist reported that Schumacher’s son believes the camera mount contributed to his father’s injuries.

Formula 1 commentator Jean-Louis Moncet, a friend of the Schumacher family, told a French radio station he had spoken to Schumacher’s son. The driver, he said, was waking up very slowly.

Moncet said: “The problem for Michael was not the hit, but the mounting of the GoPro camera that he had on his helmet that injured his brain.”

Shortly after the ski crash that put Schumacher in a coma, reports fingered the camera as a source of his injuries.

Experts from Ensa, a ski and climbing academy in Chamonix, conducted tests to find out what happened if there was another object between a ski helmet and the solid surface it hit.

“The helmet completely broke. It was in at least two parts. Ensa analysed the piece of the helmet to check the material, and all was OK,” said a source close to the investigation.

“But why did it explode on impact? Here the camera comes into question. The laboratory has been testing to see if the camera weakened the structure.”

It’s possible — some would even say likely — that Schumacher was simply extremely unfortunate to be involved in an impact that was beyond the helmet’s ability to absorb. There have been numerous incidents of cyclists dying or suffering serious in crashes in which they were wearing helmets, and helmets fracturing on impact instead of crushing to absorb shock is very common.

Conversely, mountain bikers have been using helmet-mounted cameras in mass numbers for years, as couple of minutes’ browsing YouTube shows. Crashing’s part of the game (whenever two or three mountain bikers are gathered together, they will start comparing scars) but we were unable to find any reports of serious injuries linked to camera mounts.

Shortly after Schumacher’s crash, VeloNews received a letter from a reader questioning the safety of helmet-mounted cameras. Phil said he’d asked GoPro, and been told: “Our mounts are not designed to withstand significant impact, in the event that you do significantly impact your helmet the mounting parts and adhesive would likely not stay or adversely affect the performance of the helmet.”

VeloNews tech editor Lennard Zinn asked helmet makers their opinion on the mounting of cameras.

Giro’s Eric Richter said: “We studied this issue thoroughly, including significant testing at our in-house DOME test lab with both Go-Pro and Contour units. Our mounts cause no significant additional loads for the neck nor brain rotation due to well designed breakaway features.”

Michael Grim of Specialized said: “We believe that a good GoPro mount should “break away” in an impact. We think this is the main thing. There is still risk that the camera could still cause injury, but not worse than rocks, eyewear, etc. There is always risk of injury in an accident, regardless. So, it’s always best to keep the rubber side down.

“From our experience, so far, most of the adhesive mounts do break away fine. It seems a bigger problem that cameras get knocked off and lost. So, tethering the camera may also be wise, while still providing the breakaway feature. We think it’s a bad idea to have a camera “hard mounted or bolted” to the helmet, as this may increase risk by adding leverage to rotation in an impact.”

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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