Lear Corp., in partnership with Jaguar Racing, unveils the APEX (Advanced Protection and Extrication) system, the next generation of the supplier's Formula One extractable seat.

Lear says the system provides better head protection and enhanced safety during the removal of an injured driver. Lear's current extractable system was made mandatory on all Formula One race cars in 1999, and the supplier hopes the APEX system will be similarly adopted by next year.

Components of the new system include an outer shell, designed to be a standard component of all F1 cockpits, and a kevlar/carbon inner shell, custom-formed from a cast of a driver's body while seated in the common outer shell. An energy-absorbing material is injected between the two shells, providing improved impact protection, Lear says. A hinge system with quick-release rods allows for easy disassembly of the extricated seat in the event of a crash, allowing emergency crews to transport the driver in an outstretched position while the head, neck and spine remain immobilized in a splint. The head-surround, composed of ceramcel foam, also provides more energy absorption and can be removed in three separate pieces to eliminate head movement. The previous generation system required the driver to be removed in an upright position, potentially increasing head and spine injuries.

While the implications for the passenger-vehicle market remain unclear, a Lear official says a crossover to consumer vehicles could come within "the very near future." But perhaps a better bet, at least according to Jim Masters, Lear Corp. president-Technology Div. and director-Lear Motorsports, is the lucrative aftermarket. He says the system has the potential to be wildly popular with young people who spend thousands of dollars each year on aftermarket goodies.