FIA to again look at closed F1 cockpits after Spa crash

UPDATE #5 “Head protection is a controversial subject and, unusually for me, I'm still on the fence on it," Webber explains in a column for BBC Sport. “Open-wheel, open-cockpit racing is what most racing drivers want to do – it requires incredible precision and they are the best racing cars in the world. You don't want to lose that, so we have to get this decision right. It's a big step for the sport. People are saying things like 'it's going to be ugly'. But you have to park that stuff.

“The tricky thing is to decide what exactly you are protecting against. The Grosjean incident, and a similar one involving David Coulthard and Alexander Wurz in Australia in 2007, happened because of cars climbing over each other and being launched into the air. That also happened to me when I flipped in Valencia in 2010.

“So should you shut off that option somehow by enclosing the wheels but leaving the cockpit open? Or leave the wheels open and create more cockpit protection? Personally, I feel stopping cars launching is a bigger priority, if only because I think that happens more often. Cockpit intrusion is rarer, but it still has to be taken seriously. In both cases, we have been lucky and we all know that luck will run out one day."

09/06/12 Canopies over the drivers head for protection in open wheel cars does not have to be ugly as these IndyCar and F1 illustrations show. Rather cool looking.

This futuristic and rather cool looking concept rendering shows what Formula One cars could look like in the future. The above image has been sourced from, the creator says he began work on the closed-cockpit concept after Felipe Massa’s freak accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Turns out it was a prophetic move, too. In response to Massa’s accident the Formula One Technical Working Group asked the FIA Institute, charged with improving motor sport safety and sustainability, to investigate ways to prevent similar injuries happening again. The institute has since tested two technologies that could find their way onto F1 cars of the future.

In July last year they tested polycarbonate screens, first a simple windshield and then a full canopy from a jet fighter, by shooting a 20kg F1 wheel and tire into them at 225km/h. They followed that test, earlier this year, by firing a wheel and tire into a forward-facing roll hoop.

FIA Institute technical adviser Andy Mellor said the canopy was the more successful of the two polycarbonate tests. “The full canopy manages to deflect it [the wheel and tire] over the top, and very little damage, if any, was visible after the test. There were tire transfer marks on both windshield and canopy, but on the canopy there was no apparent fracture. It shows that it’s quite an elastic material and that it’s very efficient at providing a load path to keep the wheel and tire away."

Speaking about the roll-hoop Mellor explained the test showed an unexpected benefit. “The roll-hoop basically did a very good job. It was able to keep a wheel away from a driver’s head. We tested it both by firing the wheel down the centre of the car, and also coming at it from an angle.

“The impact deflated the tire during both tests. We tend to think that’s a good thing—it means that the wheel doesn’t bounce as much. It stops much more quickly if you can deflate the tire."

If the Technical Working Group decides F1 should go down the path of closed-cockpit design, let’s hope they look something like the Iacoski rendering or the ones below. F1Insight

09/04/12 The BBC's Andrew Benson reported that F1 bosses "hope to introduce additional driver head protection" in time for the '14 season. The issue has arisen again after the crash at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean's "flying Lotus narrowly missed Fernando Alonso's head." McLaren Design Boss Paddy Lowe, a head protection expert, said: "It once again showed one of F1's biggest safety exposures is the open cockpit" BBC

Closed cockpits have been approved in drag racing

09/03/12 McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe thinks the first-corner crash will serve as a reminder about how important this work is and increase a push being made to change cockpit designs for as early as 2014.

"I think 2014 is intended, as we started the project a year ago," said Lowe, who has been involved in work on the cockpit project. "Personally I think something is inevitable because it is the one big [safety] exposure that we have got.

"You see it time and time again and think, 'That was lucky!' One day it won't be lucky. At the same time, it is an open-cockpit formula so we have to protect that, but it should be technically possible one way or another." More at

09/03/12 From casual fans to F1 professionals, there are few people who will have been able to watch the in-car footage of the start of the 2012 F1 Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday and seen cars flying over the top of drivers' exposed heads without physically flinching in response.

"We were lucky because nothing hit Fernando [Alonso] on the head," said Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali afterwards.

"It was a very risky situation and seeing one car fly over his, a few centimeters above his helmet, left us with our hearts in our mouths for a few tenths of a second," agreed the team's technical director Pat Fry.

"It looked scary," added McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose own driver Lewis Hamilton was also involved in the wreck. "It's fortunate that we got away with the accident today [without injuries.]"

Unsurprisingly, it's reopened the debate about how much more needs to be done in the sport to protect drivers' heads in the sport – even if it means abandoning the long-cherished design principle of open cockpits in F1.

"I think we've become slightly nonchalant," admitted Whitmarsh. "We see so many big enormous shunts and we're used to the driver just popping out, but you realize that they can come inches from not popping out of the car."

"We've had a number of near misses in the last three or four years," agreed McLaren's technical director Paddy Lowe, pointing to Felipe Massa's accident in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when flying debris hit him on the head and fractured his skull.

This photo, taken from the on-board camera of Alonso's Ferrari, shows how close Grosjean came to taking Alonso's head off his shoulders … and shows the need for closed cockpits in Open Wheel racing, not only F1

09/02/12 The crash at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix was one of the scariest seen in Formula 1 for some time. Triggered by Romain Grosjean, who is likely to receive a hefty penalty, no less than three cars were launched high into the air in front of a charging pack.

After Pastor Maldonado jumped the start, Grosjean squeezed Lewis Hamilton onto the grass. The now out-of-control McLaren duly tobogganed into the Lotus, taking out both Sergio Perez – who clipped Maldonado – and championship leader Fernando Alonso. Kamui Kobayashi was also tagged, ruining Sauber’s superb second and fourth grid slots.

As the F1 paddock begins to leave Spa, everybody is breathing a sigh of relief after Grosjean’s car missed Alonso’s head by centimeters.

“A good start, then a big boom and then off – I haven’t seen the images but the main thing is that we are all okay," Grosjean told reporters before being asked if he had moved over too soon. “I don’t know…as I say I haven’t seen the footage yet."

The Frenchman’s rivals were less sympathetic.

“Yeah I’m okay," Perez told BBC Sport. “I think we paid for the mistakes of other drivers. It’s a shame for myself and for the team and we’re looking forward to the next one."

The crash marked a highly disappointing end for Hamilton, who refused to speak to the media until after the race and who had arrived in Belgium as the most recent F1 winner.

“I don’t really want to talk about the start," Hamilton said bluntly. “I think people can see what happened, but huge congratulations to Jenson (Button) on a fantastic race which was like a walk in the park for him. It’s great to see that the team has great pace."

FIA stewards are not likely to take kindly to Grosjean, whose start-line tactics have already been questioned this season – not least in Monaco when he moved over on Michael Schumacher and consequently spun across the chasing field. Today’s collision is also likely to rekindle the debate over closed cockpit racing in the sport.

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