Closed cockpits aren’t a perfect solution – but they may be an improvement


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Cockpit heights were raised in F1 last year

The untimely death of Henry Surtees in a Formula Two race last weekend has re-opened the debate about whether single-seater racing cars should have open cockpits.

Surtees was killed when a stray wheel from another car struck Surtees’ crash helmet.

We’ve had discussions here before about whether single-seater cars should continue to have open cockpits (see the comment thread here). There are potential disadvantages to covering them up, but are they now outweighed by the benefits?

The reasons why cockpits have been left uncovered in the past are clear: they allow drivers to extract themselves from a car that could be on fire or in a dangerous position more quickly than if it were covered.

In much the same way drivers once raced without seatbelts – the prevailing wisdom (which, for a while, was sound reasoning) being that in the event of a car rolling over it was safer to be thrown clear than than trapped inside.

Seatbelts, of course, have been mandatory for decades. Should we similarly re-appraise our view of closed cockpits?

Weighing up the safety question

The safety argument against closed cockpits hinges around whether they make it harder to a driver to get out of a car in an emergency.

The FIA currently mandates a minimum length of time a driver must take to get out of his car. It may not be possible to evacuate a car in that time with a cockpit cover, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a broken cover might prevent the driver from being able to get out.

There could be other complications, for example, in wet weather conditions.

Arguing in favour of cockpit covers – and assuming they can be made strong enough to withstand the sort of accident that claimed poor Surtees – one would start by asking how often these days do you see a driver needing to vacate a car in a hurry?

The sight of drivers abandoning burning cars is far rarer than it once was. On the few occasions it still happens it tends to be in the case of a pit lane fire, in which case closed cockpits would surely make the driver safer.

Are drivers now at greater risk of injury from flying debris than being trapped in their cars? I suspect they are, but a better means of assessing the risk would be to look at how many recent examples there have been of drivers’ heads being struck by debris and weigh them against the number of occasions when drivers have needed to extricate themselves from a car quickly, when having a cockpit cover might have hindered their escape.

Steven of Checkpoint 10 lists some of the recent occurences of crash helmets being hit by objects. To these we could add Martin Brundle in 1994, who was hit by a wheel which was still attached to Jos Verstappen’s flying Benetton. How many similar accidents have there been in recent years, and how many times might cockpit covers have threatened driver safety? Please volunteer any suggestions of your own in the comments.

No reason not to?

There are also arguments against cockpits made on non-safety grounds: mainly, that it would change the fundamental nature of F1 cars (and other single-seaters), reducing harm their appeal. Several people made that case here when we discussed the topic following David Coulthard and Alexander Wurz’s crash in 2007.

Do such arguments hold water when drivers’ lives are at risk? Or would bringing in closed cockpits be an over-reaction to a tragic but freak accident?


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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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139 comments on “Closed cockpits aren’t a perfect solution – but they may be an improvement”

  1. I think the coroners report that determines the exact cause of death, is needed before a discussion about closed cockpits would be appropriate, there were many parts attached to that wheel, any one could have been factors.

    1. So you believe that that wheel flying into his head had nothing to do with his death?

  2. I think this was just a freak accident. Closed cockpits aren’t necessary.

  3. Jonesracing82
    22nd July 2009, 7:40

    this was a freak accident! if the wheel was even 50cm either side or higher, it would have missed him completely!
    i am suprised wheel tethers arnt mandatory on all single seaters! this would have stopped the wheel from flying loose in the 1st place…..

    1. i read that they were on the f2 cars but failed in this particular incident. i could be wrong though. you’d think it would be mandatory. maybe the tethers need to be revised even for f1. some wheels do still fly.

      1. you’re right, there are wheel tethers on f2 cars. just failed this time. i read jonathan palmer saying they were built to f1 standards with tethers.

  4. Jonesracing82 – I agree, though tethers *were* used in that race. I read somewhere, though, that they aren’t as strong as those in F1 and thus failed in this one case :(

    I would vote against enclosed cockpits – the drivers already have much more protection than in the past, and we haven’t had a death in 15 years (plus Senna was killed by his steering column, so roof or not, he would’ve died).

    Open-top racing adds driver personality to the experience – the waving, the angry gestures, the celebrations at the end of a race… close-top racing takes away the face of racing, and they just because anonymous cars zooming around, like BTTC, NASCAR et al

  5. I think these cars were equipped with tethers .
    Jason Plato the touring car driver tested the Caparo t1 on fifth gear which is not to dissimilar to an F1 car with a closed cockpit and was burnt when the engine caught fire and i wondered if an F1 car was made closed cockpit would that not just add an un-necessary risk ? .
    This was an unfortunate accident.

    1. I do believe the Caparo in the Jason Plato test was open cockpit. I think the complication in Jason’s case was his not wearing his inflammable flightsuit (although, for a “production road car”, that should not have been necessary)

  6. Wheel tethers are mandatory in F2. And just think of how sexy the Caparo T1 is with it’s closed cockpit, it looks much better that way than it does with the open one. If F1 cars can be made to look that good with closed cockpits, it’s fine by me!

  7. PrisonerMonkeys
    22nd July 2009, 8:06

    While Surtees’ death was a tragic accident, it was just that: an accident, and I think people are over-reacting to it. I am by no means a student of physics, but I do know that there were so many variables in play in the accident that having closed cockpits isn’t going to do anything.

    Take the last time something like this happened, when Jacques Villeneuve crashed at Melbourne and a marshall died. The tyre from the BAR was forty-six centimetres wide. The gap in the fence was forty-seven. If Villeneuve, Schumacher or even the guys immediately in front of them had been going faster or slower be even five kilometres through the turn beforehand, the accident would have been very different.

    Surtees’ accident is the same. The tyre from Clarke’s car hit him directly. If Surtees had missed the apex way back at Druids’ (assuming the rest of his lap had remained exactly the same), the accident would have been different. Strengthening wheel tethers and having enclosed cockpits is not the answer because motorsport has inherent dangers. You simply cannot account for every possible scenario. It’s like saying “I’m not going to go outside today because a meteor might hit me”. We go outside all the time and meteors don’t hit us, and that same meteor can still hit my house and kill me just as much as if it had hit me outside. If you look at the accident again, Clarke’s wheel hit Surtees directly. The timing, speeds, positioning and conditions for both cars had to be perfect in order for that to happen. If Surtees has been going five kiloemtres faster, the tyre would have hit his engine cowling. If Clarke had been going five kilometres slower when he left the track, there would have been less energy in the impact and the tyre would have followed a completely different trajectory.

    Enclosing the cars might make the Safety Brigade happy, but motorsport is already safer than its already been. The problem is that Newton throws something at you that you never see coming, regardless of how good your design is.

    1. Now here’s a bloke saying smart stuff! I won’t add anything because it’s not needed, I’ll just second him.

    2. Totally agree, the key word is ‘Accident’, an unforeseeable tragedy. Wrapping people in cotton wool might stop it happening. But then eventually something else will happen. It’s called risk.

    3. I could not agree more..nice smart analysis.

    4. You cannot seriously be equating the risk of getting struck by a tyre in a motor race to the risk of getting struck by a meteorite when you step outside your house. Weighing up the costs and benefits of risk prevention is a delicate business, and the precise details of the case matter.

      Because the risk of a meteorite impact on your head is low, the expected costs of preventative measures outweigh the expected benefits. This is not so clear in the case of motor racing, when we are talking about a situation where the risks are higher, and the costs don’t always outweigh the benefits.

      Take the Villeneuve example. A 46cm tyre through a 47cm gap. How unlucky! But why the Hell were the gaps wider than the tyres? Would it have been costly to remove that risk? No, it wouldn’t, and the marshall would still be alive.

      1. 10 people die on UK roads each week. That’s a lot more than have died from motor racing. But you still drive a car on UK roads? (Apols if you’re not in the UK, but the point is relevant).

        Accidents happen. Unfortunately.

        1. 10 people die on UK roads each week.

          Each day actually ! Amounting to around 3,500 fatalities per year.Or about the same number that died on 9-11 !

          Be careful out there !

          P.S. I am not Max Mosley ! LOL

      2. The reason why the gap was wider than the tyre was because the tyre bent the gap out of alignment during the accident with the kinetic energy it possessed. The gap was designed to be only 40cm, which would have kept a 46cm object out.

        There had evidently been an attempt to remove the risk before the accident, but it was only once it happened that the attempt was revealed to be insufficent. Regrettably, a lot of safety development is done that way simply because people haven’t learned to predict everything yet.

    5. I’m surprised so many people fall for this overly simplified and erroneous analysis.

      The fact that risks are small doesn’t mean they are non existent.

      A remark like “it’s safer now than before” doesn’t say anything.

      There is only a small chance that you get into a car accident. Yet you wear seat belts (or at least are required to do so). Why?

      The only reason a safety feature should be rejected is if it’s unreasonable (overly expensive or unworkable in real life) or if it’s counterproductive (creates other safety issues).

      To be honest I don’t even see the need to race in open wheel cars. The whole principle is ridiculously dangerous. Cars flip and wheels fly off way too often.

      1. Then why watch it. Why follow it in the forums?
        It obviously has some attraction for you to be here commenting.
        I like open wheel racing the best. I believe you must be better than other forms of motorsport because you have no room for erro in side by side racing.
        I like other forms of racing but F1 and other open wheel events are what I spend money on.

        1. Some people like(d) gladiator fights to the death or bull fights. Doesn’t mean that it’s safe.

      2. I like open wheel racing for the precision it requires but it seems odd that the cockpit sides are becoming so high. The Coulthard incident showed a risk, but I have seen others where rear wheels have come to rest in the cockpit, spinning in the the driver’s face. Wouldn’t a partly enclosed cockpit make more sense than the high sides? Something like a windscreen (with structure) that pops out with the section of the cockpit that pops out now.

    6. I am going to jump on PrisonerMonkeys band wagon and say that was very well summed up.You make very smart and insightful comments mate.

    7. excellent statement of the situation and the sport. It is inherently dangerous. People will get hurt and others will be killed. It is the nature of the sport. People need to quit trying to save the lowest common denominator in these events.
      Sometimes bad things happen to good people, it is sad but true. We do not need to continuee to neuter the sport. Enough of that has happened since Ayrton Senna.

      1. Excellent indeed. It’s unsafe so who cares if a few more die. Why even think about further improving safety …

    8. Of course it was an accident, by definition, as it wasn’t deliberate. The issue isn’t whether it was an accident but whether closed cockpits would increase survival in this and other accidents that would subject a driver to serious or lethal injury. Underlying this is a question of if they would increase survival should or should they not be required.

      I think your second paragraph is irrelevant as that accident had nothing to do with open cockpit safety.

      Moving to what I call the “if” paragraph. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ifs, but I think the one that counts is if nothing is learned from this then that is a true tragedy. I do not think that we here have all the information, or the knowledge if we had the information, to make a rational decision as to whether to leave the cockpit open or to enclose it. Perhaps with the application of sufficient technology the driver in an open cockpit can be protected from direct frontal impact by tyres, birds, or other objects that are detected as high risk for a frontal impact. Again, I think what counts is that this be studied and options be evaluated. If there is a compelling reason to implement changes then that should be done.

      Yes, motorsport is already safer than it’s ever been but I don’t think you are suggesting that the end has been reached and there is no need to make it safer if the opportunity exists.

      Finally, for me, I think there may be safety drawbacks to enclosing. I do think the idea of detection and deployment of a deflections shield could be considered. Also, take a close look at those tether failures.

  8. As sad as Surtees’ death is, this was indeed a freak accident.

    On, I believe, the Autosport forum, I read a post asking how many other drivers were in that race, or at Brands Hatch that weekend, or racing on other circuits in the world, who weren’t hurt? One of them sadly happened to be at that spot at that exact time, and didn’t survive.

    Motor racing is still a dangeours sport. But that’s what makes it stand out among other sport-like activities. To quote E.M. Hemingway: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games”.

    I pray for God’s comfort to the Surtees family.

  9. Sush Meerkat
    22nd July 2009, 8:09

    what about when Kimi’s KERS decided to explode? and filled his cockpit up with putrid acid smoke, unbreathable smoke by the way.

    Or last year at Melbourne I think it was, Jarno Tulli’s Toyota batteries exploding and leaking acid onto his bum. I remember him jumping out of his Toyota in the pit box.

    1. I was going to bring this up.

      All the fire suppresent cemicals are unbreathable

      Unfortantly if you bring in a closed cockpits you just open up another load of problems.

    2. I was going to bring this situation up. Kimi could have died if the cockpit were closed.

      Also, how strong would that cockpit cover be? Surely it would break into piece upon being stuck by a flying tyre.

      The risks closed cockpits would bring would by far outwheigh the problems it solves.

  10. This should be a safety issue, not an aesthetic one. Joe Saward says in his blog about this subject that wheel tethers are double-edged sword. Wheels can and will come off (we saw it in F1 as well) but if you increse the strenght of tethers in case of an accident you can rip off the whole side of a monocoque…

    1. Been reading the comments. Have to jump in here.

      but if you increse the strenght of tethers in case of an accident you can rip off the whole side of a monocoque…

      Increased-strength wheel tethers might indeed pull the suspension away from the body, or even pull off parts of the body, but the driver’s cocoon has it’s own integrity.

      Witness Kubica’s horrifying crash in Canada. That car disintegrated, the whole rear of the car ripped away, as well as the nose. But the driver cocoon remained intact. Indeed, the biggest piece left of that car WAS the driver cocoon.

      By ALL means, let’s look into better tethers for wheels before we talk about covered cockpits.

      The odds of that tire coming down precisely on Surtees’ head are astronomical against, making it what I would term a “freak” accident.

      And if you notice in the video, TWO tires came fully away from the cars. The one that hit Surtees, and the matching left rear on Surtees’ own car after hitting the barrier in the runoff.

      TWO left rears came fully off the cars, two tether failures on two different cars. Let’s look at the tether systems first, before anything else.

      The last person to die from a head injury was 25 years ago. Yes, there may have been some close brushes, but no deaths. That means the safety measures currently in force are serving the intended purpose.

      1. Keith, we really need that “Edit” feature, lol.

        In my post, “25 years” should have read “15 years”.

        Sorry for the typo, folks.

        1. I agree, everything must be done to insure safety of the drivers…

  11. Very unfortunate, but this is racing and this guys know that death is an inevitable part of it.

    Accidents happen and we CAN’T account for all variables that go into play.

    Yes, we can try and make it safer (stronger tethers) but we can’t change the cars into russian tanks.

  12. I think this is more an argument for strengthening the wheel tethers in all forms of open-wheel racing and taking more of the safety features used in F1 cars into the other series.
    Having a completely enclosed cockpit would create a completely different car, neither open-wheeler or saloon, with different aerodynamics to either of them.
    F1 drivers are getting pretty anonymous anyway, since we can only identify them by their helmet designs – I think we are soon going to have saloon car style driver’s names on the sides of the cars, since the drivers are pretty much hidden away by all the safety features as it is…..

    1. like mclaren’s west cigarette advertising removal. i can’t see how a closed cockpit would work. would it be like a fibreglass dome or something? similar to the batmobile???

      1. i loved west!!! the best livery ever. hope we get back tobacco adverts back in formula one. kick out all the telecom & banking investment companies. they are un-appealing to the human eye. especially ING. baby vomit livery. yuckk!!

  13. I think we need to be looking more at the stray wheel than the open cockpits

  14. The death of Henry was terrible.

    I think we all need to think on how many open cockpit races actually take place across the world and how many accidents there are like this.

    It is extremely rare for a freak accident to happen like this. Rather than looking at closed cockpits, i think, in the case of F2, the wheel tethers need looking at. Wheels flying off like that shouldnt happen. Looks to me like the tethers were nowhere near strong enough to cope with that sort of impact. Its not the first time its happened in F2 this season. How often do you see that happen in F1? Its very rare for wheels to come flying off like that even after a very heavy impact.

    As mentioned in an earlier post, DC was in a very close incident a couple of years back with a car literally flying over his head. Again, this is a rare occurrence and fortunately nobody was hurt in this occasion.

    These guys that are here to race know the risks involved with racing cars. It is a dangerous sport and far safer today that it has ever been. I am not sure closed cockpits is the solution though as I feel that it will open another can of worms.

    1. yeh, more chance of being killed walking down the street.i agree about the tethers as well.

    2. If we are thinking about the same accident then it was David Coulthard flying over Wurz – that is why there are increased cockpit sides in place now.

  15. Closed cockpits would be difficult to keep clean I think, from oil, water… now the drivers have laminated tear off visor, so they can have a clear view almost anytime. (Or it will make certain driver panicing)

    At some races they have already very high cockpit temperature now. With a closed cockpit I don’t know.

    1. that’s what i was thinking too. also, it could be quite disorientating for drivers under lights like in singapore.

  16. it only takes a replay of kubica’s crash in canada to realise how safe the cars really are.

    henry’s death was tragic, but the drivers know they are in a very dangerous sport. no one wants to see these guys get hurt but it’s motor racing, there’s always going to be some kind of danger. people will crash, people will get hurt.

    if you close the cockpit there will just be other ways drivers will get hurt when there’s a crash.

    lots of other series’ are closed cockpit and they still sustain injuries. its not the solution.

  17. Universal and stronger wheel tehers would be far more logical and less controversial (amongst drivers) than cockpit covers. these days It is already very difficult to extricate an injured or unconscious driver from single seaters of nearly all current formulae. Covers would only worsen that situation. I’d be surprised if many F1/GP2/A1GP/F3 drivers would support covers.

    1. I don’t understand how wheel tethers can be designed to withstand the massive shearing forces present in impacts between car and wall. For any design there will be a range of angles, impact speeds etc. that the wheel tether will not be designed for, and the same will happen.

      Wheel tethers are designed to keep the wheel attached to the car in the event of things like suspension failure. They cannot be expected to keep the wheel on the car in every conceivable situation. Surtees’ death was a tragic accident, unavoidable in the circumstances.

  18. Dangerous sports, so this kind of things happens sometimes no matter how well safety things are arranged.
    Even If they drive with unarmed tanks, the tanks could crash, other one starts to burn inside while the other one is blocking way out.
    Still, freak accident….and too young man is gone now…it´s never easy…


  19. Overreacting to the death of a racing driver, no matter how tragic, could do more harm than good.

    Perhaps a closed cockpit could have offered Henry Surtees a degree of protection. The Frank Costin designed Protos F2 car ran a closed cockpit in the 1960s without much success, but that was used for its aerodynamic benefits.

    A modern cockpit canopy would have to be very strong to bring any benefits and also well secured to the car to absorb the energy of the errant tyre, and this is another problem. Too weakly secured and it may come off too easily, too strong and it might hamper efforts to free a trapped driver. This is possibly not insurmountable, but a number of aircraft pilots were killed by canopies not acting as intended before the issue was more or less resolved.

    Driver visibility is also a possible issue. Would it be possible to make the canopy sufficiently strong without compromising the already limited view in the mirrors or the driver’s view of the track? Likewise, what else would need to be added to the car in the event of a wet race? Canopies have a nasty tendancy to mist up.

    Ultimately, though, this was very much a freak accident. How often do we see single seater drivers (as opposed to cars) hit by large chunks of debris from other cars? Not very often. I’ve seen the list on Checkpoint 10, but I’m not sure how relevant most of the incidents it mentions are.

    Helmuth Koinigg (much like rising star Gerry Birrell in an F2 race around the same time) was decapitated by a poorly installed barrier – the solution was proper installation of Armco, which also did for Roger Williamson at Zandvoort in 1973. Tom Pryce hit a marshall and his heavy fire extinguisher head on at high speed – the solution was for marshalls not to cross the track while cars were still at racing speed. Markus Höttinger was hit by an errant wheel – but would probably have been saved by a combination of wheel tethers and better medical facilities at the track. Marco Campos’ crash was horrific (much like Greg Moore’s fatal Indycar crash) – but any canopy would have had to have been immensely strong to have made a meaningful difference. Ayrton Senna was killed when a piece of suspension pierced his helmet – 2009 standard wheel tethers and better circuit safety could have made a difference. Circuit safety (the unfortunate position of a tree) was also an issue in the Jeff Krosnoff shunt.

    I’m not convinced that closed cockpits are the right solution.

    1. Nicely said, Tim, nicely said.

  20. The_Pope

    “we haven’t had a death in 15 years (plus Senna was killed by his steering column, so roof or not, he would’ve died)”

    This is not true and there is some conjecture about how he died but the main reasons are Senna was killed by part of the suspension rods partially penetrating his helmet via the visor causing injury, but additionally his head was forced back (possibly by the front wheel) causing skull fractures. One thing is certain is that it was not the steering column – Williams’ engineers were acquitted in the court case of this causing the accident let alone being responsible for killing Senna.

    Closed cockpits will more likely cause more problems and injuries than the unlucky incident that tragically killed Henry Surtees. No need for them.

  21. If you want to have closed cockpits, put ejector seats inside the cars, so the problem of a driver being stuck inside the cockpit would be moot.

  22. Arguments like motorsport is dangerous, death is a part of it, etc, are just stupid. Why do we watch racing? Because the drivers are daredevils and bad accidents will occur? Then I can think of other spectacles where people take even bigger risks. I don’t want to see accidents. I want to see good racing. Looking at very old accidents and thinking “what would have been” is pointless since the car itself is so much different today and the chain of events can’t be compared. Speculating that people would have survived if the medical treatment was better is also is dumb line of reasoning. With full hindsight we all know better.

    The problem with flying wheels in open-wheel formulas is one that will probably never be solved. F1 demands tethers, but still we see wheels fly away even for minor accidents. Instead of spending money on that, a “dumb” solution with some sort of bar protecting the driver is the way to go. I don’t think the reasons for an 100% “open” cockpit are that valid anymore. And how come no one questions the drivers ability to quickly get out of an ordinary race car (WTCC, Nascar, Le Mans type, etc)? Another problem with open wheel racing is cars flipping over. We almost saw that again during the F2 race. Some sort of extra protection minimize the risk in those kind of accidents as well.

    1. Good post. Everyone else on here seems to just accept the risk of death, but why should we? Motorsport has got a lot safer and can become safer still. Innovation is the key. There is no point being conservative.

      Tethers are better than nothing, and if it’s true that the F2 cars have weaker tethers than the F1 cars then that’s an outrage. What goes for F1 should go for the other formulas. And if the best tethers still break, make stronger ones.

      1. Travelling at high speed brings with it an increased chance of serious injury and as we have seen recently, death.
        I’m not saying that this is acceptable – it’s simply a law of physics that when hard, fast moving things slow down very very quickly and come into contact with a person or indeed vice versa something has to give.
        No, the only way to stop serious injury or death is to stop moving at high speeds. Best stop racing then?
        Or better still – control the ‘knee jerk’ response and realise that it is an inherent risk.
        With hindsight non of our famous dead drivers would have the accident again…

      2. You risk death every day. Most risk less than others but all risk death in some form or fashion.
        The argument that it is dangerous is not stupid. It is inherently obvious. The facts that parts flying off of cars that are travelling over 300kph are just as lwthat as bullets out of guns. We are just lucky that virtually no one is hit by these parts. Several years back there was a CART race in Michingan I believe and during the accident a wheel flew off the car and landed in the grandstands, injuring several and I believe it killed 1, we all also remember the Mercedes at LeMans that took mercedes out of motorsports for 2 decades, so even watching the race has its own set of dangers. Driving in it just amplifies the levels, and when things go bad then bad things happen.
        These are people that race for many reasons and they know of the dangers.
        The attitude that we can have the same type and level of racing is being extremely naieve.

  23. One accident like this in god knows how long, there’s no point of changing things just because of this one thing. Yeah, its sad that its happened, but people dye in sports everyday, it happens, I think everything in F1 regarding safety is fine.

    1. Famous last words…

  24. I think something like the roll cage used on Top Fuel Dragsters would probably work. It would probably protect the drivers heads without totally enclosing the cockpit.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      22nd July 2009, 11:22

      That’s what I was thinking.
      In the event of a crash, how quickly can a Dragster driver get out?
      I’m not keen on the fully enclosed idea for reasons of heat retention, rain clearance (would require wipers) and access by marshalls in an emergency. But a roll hoop in front of the drivers head (as well as behind) might work.
      If it was designed properly, it might be possible to decrease the height of the cockpit sides at driver head level, and allow the driver slightly more peripheral vision into the bargain.

      1. Hi Hounslow

        In the event of a crash, how quickly can a Dragster driver get out?

        About as quickly as you can install a puppy into your boot using only your feet and a shoehorn clenched between your teeth.

        I speak from personal experience. It isn’t done quickly, or even gracefully, and requires the help of one’s crew to do it properly and without spraining muscles.

        The opening line of the Hippocratic Oath is “First, do no harm.”

        I hope FiA keeps that in mind as this investigation into poor young Surtees’ death continues.

        This is a time for cool heads and rational realistic decisions, not emotion-fuelled reaction.

        Sorry, I know you didn’t comment on that last part, it just came to mind.

        1. HounslowBusGarage
          23rd July 2009, 20:39

          No problem, dsob.
          I was just trying to think of how to protect at the front of the cockpit without resorting to a closed cover. As other posters have suggested a ‘forward’ roll hoop might work if the opening straight ahead was made less than the diameter of the front wheel of the car.
          The current regs are that a driver must be able to remove himself from the car without removal of any bodywork or structure apart from the steering wheel. So currently the FIA open wheel regs preclude any kind of canopy or roof.

  25. Ethnic_Tension
    22nd July 2009, 11:08

    A a closed cockpit solution, if not executed correctly could cause more harm than good. For starters you would need an explosive bolt system in order to blow the top off if the direver needs to exit quickly. There is also the added complexity of what happens if the accident is significant enough to warp the safety cell of the car causing the canopy to jam or to become unremovable without aid. As many have said before me, freak accidents will continue to occur regardless of the progress of safety.

  26. The sight of drivers abandoning burning cars is far rarer than it once was.

    Remember cars may drive with a greater amount of fuel next year :)

  27. There’s no need for a closed cockpit. The only addition that I think is possible, is a small bar over the helmet. Angled ~45° forwards from the high sides that are present, with a quick release. Just giving that bit more protection and slowing a wheel down before it strikes a helmet. It might deflect a flying car enough to avoid helmet contact. Or make the helmets larger, and give them a greater controlled deformable volume.

    Of course, motor racing is dangerous! We don’t want fatalities and serious injuries, but it’s part of the job. The same as being the refueller for Massa!

  28. If you look at how many single-seater racing series there are in the world, and count up the number of times drivers in those series have been struck on the head, I’d say its a very rare occurence.

    It might sound pretty unsavoury so soon after the death of a racing driver, but motorsport needs to retain at least some element of danger. The human body wasn’t designed to whizz around at 190mph and its a testament to modern technology that we are able to do these things with a relatively low level of risk.

    There will always be freak accidents – just as in any sport – and I don’t think we should start throwing wholesale changes at the cars to try and prevent them.

    Just my opinion.

  29. F1 is safer than it has ever been and getting safer all the time, but that doesn’t mean it is safe or will ever be safe. I don’t think it will ever happen but if an enclosed cockpit was introduced for increased driver protection, I would think a similar design to a dragster rollcage as opposed to a full ‘canopy’ would be most appropriate.

    In this instance (and all open wheel racing), better wheel tethers clearly should be highest on the priority list.

  30. You can only tether the wheel by so much.If the tethers are too strong you run the risk of a wheel getting caught in armco or whatever and ripping out the entire corner of a car and therefore putting its driver in jeopardy.Not strong enough and you have wheels bouncing uncontrollably all over the place.

    At the moment they are a compromise between the two.They stop the wheels from having too much momentum when they do come off,but don’t compromise the safety of the driver whose car it came off.

  31. Maybe, instead of closed, they could have a double roll – bar : one vertical, another one at a 45 degree angle looking forwards.

  32. I think if you quantify the occurrences of such accidents and do the math, you’d be faced with a harsh truth that open wheel racing is as safe if not safer than closed car racing. (taking in mind rallying, nascar, LeMans, Touring cars in general).

    I felt very sad about young Surtees’ early passing. especially that he was not implicated in the initial crash. But we must accept that this sport has its dangers. since 1994, advances in safety have made death almost non existent in F1, and i understand the will to overreact, but that is it.

    When you are running in a car at 200kph, it’s dangerous, things might happen, might be fire, crash, lost wheel… or even a stray dog… but that is the risk the drivers are willing to take.

    in the past racing cars was almost likened to playing Russian roulette, it still is, but that revolver has one hell of a big Cylinder.

    Rest In Peace Henry Surtees

    1. That doesn’t make sense at all. Open wheel cars are very much more dangerous than closed cars.

      Open wheel cars adds a lot of extra risk like cars touching wheels, wheels braking off, drivers exposed etc etc

      Some types of racing indeed introduce other risks due to their environments, like driving on roads with trees and ravines next to them (rallying) or racing next to concrete walls in an effort to create as much crashes as possible (NASCAR), but that has nothing to do with the safety of the vehicles themselves.

      1. Indeed Patrick,

        but i wasn’t meaning the safety in relation to the vehicle, but to motor sport in general. the risk is their whatever discipline you are competing in, things happen when you defy physics. even Karting has some risks.

        i think in terms of car design and safety, true, open wheel drivers have less of a buffer, but the safety cell they are strapped into is at the moment one of the safest creations ever (at least in F1), it’s debris that is the main concern here, and failing wheel tethers, but that is a risk we need to take, or else we race GT games on PS and Xbox….

        1. Touring cars have the same protective cell structure. For instance, a DTM car has a carbon fibre monocoque inside it.

          It’s also not just debris that is the risk, but open wheel cars are much more prone to flying off and hitting something with the drivers head. Like Jeff Krossnof. His car got launched on another cars wheel and flew off into the fence. A closed wheel car wouldn’t have flown away to begin with and even if it hit a fence the driver would have some sort of protection (the roof).

          Touring car drivers die because they hit something at high speed or if they are stranded on track and get hit by another car at high speed.

          Same risk exists for open wheel cars, but then open wheel adds a whole load of extra risks.

          Obviously people are willing to suffer these risks. Otherwise they wouldn’t be racing in rally cars, NASCAR or open wheel cars.

          Still that doesn’t mean the risk doesn’t exist or that care should be taken to reduce risks (or damage) as much as possible.

          1. not just debris that is the risk, but open wheel cars are much more prone to flying off and hitting something with the drivers head. Like Jeff Krossnof. His car got launched on another cars wheel and flew off into the fence

            I don’t recall that Krosnoff’s death was attributed solely to head injury. I think his wreck has gotten mention in this thread because it was quite a spectacular wreck, and plays to people’s emotions.

            Emotions in these times are bad things. Analytical thinking is what’s needed.

            Obviously people are willing to suffer these risks. Otherwise they wouldn’t be racing in rally cars, NASCAR or open wheel cars.

            Glad you mentioned NASCAR. They have not only an “enclosed cockpit”, they have a full body with a King-Kong strength rollcage. And drivers have still been killed in NASCAR.

            No matter what the motorsport series, if they go fast enough, race on the edge long enough, there are going to be fatalities.

            So, as someone asked earlier, is the answer then to stop racing altogether? Of course not, that is the emotional knee-jerk reaction, as that person indicated.

            Is the answer then to enclose the F1 cockpit? Perhaps (though I don’t really think so)-but the air conditioning unit is really going to change the weight bias on the cars.

            Or shall we just look into why 2 tethers on 2 different cars in that F2 race broke ? And deal with that?

  33. More research into manufacturing teathers that actually work is what’s necessary.

    You just have to see Kubica’s crash at Melbourne this year to see that they aren’t working.

  34. Maybe they should allow drivers to pick if they want to drive with a lid on or not, like in the NHL, players choose if they want a visor to protect their eyes from pucks and sticks. Drivers know the risks when they get into the car, I would be interested in what the current F1 drivers would have to say about a cover.

    Forcing closed cockpits would be an over-reaction imho.

    1. A closed cockpit would be a major aero advantage

  35. No one has pointed out that a current formula of high-powered cars have enclosed cockpits, and have addressed various logistical issues, e.g., rain clearance, condensation, fire retardation, escape time.

    LMP cars and their predecessors have had modern polycarbonate enclosures and roll structures for a long time. They work. And I’ll point out that checkpoint’s list did not include Michele Alboreto accident in testing, attributed, I believe, to his Audi’s failed roll hoop. The double hoop structure on an enclosed sports prototype is extremely effective.

    I think enclosing the wheels is another related safety measure, to prevent cars flipping after contact and allowing structures to keep wheels in place.

    Of course, this would make F1 cars look more like the XJR-14 and similar, which would be OK with me.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      22nd July 2009, 20:19

      So, this would be a . . . single seat LMP-type cars for F1, F2, F3 etc?

    2. But aren’t the rules for next year’s LMP cars changing to only have enclosed cabins?

  36. One in a million accident, guy just had a bad luck!

  37. Max should resign now!!!
    22nd July 2009, 16:37

    Since it’s a safety issue I would ask the drivers first and if they would agree I’d go with a closed cockpit…BUT ONLY if it’s a transparent “jet fighter” looking cover. I don’t know I think you guys know what I mean If it’s there then I should barely see it.

  38. What I was trying to say on Checkpoint 10 (which, by the way, I thank you guys for visiting) was that this was no freak accident. Most collisions involve flying parts or overturning cars, and once in a while you *will* have something flying at the driver’s helmet. When you just look at the list of fatalities, it seems to me a very common way to die is to hit something with your head while flipping or being hit. I think this actually tops the list for predictable and preventable tragedies, more so than failure to get out of a car quickly.

    The other common racing death was the basilar skull fracture, the risk of which has fortunately been reduced by the HANS device.

    As DMW mentioned, Le Mans prototypes have had enclosed cockpits for years and they work. Probably the canopy saved the lives of the Mercedes drivers whose cars flipped violently at Le Mans in 1999.

    1. Max should resign now!!!
      22nd July 2009, 17:09

      Wasn’t that Mark Webber who was driving the Mercedes?

      1. Yep, sure was. I think they had three flips over the race week. I think his team-mate had it happen to him too.

  39. I think we could go one better. Lets do away with real cars all together. In the current state of technological knowledge, the FIA could build a super simulator for a 24 starters grid. Perfect mock cockpits would be put in place and moved around the world just for the fun of the event. The races would be on TV, but ticket could be sold so that people could come to special venues where they could see the drivers racing their simulators while seeing the race on a screen. Each team in the championship would be allowed to sell ad space in their cars and would have to pay for their drivers and engineers (yes, we would still have pit stops and all). In fact one could give them more than just the opportunity to tune the car – They could be given specific bits of the software that they could “optimize”, while restrained some set of rules (for instance, they could come with different wing desings). If the physics of the simulator are top notch, this would provide quite some ground for performance differenciation. And just think about the possibilities regarding tracks – we could have the old Nurburgring and the old Spa back!! No worries about safety or the necessary logistics to cover a 23 km track. Environmentaly correct. Cheap. Super safe. And would allow the pool from which drivers are selected into the sport to grow exponentialy. Great stuff.

    1. Amen man.
      I am just thinking of how soccer players have sudden heart failures (they wouldn’t if they weren’t running in the first place) and how many people die in sailing races or horse races.
      I nearly stopped watching for good, and indeed stopped for some races, after Ayrton Senna’s death. But I still watch F1 and I still watch soccer. Nothing is perfect.

  40. I don’t like the idea of enclosed cockpits because like many have already said, it would prevent a quick escape for the drivers.
    It would also mean that the cars would have to be completely redesigned. I imagine that the cockpit would looke strikingly similiar that of a fighter plane, and they seem aerodynamic enough! lol
    This was just a freak accident though, no one persons fault. He probably didn’t even see the tire or he thought he would get passed it. It was accident, a sad one, but then accidents usually are. Here in Ontario Canada, a woman and her husband were eating lunch and a piece of cement landed on her head and killed her. Its sad, but things happen, she didn’t put herself in dangerous situation, Surtees did, he knew the risks, but he died doing something he loves. Not many people can say that.

  41. racing is dangerous and they all know the risks. lets not go to far down the health and safety road. The sport needs that element of danger.

  42. i agree with all friends here who are in support of closed cockpit. as keith points out , the major concern with closed cockpits seems to be with in case of a fire. i suggest we have something like a seat ejection, as they have in all modern fighter aircrafts. when racing yachts which have no tyres have closed cockpits, there is no reason why formula one cars shouldn’t have one. as for the problem of visiblity during rain, we could easily have a mini air conditioning system within the cockpit. that would eliminate the problem of visibility. this closed cockpit must immediately be implemented.

    1. Why are pople so fond of knee jerk reactions?
      What happens if closed cockpits are implemented, then someone burns to death in the cockpit. I can already hear the crys for ‘open cockpit’.

      Let the racers race, it is their chosen sport and accidents will always happen. (unless you cut the speed to 10mph and turn the cars into bumper cars).

      1. Mark Hitchcock
        22nd July 2009, 18:59

        “Why are people so fond of knee jerk reactions?”

        Because it’s distressing to see someone needlessly die when it could have potentially been prevented.

      2. Let the racers race, it is their chosen sport and accidents will always happen.

        Exactly right. It’s terrible that Henry Surtees was killed but motorsport is always going dangerous.

        Closed cockpits do not appeal to me at all.
        They are part of the reason I like F1 so much (and also the reason I’m looking forward to driving a little Formula Sheane over the Mazda 3, at Mondello).

        If you start with the whole “closed cockpit on an F1 car” business then we might as well just watch Touring cars, (although they are pretty cool too, and the can follow real close.)

    2. Ejector seats ?

      Back to reality mate, an ejector seat weighs at least 95 KG and the cheapest ones come in at about $250,000.

      The minimum weight in F1 is 605 KG, adding another 95 KG is going to make the cars a whole lot slower, a whole lot bigger as well as increasing the amount of energy in a crash.

      There’s little chance of making them any lighter because the ones used in fighter jets are already as light as they can be.
      The height of an ejection system would also be about double the height of an F1 car as you don’t just have the seat, there’s also the whole mounting structure too.

      You’ve then got the added safety concerns resulting from adding several KG’s of rocket fuel to the drivers seat & the possibility of accidental activation mid-race or God forbid, while the car is upside down or going through the tunnel at Monaco.

      Then you factor in the possibility of the driver ejecting or landing into a grandstand full of spectators.

      Putting ejector seats into F1 cars is a recipe for disaster, you’d end up killing twenty people for every one you saved.

      I think DMW has a far better idea, LMP cars have been enclosed for a while now and the concept seems to be working well, the cars also look fantastic and they’re hardly slow.

      I don’t really think we need to make the cars with an enclosed cockpit but if they’re going to (and they’re probably not) then I’d go for something based on the LMP concept.

    3. i suggest we have something like a seat ejection, as they have in all modern fighter aircrafts

      So what happens if the car comes to rest upside down?

    4. i suggest we have something like a seat ejection, as they have in all modern fighter aircrafts.

      Are you crazy? This was a tragic accident, yes, but this is way over the top (literally).

    5. Then while we are at it we can give thm pretty panties with frillies on them and a pretty little cushion to sit on….Come on get real.

  43. A very sad event, but one which is a lot less frequent than in John Surtees’ days at the top, thank goodness. My deepest sympathies to everyone concerned.

    Does a cockpit cover have to be solid? Couldn’t cars have a tubular cage around the cockpit? I know it would be an aerodynamic challenge for the designers, but it could help if properly done. Ugly to look at too!

  44. If they make them closed cockpits then the teams may as well up sticks and join the LMS. Free of CVC

  45. whos got the gigital fortitude to slap together a photoshoped image of what a F1 car would look like as a closed air racer???…i know ur out there, and ill be waiting.

        1. Sorry but those are crap.

          1. Haha, why the appology? They are not supposed to be works of art, just 2 minute visualisations…

          2. Actually Bernard – a genuine apology! As what I said comes across as downright nasty.
            What I meant was the sight of an F1 car with a canopy is crap!
            While your images probably won’t end up on my wall – they serve very well in illustating the potential ridiculousness of such canopies!

          3. Actually Bernard – a genuine apology! As what I said comes across as downright nasty.
            What I meant was the sight of an F1 car with a canopy is crap!
            While your images probably won’t end up on my wall – they serve very well in illustating the potential ridiculousness of such canopies!

            No worries pSynrg. :)

        2. Great pictures! I’ve been thinking, though, if Formula 1 cars were redesigned with glass canopies, they should probably be a little higher (for more head clearance) with the air intake being shaped around it, off to the sides. It could result in some unique solutions and give us some different looking cars for once.

          1. Thanks Steven, yeah adding a canopy does raise additional questions and opportunities.

          2. Bernard, great graphics. That Macca shot actally looks pretty good.

            And Steven brings in an interesting point. Higher canopy, more headroom and manouvering room for the driver—AND, you could then design the canopy with a air intake channel in the center top, providing a really clean air stream into the air intake.

            Now, if it was to be done as an engineering and performance change, with all teams’ input, and with sufficient time to properly develope it, I think I might not mind that.

            You see, I never said I was against closed canopy for F1, just that the wheel tethers should be looked at FIRST, let’s don’t do a knee-jerk sort of thing.

  46. A few observations.

    1. Did the tether itself fail, or did it pull what it was attached to out of the gearbox housing? You could have the strongest tether on earth but if it’s attached to cheese it will still pull free.

    2. Henry’s visor was open when his car impacted the wall at Sheene. Did the impact with the wheel open it or did he have his visor cracked for airflow that potentially allowed for a part of the wheel/suspension combiniation come through the visor opening?

    I agree motor racing is dangerous, but the solution to this particular problem is not a simple one……

  47. Bigbadderboom
    22nd July 2009, 20:48

    Not sure that an enclosed driver capsule would create a safer environment for the driver. We can all think of many problems created by covering the driver, fueled fires, chemical gas, rolled car trapping driver etc. But there are only 2 real eventualities that a cover would protect, flying debris and another car over the top. I am not an expert in crash simulation but how much protection would a cover have to offer a driver in either of these situations?
    Henry Surtees crash was in my opinion an unavoidable freak incident. But although worthy of examination, I think sometimes it is an inescapable nature of the beast in that driving cars around very fast will sometimes throw up these things, a covered cockpit is a damned if we do and damned if we don’t scenarion in terms of safety, and as it would detract from the spectacle if the drivers were enclosed it is probably the better option to leave them as they are.

  48. Back in the seventies, a Can-Am car called the Schkee (Lola offspring) sported a semi-closed cockpit. It amounted to an aircraft or hydroplane-style cockpit with a sunroof:

    It allowed an ample view for and of the driver, protection from flying debris, and quick egress in all but total upside down situation. In today’s world, airbag explosives could blow out the side glass in that event. This design might have had an effect on the Senna and Surtees accidents.

    1. Bigbadderboom
      22nd July 2009, 22:19

      Not my cup of tea visually, but it might be a starting point, you never know which way the likes of Newey would develop this kind of concept!!!

  49. Driving a open wheeled, single seater is like nothing else. Enclosing the cockpit would fundamentally change the nature of this type of motor racing.
    Most of the drivers, if not all would probably oppose such a move. They would feel removed from the experience – their senses would be blunted.
    You just feel everything so much more driving such a car. It’s like the difference between a fast road car and a fast motorbike. The experience is incomparable and I’ve only driven Carts, FF1600’s and SB2000’s…

  50. With a quick mental calc of 100m/s with 15kg using 1/2,MV2 we are talking 15,000 Joules, were talking Aircraft quality glass that can withold a bowling ball doing 120mph,this was a freak accident, you have more chance of being hit by a bus, otherwise the cars will end up looking like them.

  51. Found another picture: Schkee cockpit detail:

  52. After carrying the one and using my toes in the calculation I think its 7.5MJ, but you get the idea!

  53. The biggest concern for me is the tyre tethers not doing their job properly. This has been the case this year in Formula One, in atleast three seperate occasions I can think of.
    Back at the Australian Gp, onboard footage on Robert
    Kubica’s car clearly shows a tyre coming inches away from striking his helmet, following his tangle with Vettel. Also, Sutil’s crash in Shanghai sent atleast one wheel running onto the racing line.
    We were lucky back in 2003, when Fernando Alonso struck a loose wheel in Brazil doing 180mph which for me
    was one of the most terrifying crashes of recent times.
    All due to a loose wheel, without doubt the last thing you want to see coming off a car. Those of us who witnessed the 2000 German Gp can remember Jean Alesi’s wheels bouncing down the straights of Hockenheim long after the Frenchman’s Prost had come to a halt. All posing a terrible risk to the drivers, fans, and marshalls.
    No matter what we do to these cars, you cannot allow for tyres coming off in crashes. It has happened, will always happen, in all motorsports.

  54. I don’t like the idea of enclosed cockpits, and I know that this was a freak accident, but I can’t help but remebmer Monaco last year when Coulthard’s head was grazed by a tire, then he went skidding down the alley. I don’t like closed cockpits, but having a new bar system that protects the head while not interfereing with visibility is a good idea. Then if the driver needs to get out quickly he can have an emergency button that shoots off the cage system as well automacially disengage his harness. Heck they could even put a remote alone his teams pitwall so they can send a signal to eject incase the driver is injured in some way. But please, not a fully enclosed cockpit. Too many complications with an enclosed glass cockpit. Think of this. 300kph, and a tire flying through the air at 5kph is still going to do a lot of damage.
    We cannot account for every possibility on a track. Heck, a bird could fly infront of an enclosed cockpit and his beak penetrates the glass and visor of the driver. A bit of an extreme example, I know, but that is my point. Accidents will happen, and yes I feel horrible about Surtees. He was only 18 and had his whole life ahead of him. Accidents happen, we can never be prepared for everything. Enclosed cockpits are not the answer. They are if we these cars can start getting up to speeds of 400 + kph.

  55. What about a roll hoop at a 45 degree angle in front of the driver. Attached to the grapple above the air box coming over the drivers head and finishing in a position like the rear view mirror in a road car.

  56. Forget the overhead bit….if anything it`ll look like the Batmobile.

  57. It’s impossible. You could never see out of it. The space is tiny and would heat up like an oven. It would have to be lite enough for the driver to lift off and STILL be strong enough to stop whatever object your hitting at 130 mph.

    It is sad, but a reality of open wheel motorsports. Very very, unlucky, tragic accident.

  58. Every accident has a chain of events that precede them. Remove one and nothing bad happens. This one had several links. The final link in the chain is he drove into the tire…had he held his original line, it would have missed him. I’ve watched the incident many times and he jinks ever so slightly to the right.
    Now…I cant see how enclosing the cockpit could hurt F1. It certainly didn’t hurt Unlimited Hydroplane. It has saved countless lives. Can a lid be made strong enough? Certainly…this is F1 for crying out loud. Can we account for every possible scenario? No… Can we eliminate the possibility of a tire ever hitting a drivers head? Yes. Add a cockpit cover. Kimi would have most certainly been killed in the race where his flat-spotted tire caused the right front suspension to explode….the tire narrowly missed coming in contact by inches. If the tether hadn’t held…he’d not be a Ferrari driver today. If the tether broke and he had a cover over his head…no harm no foul. A smaller version of an F-16 type canopy could be devised. A button on the front like the neutral button stewards can press to jettison(and I dont mean like an ejection seat type of jettison, something less dramatic) the thing off if a driver is unconscious…something cool and high-tech can be devised….pit lane fuel fires should end in 2010 so thats no reason to demand canopies…this is a one in a billion event but…he’d be alive today if F-Two required a canopy. Rain can’t be used as a reason to not use them as the drivers today get rain on their visors….you treat a canopy with Rain-X and rain wouldn’t be a problem. Rain races are where you see the most carnage so it would make it “safer”.

  59. look at this!!!


    1. I won’t even respond to what the link leads to.

    2. Oh For God’s Sake. :D

  60. F1 Forever, since 1976
    23rd July 2009, 17:14

    My sympathies to Henry’s family, he will be missed.

    Having spent rather a lot of time reading all these comments, the whys and what ifs I think everyone has missed one very important factor in the accident that befell poor Henry. The barrier layout at that part of the track at Brands is bizarre! I’ve never liked it.

    It is my opinion that the corner is clearly a tricky one and easy to run wide on the exit if you push that little bit too hard or get the line wrong. The barrier on the exit of the corner is badly positioned and should be much further back rather than at an angle that guides any cars or subsequent debris from their accident back toward the track.

    2p from me…..

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      23rd July 2009, 21:12

      Well as I remember that part of the circuit, the barrier is right up against the boundary of the circuit’s land. You can’t move it back because there’s no more land there. Instead you’d have to move the track ‘forward’ and reprofile the bend completely.
      Have a look at the Google Maps image and you’ll see a redundant bit of track on the outside of the corner and beyond the gravel trap. In the 60’s, this corner was much tighter and definitely a single apex affair. It was altered to the current layout to open out the corner to improve the run-off while trying to keep the speeds down with the dual apex layout we have today.

  61. I think that I have seen or heard that the closed cockpit LPM cars have to have cockpit cooling systems. That’s ok for LMP cars they have space where the 2nd seat should be, but where is this cooling equipment going to be fitted in an F1 car.

  62. I think they can try it.

    Just make an emergency button that causes the canopy explodes away from the vehicle if it ever were to be upside down. For regular crashes a quick release can be implemented.

  63. Ha! I guess I´m the first to say it… but with Massa`s accident today (Saturday, 25 of July) this will not only be more of an arduous discussion, I believe it is damn near a requirement already… Surtees case was really extreme… a wheel hit his head, but in Massa`s case it was a piece no bigger than a football, and not a very heavy piece at that too, and yet it knocked him out cold…. I expect to see more jet looking F1 cars in the future sort of like this one

  64. Since this was written Massa has had an accident caused by a piece of debris striking his helmet. The choice of image for the article three days ago was an incredibly unfortunate coincidence:

    Thankfully it seems Massa is OK.

    1. I was about to point it out to you Keith.

  65. In order to help with solutions we have to discuss different risks in separate ways. What happened to Massa only required a protective windshield; not a big one; just enough to reduce the chance of frontal, front-lateral strike; that way, you still have the lovely open cockpit F1 car….
    For something that hits from above or from behind (such as another car climbing on top of the other) the situation is more complicated and a solution is not straightforward. Usually objects hitting from above will be more heavier (wheel, car floor, suspension, etc) so if it is contact, there’s a good chance for life-threatening injury because the neck will be laterally displaced or pushed downwards… Let’s see what the FIA will do if they really want to attack this issue

  66. There’s been a lot of talk about wheel tethers.
    I don’t really know how relevant the following is to this conversation, but I’ll give it a go.
    I was watching the Kubica accident videos and saw a part fly of the car, but was held with some sort of a tether.
    You can see that part fly above Kubicas head at 0.06 of the first video.

    I’m kinda thinking it’s a bargeboard or something?
    So, are they secured to the car like the wheels are or?


  67. My deepest apologies and sympathy goes to the Surtees family, but sadly it was a freak accident and nothing more, people are overreacting i think becasue do we see accidents like that everyday in motor racing? No we dont so why should things be changed dramatically because of one incident? It’s like Massa’s accident in Hungary, it was just a case of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was just awful bad luck that spring was bouncing on the racing line at the time. A closed cockpit isn’t the solution, the obvious argument is if the driver needs to get out quickly then a closed cockpit will make this difficult, a couple of people mentioned on here about KERS chemicals poisoning the drivers if the KERS explodes, also wouldn’t a closed cockpit affect the aerodynamics pretty bad? I think the best solution is a wind screen (or another name for it being deflector shield) at least this way the drivers have more protection and can get out the car quickly if they need to. Also to the people saying death can be avoided in motorsport i dont agree with that, it can and should be minimized but it will never be diminished. Death can happen in other sports like rugby or football so i dount death can be stopped in motorsport.

  68. Participants in motor sport are all aware of the risks involved. They acknowledge them, and decide whether to compete or not. If the drivers choose to drive inherently dangerous cars, then that’s their choice.

    Personally, I believe that there is really no need to get rid of open wheel racing, or introduce windscreens, as if the windscreen shatters from say a wheel hitting it, then the doctors and marshalls will have to deal with a potential for shattered glass or plastic that’s embedded itself in the drivers throat, etc.

    1. Participants in motor sport are all aware of the risks involved. They acknowledge them, and decide whether to compete or not. If the drivers choose to drive inherently dangerous cars, then that’s their choice.

      No-one’s denying that. But you could use the same argument against any safety innovation. Why this and not crash helmets or fireproof racing suits?

      I believe that there is really no need to get rid of open wheel racing

      That’s not what’s being suggested here.

  69. My preliminary thought is that this is quite silly from a risk management perspective. I’m sure some one with the stats could work out the formula but based on my 20 something years watching open cockpit motor racing the likelihood (amount of races in history Vs. amount of incidents of Massa’s type) is quite low and the consequence is also low (most likely consequence, not worst case consequence) due to existing controls such as helmet, HANS etc. If putting in place further controls because of silly damage control, knee jerk reaction bureaucratic freaks only heightens the risk of other hazards… Well it’s just all gone mad over a risk that was quite low to begin with!

    A lot of people blame safety people for this sort of over-the-topness, but are wrong to do so. It’s people in much higher places that know nothing about safety and risk that force safety people to come up with these things. Everyone’s always answering to someone else a little higher then themselves, and they are always asking, “so, what are we doing about this?”. This ends up going down the food chain till it rests on the shoulders of the safety person to “do something”, even if it is not really necessary for something to be done due to the inherently low risk.

    All management see is there is an accident, perhaps a very public accident, something HAS to be done- we HAVE to be seen to be ATTEMPTING to improve.

    This is not safety gone mad – its bureaucrats!

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