No easy answers to safety questions posed by Massa and Surtees crashes

Posted on

| Written by

F1 is looking for ways to give drivers better protection

The terrible accidents suffered by Henry Surtees and Felipe Massa in the last eight days have left the motorsport world in general – and F1 in particular – asking questions about safety.

It has reminded everyone that the oft-repeated mantra ‘motor racing is much safer than it used to be’ will only remain so if the sport remains open-minded enough to ask itself whether it needs to change.

But there are no easy answers how it might be done.

Ross Brawn, whose car was at the centre of Massa’s crash on Saturday, urged against a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the two accidents:

We need to keep a perspective of it I guess. From what has been seen last weekend and this weekend, we need to have a proper study to see if there is a need to do something.

You really are into the area of structures, windscreens and canopies, and anything is possible. We just need to digest what has happened, and understand it properly.

Brawn’s assessment is exactly the kind of cool-headed logic you’d expect. So what – if any – possible improvements could F1 consider to reduce the chance of a repeat of these accidents?

Cockpit covers

Cockpit covers are mandatory for LMP1 Le Mans cars from 2010

Although Surtees and Massa were both struck by flying debris, there is nothing to suggest that drivers’ heads have suddenly become more vulnerable than they used to be.

In F1, driver cockpit protection was increased only last year. With cruel misfortune, the spring which hit Massa did so after ricocheting off the padding.

As Brawn himself admits, and as we have already discussed here at length, the debate over cockpit covers is complicated because covering the cockpits could create further safety complications. Would it impede the rescue of a trapped driver, for example?

Some people have said that introducing covers would mean they are no longer Formula 1 cars. I don’t think that argument would or should stop them from putting covers on the cars if they decide it would make them safer.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours, have required that all LMP1 cars must run with closed cockpits from next year. But the technical obstacles to introducing such a rule in F1 would likely be far greater.

Crash helmets

The alternative to cockpit covers could be tougher crash helmets. The current specification of helmet was introduced in 2004 (you can see details of the specifications here).

Massa uses a Schuberth RF1.7 helmet which is on the FIA approved helmets list. It has multiple layers of carbon fibre and despite its low 1.35kg weight is strong enough to support a 55 tonne Chieftain tank.

Can these already impressive standards be pushed further? Bernie Ecclestone thinks so:

We need to look at helmet technology and what can be improved. We might be able to learn from other sports. We can look at ice-hockey, where goalies have to be able to see clearly but still have a visor that is strong enough to withstand the impact from a puck going like a bullet.

Medical crew reaction time

I thought this response from American Indy Car journalist Curt Cavin to a question about the medical car response time on his blog was interesting:

Question: Watching F1 qualifying today I was amazed at how slow the medical attention to Massa was. Course workers seemed to just stand around for so long. In Indy and even NASCAR they seem to jump right to it. Why don’t the F1 workers get a clue? (Tim, Logansport, Ind.)

Answer: It’s a different way of life in Europe, to be sure. NASCAR’s response team has improved, but there’s never been a group better than those used in CART, Champ Car and the IRL.

I can’t say whether the observation about the F1 medical response team being slower is accurate, but if so then surely this is an area the FIA should look into.

The black-and-orange flag

Kimi Raikkonen was allowed to drive with a loose exhaust until it fell off

Renault’s punishment for letting Fernando Alonso out of the pits with a loose wheel, which later fell off, has been taken by some as evidence of a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction by the governing body.

Certainly, race control had nothing to say during the French Grand Prix last year, when Kimi Raikkonen was circulated with a flailing exhaust pipe which later fell off. On that occasion there was no sign of the black-and-orange flag, used to summon drivers to the pits to have dangerous car parts fixed.

As usual the FIA’s implementation of its rules leaves a lot to be desired. We’ve had no previous indication that the scale of punishment for this kind of thing had increased so much and there was no indication during the race that Renault were under investigation. I think this goes some way towards explaining why the majority of people on this site think the punishment was too harsh.

Putting all these misgivings to one side, if the situation in future is that teams will not be sending their cars out on track with loose parts, that is clearly an improvement.

But it will look like hypocrisy if race control continues to miss instances where the black-and-orange flag should be used.

The investigation

Whatever possible improvements to the cars are put forward, safety standards in F1 have improved so much it is no longer a straightforward matter to see how they can be made better.

Are drivers at more risk from debris hitting them? Or from being trapped in an upside-down car?

We are comparing two scenarios that are, on the whole, very rare in single-seater motor racing, never mind just Formula 1.

The safety debate today is not what it was in the 1960s, when people had to be persuaded to do anything at all. Now it’s a case of working out how safety can be improved. That can involve difficult trade-offs between improving safety in one area and compromising it in another.

Acknowledging that leaves us confronted with motor racing’s hardest truth – it will never be entirely safe.

But that doesn’t mean the sport can shy away for looking for answers to these difficult questions.

Update: I’m going to be on Sky News tonight from 7pm talking about the Massa crash.

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

140 comments on “No easy answers to safety questions posed by Massa and Surtees crashes”

  1. i think the f1 world could learn something from the aerospace world here, all enclosed cockpits on fighter jets have some thing called MDC (Micro Detinating Cord)on the canopy with an external set of switch to detonate the canopy to allow rescue of the aircrew.
    If the cars were to get enclosed canopies i hope this would be a feature.

    1. The mdc is a good idea but it could not be detonated if the canopy was under the tyre barrier like in Kovalainens crash at the Spanish Grand Prix last year. Also if the canopy in under the tyre barrier it could crush on to the driver and complicate the safety crews rescue.

      1. What if the canopy was segmented into different parts? It’s possible to run the explosives in any way through it, segmenting it into smaller pieces that come off where you need them to.

        In a case where the canopy somehow crushes the driver, whatever crushed the canopy in the first place would probably have crushed the driver anyway, canopy or no canopy.

        1. although you have to admit, it would be slightly unnerving fr the driver – you know, the explosives going off around his head.

    2. The visor did its job, it wont take 2 impacts just one heavy one. Besides with the amount of energy it was exposed to, it had to flex and detach from its pivot.

      What they can consider is having an extra kevlar layer sandwiched between the inner helmet protection. Also within the weight constraints, have a liquid layer or membrane that has a pressure release valve. In all, you cant have a helmet weighing 5kg that would be dangerous for the driver, as it would maintain its own momentum in a crash and possibly be of more harm to the driver.

  2. Jonesracing82
    27th July 2009, 12:15

    as i understood at the time, the CART safety crew, while being exceptional, went to each and every race, in F1 as i understand, it’s made up of local people. the fact of the matter is that motor racing in general will never be 100% safe, it’s just the nature of the beast.

    1. Plus the Indy and NASCAR are near enough only ever a couple of miles long, and oval in shape, meaning a safety or medical car on the infield is always much closer than those on an F1 track would be.

  3. Bernie’s right to discuss the helmets I think. The shells may be tougher but what about the visors? Are they still the same as the one Senna used?

    1. The visors arn’t the same as in sennas era to my understanding. What about making the visor smaller than it already is? Or would that har the drivers periferal vison?

      1. Bernie is overestimating the ice-hockey goalies visor though.
        An ice-hockey puck maximum velocity (a slapshot) is ‘only’ around 100mph and weighing in at < 170g…
        I read somewhere, but I can’t remember where – the visors used by F1 drivers and other extreme motorsports competitors are ‘bullet proof’ (whatever that really means, which bullets, what type of gun…)

        1. Salut Gilles
          27th July 2009, 13:42

          In addition, hockey goalies don’t wear visors, they wear metal cages.

          They perform their job well, but are designed only to stop a puck sized object. F1 drivers will never be certain as to what size piece of debris may be a threat to them and therefore need to wear a full face visor.

          1. And hockey pucks are made of rubber. Very hard frozen rubber, but still rubber. No comparison with a piece of metal with corners and sharp edges. I would think F1 visors are much, much better than hockey goalie masks.

          2. Guys, the goalies’ visor is as strong as it needs to be.
            For F1, it can be made – and is made – a lot stronger, yet only as strong as the designer thought it would need to be.
            Now we know those visors have to be stronger than what they are, and there should be no problem in improving that.
            Making them thicker would be the first way to do that.

            BUT – adding a metal/kevlar cage to the helmet would definately be a huge improvement, and should be considered.

        2. The “bullet proof” comment probably stems from the material used for the visor being something like lexan. Lexan is bullet proof plastic, though last time I checked my radio control car shell wouldn’t withstand a bullet impact ;-)

        3. 100mph shot of a hockeypuck has 160j

          a 4.1g 5.56 Nato bullet has ~1600j

          the spring that massa got hit by, would of had around 2400j

          *j = joules

          1. I made a similar calculation earlier (thanks google) and came up with 2800 joules of kinetic energy.

            But what does that actually mean? In classic tabloid media fasion – what is that like for comparison – something hitting something else? A double decker bus falling over or a blue whale sneezing kind of dumbing down…

            Any physics people about?

    2. Helmets can only keep foreign objects from coming into contact with the driver’s head. It cannot dissipate all the blunt force drama (pushing the head so violently downwards & to a side that a driver could break his neck and get severe brain damage). Therefore, helmets cannot adequately protect against flying foreign objects and other things hitting the driver.

      1. The HANS device is designed to assist with much of that dissipation in the event of an accident.

    3. No, they are improved. Now they are 5 mm in thickness and made of a specially treated plexiglass ( It appears that the visor hold the impact quite well (??) but one of the visor rivet was sheared by the impact. The visor than folded under the spring impact. Probably the latching of the current visor need a design review.

  4. What does that guy mean by “its a different way of life in Europe”?

    1. i think he means europeans race proper cars that actually go round more than one or two corners. otherwise, no idea what he means…

      1. So utterly irrelevant to this discussion anyway.
        If anything, USA competitors are even more exposed to projectile danger due to their much higher top speeds and such extremely close running…

        1. NASCAR and INDY car don’t really have higher top speeds. I live in North America, and I watch their races often enough, but I’m always amazed how much slower they are then good’ol F1 cars.

          1. Dude, you have to do some real research and stop rambling about your impressions.
            The IndyCars reach the same speeds on road tracks as F1, and on oval tracks they are way faster.

          2. CART had the best response crew in motorsport, and CART raced at many tracks (Zolder, Laguna Seca, Montreal, dozens of street courses) that were basically the same track-distance scenarios as F1. It is relevant. I’m not sure about Indycar today, I personally hate that country-fried excuse for a racing series, but CART’s team was the business. They were a trained, dedicated and always-ready crew, whereas F1’s response team usually seems to be a ragtag group of volunteers scrambling to the scene eventually.

    2. It was probably a poke that everything is more laid back. Which is insensitive to say the least, particularly when it comes to medical emergencies.

      1. F1 as the pinnicle of motorsport surely requires an element of danger, many of above comments do not consider this, if you want an infinitely safe sport watch badminton and ban motorsport… risk is part of the game surely a part of why we all attracted to this sport in the first place

        1. There will always be crashes and accidents. These safety considerations are about affecting the outcome of those.

          Furthermore, risk cannot be 100% eliminated, but we can keep working (like we have) to lower it. Less and less people will get seriously injured as the work continues.

          I don’t think people watch F1 for the risk. They watch it for the speed, amazing machinery and demands on the drivers (and so on). Would people like the world rally championship more if they removed the roll bars inside those cars for example? Maybe if they enjoyed seeing people suffer.

    3. He probably means that Nascar and Indycars are designed to have many crashes. While F1 is designed to be as safe as possible.

    4. It’s American xenophobia shining through. Simple as that.

  5. As anyone following last night’s IndyCar race in the US will know, Andretti Green’s Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan has suffered burns after a cockpit fire. He was splashed with fuel because of a problem with the fuel rig. The car’s battery then ignited the fuel inside the cockpit.

    Now, if Kanaan had a closed cockpit he wouldn’t have been splashed with fuel in the first place.

    However, if the fire had started from fuel inside the car, if he had a partially closed cockpit or if there were vents that the spilled fuel had leached into, he could have had a much harder job getting out (relatively) uninjured.

    His actions, driving the car away from his pit crew to protect them before exiting, were incredibly brave and probably mean the burns to his hands and face were more severe than they would otherwise have been.

    We can be thankful that we didn’t see a third severe accident in the space of a week – and ponder the sheer difficulty of making a decision for or against closed cockpits.

    1. Yes saw the race, very brave and unselfish thing to do. Liked his comment after as well, “i wanted to set the world on fire, but not like that” :)

  6. A correction there, Keith: the LMP1 closed-cockpit rule for 2010 has been scrapped due to opposition to the idea from several angles, most notably Audi.

    1. Really? Sorry I completely missed that news and didn’t see it when I was looking for the article. The last I saw existing LMP1 cars without covers were going to be allowed to run without them, but new ones had to have covers. But it’s definitely the case that they’re chucking the rule entirely?

      1. As far as I’ve been told, closed cockpits are not mandatory for 2010. That would explain Audi’s decision to build another open-cockpit LMP1 (the R15).

        1. Audi’s decision fits in with my understanding of the rule, which is that LMP1 cars built before 2010 can run with open cockpits. But new LMP1 cars next year have to have closed cockpits, as I understand.

  7. You have to consider whether a closed cockpit would have defeated an object with about 1800 joules of energy, over a relatively small area. I think (but am not sure) that any existing designs would have been defeated by this particular scenario.

    Perhaps better to try and ensure they don’t fall off in the first place.

    1. I agree. Would a cockpit have stopped the tyre that killed Surtees?

      Watch this for a horrifying example from Australia’s V8 Supercar series:

      1. what is wrong with it? Sure the wind screen is damaged but it protected the driver, which is the point.

        1. only because the windscreen is a good one to two feet from the driver’s face. That would be impossible on an F1 car. If the tyre had struck a closed cockpit on an f1 car, the wheel would still have crushed a helmet.

    2. Absolutely spot on.

      1. not to mention speed of the car wasn’t that great to begin with. Massa was traveling 275 km/h in a moment of impact which translates to 500 kg pressure on a square centimeter. My biggest concern with closed cockpits is that they would limit the visibility in occasions of oil spray and rain, the single-seater cockpit proposals I saw didn’t have wipers on them.

        1. Maybe this could promote some serious research into deflecting water and fog from transparent surfaces. Now that’d be applicable to road cars.

          Visibility is very important. They already have some issues with water on helmets (not sure how severe). With a canopy, the rain would not hit the helmet, but simply another surface. I assume if the windscreen was raked enough the water would quickly be dragged backwards from the intense wind friction.

          1. With single seaters in wet conditions, the main problem is the spray from cars in front rather than rain on the helmet visor. Virtually all single seaters I’ve ever seen/driven have had small deflector windscreens which push the main bulk of the airflow over the driver.

          2. there is ‘self cleaning glass’, which works on the principle of causing maximum surface tension between the water molecules, and thus making it run off the glass surface. This would be easier to achieve with plastic.

    3. A canopy can and will be anchored to the car body, so the drivers head cannot be pushed around from an impact with the canopy – unless the object penetrates.

      If the object penetrates – something that is very unlikely because any canopy would be very sloped in order to be aerodynamic. This angle alone would work similar to sloped tank armor, deflecting projectiles (and their energy) away from the surface rather than allowing it to ‘catch’ it and penetrate.

      Should it by some very unlikely chance penetrate, then the object already has lost a lot of energy.

      It seems certain a canopy would protect exceptionally well. Then remains any possible safety issues it could create by being there.

  8. I read Curt Cavin’s blog and saw that comment about the medical crew. My first thought was that the tone of both the question and answer were suspect (“get a clue”?). That said, when I was watching the race I felt it took a shockingly long time to get to the car. It took so long based on how long it usually takes in NASCAR or IRL that I actually thought Massa was awake and had called them off somehow and was just catching his breath. I think a commenter above has a lot of it in that it’s faster to get to a given point in an oval than in a road course (even Zanardi’s crash, which is often held up by Champ Car/CART fans as the ultimate proof of their crew’s supremacy, was on an oval if memory serves).

    Another thing about that blog post – when discussing F2 and wheel tethers he said “I would have thought tethers would have been used in F2, but clearly they were not.” This is just flat wrong and it seems like maybe he got his entire set of facts from watching youtube? To be fair, he’s a local motor sport reporter from Indy, mostly focusing on IRL with a bit of NASCAR, but don’t answer the question if you can’t be bothered to read even a single article on the subject. I really like his Q/As on IRL, but his attempt at covering F1/F2 yesterday was awful.

  9. Thinking back to Kubica’s Montreal crash, that is an example of a recent time when a cockpit could have impeded the removal of the driver at a potentially crucial moment.

    Helmet design seems most sensible. I’m sure material technology will have advanced in the last 5 years significantly enough that standards can be raised without becoming unreasonable.

  10. Perhaps the marshalls have a standing instruction to make the area safe, and not touch the driver if he has a suspected head injury? This does make sense; therefore their inaction is actually logical – they’re following procedure.

    1. I’m inclined to believe that with no fire or immediate signs of immediate danger from the car, the marshals did the right thing not to move him. Having them standing around “doing nothing” looked bad, but I think that’s to blame on the medical car taking so long to show up.

    2. I agree James. Assuming the driver in no additional danger they must wait for medical staff…

      1. The commentators were saying something about a ‘G-Light’ that was lit on Massa’s Car. The G-Light lights up when the driver has been subjected to a severe amount of G-Force, and the marshalls are probably instructed not to move the driver (as long as there is no immediate danger) until the medical team arrive due to head, neck or spinal injuries.

  11. I honestly do not mind cockpit covers. LMP1 cars are beautiful!

  12. I’m going to be on Sky News tonight from 7pm talking about Massa’s crash and F1 safety.

    1. don’t forget to mention Kimi at Magny-Cours! and good luck!

    2. and who you reckon would replace massa IF he didn’t race in Valenica. also talk about alonso’s wheel and ban. sweet!!!

      1. That depends if they give Keith a chance to speak. :D Last time was ok, but before that he was left little time to talk.
        Good luck Keith.

        1. Good interview Keith. I don’t think the issue was who will replace Massa, so I’m glad that wasn’t mentioned.

          Sky News are the TV equivalent of The News of The World. They went straight to a clip of a Funny (not)bowling incident. Idiots.

          BBC Next time keith?

          1. typical, they drag him to the studio and he only gets a couple of minutes! would like to see u keith doing a longer feature on tv. i’m sure all the fanatics would tune in! nice1 anyway.

  13. The only way you’ll achieve 100% safety is to ban racing. A close 2nd will be to reduce the speeds to 10mph. Which would have the side effect of killing the sport, which is what all this over the top nonsense will do. No one can predict the path of spring dropped at random, or the damage it could do IF it hits another car.

    In MotoGp several riders fell off, lets give them balance wheels. Accidents happen!!

    1. I mostly agree. Helmets should be strengthened if possible, but other than that the chance of being hit is so remote that I can only recall it happening once in F1, and that was to Massa. Surtees isn’t a particularly relevent example, as although his death was tragic, he was not racing in F1. Were the wheel tethers in his race up to the same spec as in F1? How about his helmet? And potential changes to the safety rules of F1 are again irrelevent to his death, as the changes would probably not be applied to F2 or all the other many single-seater categories. Although the drivers should be as safe as possible, there has to be a limit. It would be interesting to see drivers views. I suppose if they prefered driving with a closed cockpit then fair enough, but I can’t imagine that many would.

    2. Your reasoning goes like this:

      ‘Risk cannot be 100% eliminated. Therefore, we should not lower risk.’

      This shows a lack of understanding of what risk is. It is not just a concept of being in complete control or not (i.e. no risk vs risk). It is percentages, odds, chances. And these can be huuugely affected to lower risk by changes in behavior, equipment, rules and so on.

      It is completely illogical to not reduce risk because it will not be completely eliminated.

      1. What happened to Massa is called a Black Swan. The chances of it happening are so slim they are unpredictable in a million years, and yet the consequences are devastating.

        Think about this. Nobody was having this conversation Friday, and if someone had suggested adding cockpit covers to F1 cars, they would have been laughed out of the room.

        So now everybody tries to solve the safety problem that effected Massa – a problem that will most likely not happen again in a billion years. Yet, simultaneously, completely ignoring the possibility of the next potentially fatal safety problem.

      2. Your reasoning goes like this:

        ‘Risk cannot be 100% eliminated. Therefore, we should not lower risk.’

        When did I write that?

        I’m urked by all the ‘we need canopies, we need cotton wool walls, we need ejector seats’.

        My point in simple terms is that you cannot foresee FREAK accidents. No body has a working crystal ball. If you change f1 too much it won’t be F1, You cannot prevent a 1 in a billion accident.

        1. You were reasoning that we have two options, to stop racing or accept that accidents happen (and thereby do nothing about it).

          And contrary what you say, you can prevent a one in a billion accident. You could make it from a one in a billion to one in two billion (just as an example). And it’s not simply about accidents happening, but what their outcome is. F1 is extremely less risky today than it once was. Severe accidents are so much less, and so it can continue into infinity (lessening risk, although never 100% removing it).

          1. Where did I say do nothing about it? Where did I say there were only two options?

            You really should read things more than once.
            Re-read what I wrote slowly, sounding out the syllables, and stop jumping to conclusions.

            That is all, ‘nough speculating.

  14. Medical crew response time: if you Google this phrase, you find out that Montoya told the local press in Indianapolis (including this journalist, the regional paper’s motorsport correspondent) that he found the reponse time “shocking” and that “we always complained when I was [in F1]”. I haven’t heard any other complaints about response time (it all looked pretty normal to me, for a crash involving possible spinal injury, and was certainly not a medically adverse delay).

    What made me angry over the weekend, safety-wise, is the message the FIA sent out with its treatment of Renault and Red Bull. The stewards decided that Renault had “knowingly” released a car with only three working wheels (why would they?!), and as a result have banned the team from a race – at probably the worst, blandest, most overtaking-free Tilke circuit so far created – that only exists because of their lead driver.

    On the other hand, Red Bull released Webber from his stop, with Kimi on one side and the entire Williams pitcrew on the other (standing in the next pitbox, ready for their car) and got away with an almost unpublicised tap on the wrist on the grounds that there wasn’t actually a collision. This despite the fact they had already been warned & fined at the Nurburgring for Vettel’s unsafe release in qualifying.

    Message: release a car into the path of another in a crowded pitlane and we’ll only give you a warning (as long as there’s no actual crash); make a mistake in the stop, which carries no advantage at all, and we’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks.

    1. Spot on, though I remember that last year in Valencia there was an outcry for penalty on this site following Massa’s release onto the path of Sutil. Nobody seems to care about Webber’s.

      I dont think Webber deserved any penalty but Renault didnt deserve either. It was knee jerk reaction by stewards following Massa’s accident.

      1. Watch the video again. When Alonso was let out of his pitbox, you can see a mechanic’s hand trying to check the FR wheel. If he knew it had a problem, why was the car allowed to leave the box?

        1. Because mistakes happen when you’re fighting for a race win. It’s not the first or last time a car has been released prematurely by accident. This is the first time I can ever remember the stewards issuing a penalty for this kind of mistake, especially when the mistake has already caused a massive disadvantage to the competitor and to nobody else.

          If you watch the video again, you’ll see the front-right wheel mechanic puts his hand in the air, signifying the wheel is on, before realising it wasn’t just as the lollipop went up.

  15. How about the idea of some sort of cage or fine mesh to surround the driver? It would have to be strong enough to withstand, say, the blow of an 800g spring, but fine enough to not obstruct the drivers view. This would also eliminate the threat of fires as an extinguisher could still get through the gaps. It would also get rid of the problems posed by wet weather conditions that a screen would have trouble with. Obviously there still needs to be some kind of release mechanism to allow the driver to escape quickly should it be required, but surely that wouldn’t be too hard.

    1. I can image the aero effects of mesh would mess up a cars aerodynamics. Try driving a car with a meshed roof rack, they don’t like going through air.

  16. I think Cavin is right about how F1 medical crews are slower. I saw Ralph Schumacher’s crash in person at the USGP on the oval section of IMS. He sat there for literally minutes before anyone came to him. That would be unthinkable in IndyCars.

    I don’t know why, but the rules for releasing the medical extraction team must be different in F1. In IndyCars, it seems like the rule is to immediately send the medical crew. In F1, the rule must be only send them if they are signalled by the ground crew. (That crossed-arm signal must be it, by the way.)

  17. I think Massa has been removed from the cockpit not following the correct procedure (probably he would have suffered major damage in case of a vertebral trauma).
    In any case the mashall acted correctly while waiting for medical support once they observed that no danger of fire or of other threats was there.
    Regarding drivers safety it is really hard to say what they can improve, also because the two crashes of Massa and Surtess were really very different. Protecting from a front-coming little object is different from protecting from a bouncing big object coming from up…in Massa case I think we need to improve helmet and visor effectiveness, while in the case of the bouncing wheel there are really a few things to do.
    I don’t consider to close the cockpits, because this would distort the nature of formula 1, and make it even more dangerous when you need o remove a driver from the inside.

  18. Comparing response times for a race class where cars drive around in small circles with cars driving around on a race track seems a bit silly.

    Besides, what are they going to do about a driver sitting unconcious in the cockpit? Wait for the doctor to arrive seems like the best option to me.

    Also in F1 they try to prevent accidents where NASCAR and IndyCar seem to be designed to have a high likelyhood of accidents occurring. Guess you need more doctors around the track if you are going in that direction.

  19. What strikes me as odd is that no one is mentioning the spring coming off the Brawn car with the exception of James, and he is commenting on the object and the consequences, not the safety of the spring attachment. It’s a freak accident. I’ve been watching F1 for more years than I can remember and no matter how well the cars are built according to safety regulations…something is always going to break or fall off.

    There are humans involved and we or they all make mistakes, drivers as well as designers and crews.

    After all that happened with Surtees and Massa… just watch Fred’s right front bounce across the track. What if a a few tires touch and someone goes airborne, hits the wall via heads first…point is that it’s impossible to predict an accident.

    I remember Greg Moore’s death at California Speedway and Jeff Krosnoff at Canada in CART. Neither could have been saved by a closed cockpit. Something is always gonna happen.

    Cheers, Alex

    1. How about Dumbeck going airborne at Lemans in the Mercedes in 1999?

      Webber, his teammate, did the same thing in practice.

      1. I don’t think the Mercedes accidents are relevant to F1. The crashes at Le Mans were caused by the very large area of flat floor under that generation of Le Mans car. The problem was solved by making changes to the floors. The enclosed nature of the cockpit may have helped Webber and Dumbreck, but it’s hard to see an F1 car getting into a similar position in the first place.

        1. I don’t know, Villeneuve looks airborne here

          1. What I meant was that how often do you see F1 cars flip on their own, i.e. without having gone off track, without having come into contact with another car? That’s what happened to the Mercedes LM cars.

            The only examples I can think of F1 flipping are Christian Fittipaldi at Monza in 1993 and Riccardo Patrese at Estoril in 1992 – both of those involved cars locking wheels.

  20. I think there are 2 things that should be looked at following these 2 incidents:

    1) Improved protection from the helmets. I’m certain that however good the helmets are currently, that they can be made better. And if that involves a slight increase in weight, then couple that to an improvement in the HANS device to negate the extra mass.

    2) And this is very specific. The area around the driver in the cockpit should be designed so that it won’t result in a ricochet if anything hits it. Surely it can be designed in such a way that if an object (such as the spring that hit Massa) hits it then it absorbs the energy from that, rather than firing it back into the head (or potentially the unprotected body) of the driver.

    I’m not convinced by the closed-cockpit arguement as I believe the added risks from fire, fumes, cooling, misting-up, drivers being trapped in upside down cars etc outweight the risks of an open-cockpit. However perhaps some sort of safety cage could be looked at such that it would protect the driver from larger flying objects (such as wheels or even other cars) without the potential for trapping them.

  21. Doctors fearing for Massa’s eyesight

    “He has suffered some damage to the eye,” said Veres. “We don’t know whether he’ll be able to race again.”


    1. That’s horrible news!

      1. Autosport are now reporting that:

        Felipe Massa’s condition is continuing to improve as doctors at the AEK Hospital in Hungary, where the Brazilian driver is being treated, denied earlier reports of eye damage and instead suggested he could make a full recovery

        Peter Bazso, the hospital’s medical director, explained that it was in fact too early to tell if there was any damage because Massa was still unable to open the eye: “We can give no positive neither negative answer to this, because at this stage the vision cannot be examined.”

        link here

  22. I very much like the responsible attitude taken towards safety on this blog. Elsewhere in the F1 world too many people are still in the frame of mind that says “we can’t do that – then it wouldn’t be F1 any more!”.

    1. I very much like the responsible attitude taken towards safety on this blog.

      Thanks Jonathan!

  23. In Massas case even if the cockpit was closed can the shell withstand a 1KG metal piece flying at a speed of 175mph hitting a car traveling towards it at more than 200Mph effectively reaching a speed of 30050MPH+ as per newtons law at the time of impact ?

    No doubt Massa was lucky that it did not hit the center of the helmet. I guess F1 need stronger and stronger materials.

    Given that Renault is provisionally out for next race will we see Fernado in the Ferrari as a Debut race in Valncia ? Now that is a real Red Bull …cant wait …..

    Get well soon Massa….

    1. How on earth do you figure that the spring was traveling at 175mph, the wrong way down the track?

      Was it Fired out of the Brawn at 300 Mph?


      I’ll assume the 30,050mph is a typo.

      1. :) Sorry about the typo.I meant 350MPH+ (oops The additional 00s made it mega Supersonic)

        The 175 MPH was from the other article where niki lauda speaks about the accident.

        But one thing is sure it surely was traveling at quite a speed after getting released from the Brawn Car, for nearly 1KG to be airborne it does need some decent speed.

        1. I’m sorry, I was being cheeky. :)

          I don’t know the formulas for bouncing, spinning, hi speed, friction, gravity physics. But I can imagine in my head, this:Lets say the Brawn lost the part half way up the straight. Doing say 140mph. And assume the spring just fell straight down, it would have hit the tarmac, as near as damit, at 140mph. With every bounce, spin and flight through the air, it would have slowed down.

          Lets say it was doing 60mph when Massa came along, and Mass hit it at 140mph. Then is it the same as hitting a stationary object at 80mph? Or are there force multipliers I have not taken into consideration.

          Irony is, that if the component had been stationary on the track, and a car in front had just lifted it straight into the air and it then came down on a driver, the hit would have been much worse.

          Maybe the fact that Massa and the spring were traveling in the same direction, is saved his life.

    2. Consider that the canopy would be very steeply raked (angled) and this would make it highly likely most objects that hit it head on would be deflected. The concept is the same as in tank armor – angled armor redirects the projectile all together.

      1. A pigeon flys over the track and drops an object from a great height onto driver’s head. Steeply angled canopy is rendered useless. 1 a billion chance accident!! Back to the drawing board….

        see what I mean?

        1. Didn’t Button strike a bird in pre-season testing in 2000? It went in the airbox just above his head if I remember correctly.

  24. If the spring did in fact ricochet off the cockpit protection, it means that the spring hit Massa’s helmet while traveling in an upward motion.

    Had there been no cockpit protection or had the spring been a little further to the right, it may have hit while traveling in a downward direction and may have hit Massa’s helmet much lower or possibly even his neck which would have been much more devastating or his shoulder which would have been a lot of damage.

    So one can argue that the cockpit protection did do its job.

    1. Absolutely, but perhaps they should be looking at whether the job it does can be improved on even more.

  25. Carbotanium anyone? Top Gear mentioned that that is what the new Zonda is made of. Hammond just about had an ‘crisis’ whilst talking about it.

  26. I remember that old F1 cars had a little window in front of the driver. Wouldn’t that help already?

    The cockpit doesn’t have to be completely, but a strong transparent “deflector” just in front of the drivers head could help a lot.

    1. I agree with that. Albeit it has to be large enough to make the driver look through it rather than over it. Visibility issues also enter into it a bit (fog and water).

      1. If it wasn’t enclosed, then I don’t think fogging would be an issue – just as your external mirrors on your car don’t fog up when it rains (not the same as having condensation on them on a morning)…

  27. A lot more analysis would have to applied to evaluate the benefits of a canopy, but the arguments set forth here that they pose riks of entrapment, misting, circulation, etc are patently without merit. They are not based no facts.

    I cannot rememeber a single incident of a driver being trapped in closed canopy racing car, but I haven’t done the research, I’ll admit. Anyway, because anecdotes are not worth much, the FIA has a minimum escape-time measure for such cars. 99% of the time, the doors/windows do just finde In the worst case, if you want to cover the freak incident, a latch and a hinge with an emergency external release of the latch assemble from the tub mounting would be serious belts-and-suspenders. The other issues are dispelled every year at the 24, in driving rain, at night, in nasty wrecks, with fires, etc.

    While no basis for a conclusion, anecdotes can be instructive in highlighting empty arguments. Anyone who saw the insane tumble from the Peugeot last year in the Porsche Curves could clearly judge whether he would have rather been in a topless Audi slamming into the armco roof-first. And ask Mark Webber if he would have wanted to take his LeMans tumble al fresco. Ask the family of Alboreto if they would have liked him to have been in a closed roof car with a hoop fore and aft of his head. Weigh that against the currently apocyrphal entrapment risk and you have an easy comparison.

    Drivers assume certain risks, so to speak, but we are civilized now, and true fans don’t watch racing to see people maimed on TV or risk injury for honor or whatever. Since this is not a bloodsport, it follows that reasonable alternative designs to improve safety should always be investigated. I want to see Massa race in the fastest cars (and lose to a silver car soundly every time) but I want to shake his hand one day, and not have his child be born fatherless due to the lame logic of “risk is part of the sport,” when an available live-saving measure was readily at hand and could be implemented at reasonable cost.

  28. Actually, god willing, Massa makes a full recovery which if it does happen then that would seem to suggest that F1 safety is as good as it needs to be. Rushed law is always bad law.

    The comparison with Nascar where they dont even always wear seatbealts is worth looking at but you can get a medics truck round a bowl with an infield easier than on a 3-4 mile track and you probably need to if you lose it in one of those hillbilly things. We’ve all seen huge accidents in f1 that the driver steps out of and trots to the back, maybe that has made the medics slightly complacent.

    Nice measured piece though Keith and some good comments.

    1. Nascar where they dont even always wear seatbealts

      Even in the Nextel Cup (or whatever it’s called this week)?

      1. Or do I mean Sprint Cup?

    2. …with Nascar where they dont even always wear seatbealts…

      also, they are drinking, smoking and recieving “affection” from a family member while racing.

      1. Like in that episode of The Simpsons when the wife is in the back seat? lol

  29. I think the solution is pretty obvious. Take the drivers out of the cars. Have them race from a control room watching the track through their in-car cameras, like those drones they use in Afghanistan.

    1. no, for a million reasons.

      1. You do realize I was joking?

        1. not at all, sir.

          1. Funny Name. And not haha funny. I’m from Boston.

            I’m guessing you are from New York. Typical.

            Stop giving American race fans a bad rep amongst the Europeans and STFU.

  30. Some have said that open cockpits F1 wouldnt be grand prix racing. This is wrong. The unique characteristics of the cars are because they are open wheeled cars. Grand prix cars used to have higher wind screens. Why not a wind screen that is as high as the drivers helmet? This would maintain open cockpits and would have protected Massa. However a closed cockpit like in jet boat racing has total visaility and wouldnt look bad. If F1 had that we coud have been watching Senna vs Schumacher for ten years. That would be worth closed cockpits to me. No matter what helmets must be improved for next year.

  31. Guys, do not overlook accidents when a car goes over another one. We have been blessed no fatalities have occurred like this or similarly.

    The first thing that comes to my mind about head driver protection is this accident:

    It’s Ernesto Viso’s crash at Magny Cours two years ago. In the beginning of the video, one can also see a crash with potentially nasty outcome by drivers changing their line in the beginning of the race.

    1. They tackled this problem in F1 by raising the back of the cockpit edge.

  32. There’s always technology to be developed. What if they could invent a transparent material that could be made to crumble into small pieces after a certain activation switch is flipped? We can put explosives into canopies already (one piece, several pieces). There’s many ways to construct a canopy, and many ways to attach as well as detach.

    1. Car is hit by freak lightning bolt, explosives go off injuring the driver….dust chokes driver and gets in his eyes.

      Who can predict lightning strikes without a time machine? (back to the future).

      1. The explosives may not be able to go off from lightning strikes, and the driver may be safer with a canopy in the case of lightning, or make no special difference.

      2. I would say that the vast amount of accumulated data from all sorts of racing would give us an excellent base for a statistical analysis of the likelihood of lightning strike.

        So in that case, just about any competent statistician.

        Arguments for the improbability of any one situation are pointless. The really useful analysis is the likelihood of any type of incident that could have been ameliorated with a canopy, versus the likelihood of incidents exacerbated by a canopy, versus the monetary and technical outlays required to implement the canopy.

        This is a seriously complicated piece of analysis, and would require the collation of a large amount of data, properly filtered, correctly interpreted, and within guidelines agreed by all interested parties.

  33. By jet boat i meant the hydroplane boat. The ones withtwo outriggers and closed cockpits. They havethem so driver has air pockt if fipped over and the horiffic crashes.

  34. If Cockpit covers are introduced there better be some extensive testing. I’m all for safety, but I don’t want the racing destroyed, or in this case become any worse.

    Take a look at Nascar. The introduce the COT and it’s safety blows the old cars out of the water, but yet the racing sucks now. No more photo finishes on close tracks, no more rubbing and bumper tag on short tracks. It’s all very boring.

  35. I wouldn’t object to closed canopy racing in F1 but I think it would mean a complete redesign of the cars, effectively making them more like LMP cars. If they are going to add canopies they have to put a door on the cars too otherwise any car finishing upside down after an accident would be a death-trap.

    Again, I wouldn’t object to this either, even if it meant the cars becoming closed wheel racers.

    It would be a big change for F1 but this doesn’t mean it is the end of F1, the cars today are unrecognisable to the cars of the 50s, 60s & early 70s, it doesn’t mean F1 is dead, it has just changed.

    I would call for some serious investigation and discussion before any changes were introduced though, knee-jerk decisions often fall foul of the law of unintended consequences, some serious discussion amongst the drivers & engineers of all teams together with the safety and medical teams from F1 & the FIA could help bring about a long term solution rather than just creating a lot of new problems.

    1. That they need doors to not be a death-trap is not true. The canopy itself could be a door, or segmented, detach in every conceivable way, be shattered with explosives lined into it (such as some aircraft). And who knows what kind of awesome technology they can come up with.

  36. Perhaps we could look to the past?
    Think the higher “bulletproof” visor surround used on the old Vanwalls would help? You could still see the driver clearly, but he has protection from road debris.
    (Sorry, tried to paste a link to pic of what I’m talking about but it didn’t take.)

  37. I think being innovative with helmets is the way to go…
    Like an extra layer with air inbetween wich could absorb some impact or something revolutionair…

    1. Or maybe a double visor layer, one the outside (like now) and one on the inside as well….

  38. The hockey goalie “analogy” is way off, by orders of magnitude. Bernie, talk about things you know.

    The response time in F1, and in this case in particular was good, but could have been improved.

    The response time in INDY / Sprint is horrendous, especially if you could consider the average length of tracks.

    INDY / Sprint do do one or two things right though. They have multiple units that can respond, placed around the track, which effectively shortens the distance to reach a driver. Secondly, at least in INDY, the responders are all trained and they travel to each race. This is all they do.

    As for the question “why didn’t the corner workers do anything”, I would much rather wait for a skilled doctor than have a situation made worse otherwise. There was no emergency to get him out, no fuel leak, no KERS electrocution. As Gene Kranz, flight controler for Apollo 13 said “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything!”

    Here is an idea. Instead of looking at making the helmet harder to get in to, regardless that if the spring had hit him in the chest this would be so much another story, why not make the car harder to get out of, for stray parts that is.

    Take the idea of the engine cowling on moden jetliners, particularly the shroud of the fan blades. They are there to optimize airflow, but they are also there to encase the blades in the case of blade failure. If the rear end of the car was not open, that part would have never made it out. The design could be pushed as far as to require it to encase the entire engine bay and be able to absorb the weight of a piston at the speed it would be ejected from the block if it were not connected to the con-rod. Even better, require that all fluids be contained in the same volume and that the enclosure be water tight.

    See turbofan blade failure tests here:

    1. Take the idea of the engine cowling on moden jetliners, particularly the shroud of the fan blades. They are there to optimize airflow, but they are also there to encase the blades in the case of blade failure. If the rear end of the car was not open, that part would have never made it out.

      Seems sound and logical to me.

    2. Spot on with the cowling idea.

      I seem to remember reading the guys that were working on the KERS that used a flywheel had built a shroud for it that would contain any fragments if the thing decided to come apart while going at 60,000RPM. Should be applied to the whole engine as suggested

  39. I still like the idea of a steel screen or titanium, whichever metal they chose to make it from. It could be molded into the body work and anchored in several places. It wouldn’t be closed in but yet still offer a decent amount of protection for the drivers head. I don’t think closed cockpits are the way to go but some sort of windshield or screen needs to be in place and be strong enough to take a hit. With all of the money these teams have at there will along with the governing body I would think they would be able to figure something out. The fact that this similar type of incident happened 2 weeks in a row should be reason enough to get something developed

  40. Another issue is the cost of developing a cockpit. It would be difficult to standardise to fit to different cars, so teams would have to spend a fortune doing their own. Difficult if they’re still aiming for a budget cap in a few years.

  41. I think Renault owed it to the marshall killed in Melbourne as well as the Surtees incident to have Alonso stop. They knew the wheel was likely to fall off and it was a loaded uncontrollable gun.

    I agree that we should await the inquiry results but among the issues they should examine is whether excessive and deliberately engineered wake turbulence played a role. Perhaps the inertia of a spring would have carried it regardless …. but perhaps not. I believe wake turbulence should in any case be subject to a performance test/instrument limit (how the engineers achieve it should be up to them).

  42. I suggest there could be a minimum weight limit for the helmets used. In case it is already there, then it should be increased.

    Composite materials technology is well developed and nano-materials are coming in the fray as well. To tackle safety issue, these materials are being already used. Its time to take a step forward.

    Massa’s helmet has been praised by doctors for reducing the damage by quite a margin. And it weighed only 1.35kg.

    Imagine if that helmet weighed 3kg ! ! It could have absorbed much more of the force of the spring resulting in lesser damage.

    F1 cars in general try to keep all weights as low as possible. But helmets should be excluded, as it is the part closest to the pilot and hence pivotal to his safety.

    1. Don’t forget how much it would weigh when pulling 5G around corners like they were doing at Silverstone recently.

      1. yeah, there’s a good reason why it weighs what it weighs…

    2. But if the hemlmet is made heavier then in the event of a crash it puts a higher strain on the driver’s neck. So if they did increase the weight of the helmet then they would also have to improve the evectiveness of the HANS device.

      I am sure thought that if the top people in the area of helmet design put their minds together and were given a significant enough budget by the FiA and F1 teams then they could come up with an even safer helmet without a significant increase in helmet weight.

  43. Massa could leave hospital in 10 days

    Peter Bazso, the medical director of the hospital, told Hungarian TV channel M1 on Tuesday: “My expectation is that he would walk out of the hospital on his own. If his recovery continues at this pace, I wouldn’t rule out that he could leave within 10 days.”

    “I would like to point out that although he’s recovering, this is not the end of the story, he is still in a life-threatening condition,” Bazso said. “Of course, the danger is decreasing by the day.”


  44. It seems these safety discussions are forgetting the spectators and the course workers. How will improved helmets help them? If the spring had come loose on the main straight, and bounced in the stands, who would have been hurt?

    In the case of Surtes accident, the wheel tether needs investigated and improved. In the case of Massa, it seems to me that the direction to head is bodywork that can enclose as much of the mechanicals of the car to prevent debris from coming loose and officials that black flag cars at any corner to make them pull off if something is suspect.

    For those involved during a race weekend – fans, course workers, pit crew, and drivers – the amount of risk these people should be asked to shoulder is different, and the first thought should be to protecting fans and course workers.

  45. “If the spring had come loose on the main straight, and bounced in the stands, who would have been hurt?”

    Nobody. They are all standing still and protected by chain-link.

    The most recent example is actually NASCAR about a month ago where an entire car hit the fence. The fence wasn’t the problem. It was NASCAR racing doctrine.

Comments are closed.