Cockpit covers should be investigated – drivers

2014 Japanese Grand Prix

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Formula One should investigate the possibility of introducing cockpit covers, according to drivers, in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s crash at Suzuka.

The FIA began examining how to improve F1 cockpit safety following Felipe Massa’s crash at the Hungaroring in 2009, and another crash which killed Formula Two driver Henry Surtees the same year.

Speaking in today’s press conference Massa said it would be “interesting to work on that possibility”.

“Definitely, for my accident it would have been perfect. Maybe for Jules, I don’t know. But I think maybe it could have been interesting for so many different types of accident, including the one I had.”

“We will see when we could try something or see something to understand if it’s positive or not,” he added.

Fernando Alonso, who had a narrow escape when his car was hit by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus during the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, also said the idea deserved further research.

“I probably tend to agree to at least check and try or test the idea,” said the Ferrari drivers. “I think we are in 2014, we have the technology, we have aeroplanes, we have had many other samples that they use in a successful way so why not think about it?”

“All the biggest accidents in motor sport over the last couple of years have been head injuries so it’s probably one part where we are not at the top of safety.

“Even in my case, in 2012 at Spa, I could probably have died there in corner one if it had been ten centimetres closer to my head. If the technology is there and available, and there is the possibility, I would not exclude it, for sure.”

However others pointed out it would mean a significant change for Formula One’s identity if cars no longer had open cockpits.

“It’s a difficult one,” said Jenson Button. “This is Formula One that’s been open cockpit since the start of time so it’s a very big change for the sport to make.”

“Safety is something that, as I said, we can always improve on so I’m sure it will be looked at whether it is possible to change or not for the future.”

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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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49 comments on “Cockpit covers should be investigated – drivers”

  1. I don’t think it would have made a difference in the crash for Jules, but that is not the point. There are plenty of incidents where it WOULD make a difference (Massa’s Hungarian incident for example) so they need to do something.
    And I do not understand the arguments about it “looking horrible”. I saw how cool Adrian Newey’s X1 dream car looked and it certainly didn’t suffer from the closed cockpit, aesthetically speaking. I also saw the HORRID implementation they were looking at two years ago where they were obscuring the drivers view….it was almost like they were intentionally trying to make it ugly and unusable so it wouldn’t be adopted. The current role hoop covers every overturned car I’ve ever seen so a bullet-proof, jet fighter style cockpit cover would do the trick to keep debris out of the drivers head and help deflect the errant stray wheel that occasionally gets flung across the track as in Kimi’s accident this year.

    1. plenty of examples in f1 or 1?

      1. Are you being serious or do you just enjoy being contrary? Massa, James Hinchcliffe at Indy this year, Chilton’s narrow miss from Kimi’s debris at Silverstone this year, Henry Surtees, Dan Wheldon (I’m still convinced that even a deflection on that one MIGHT have saved his life). I’m just naming incidents off the top of my head here so I’m sure there are many more injuries or near misses. How many deaths and injuries does it take before we stop whining about “the good old days” and do something?

        How often do drivers end up driving through a debris field after a wreck? You think that eventually someone won’t get hit by a major piece of a wing braking off at 250kph?

  2. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
    9th October 2014, 17:25

    Irrespective of whether a closed cockpit would have made any difference for Biancho (imho it doesn’t), you just don’t want drivers to get trapped in their cars because their cockpits are closed. If a cockpit canopy is made to be strong and able to sustain serious impacts like a steel spring tumbling around on track (cf. Massa) or a Lotus flying over your car (cf. Alonso/Grosjean), it should be attached to the rest of the car seriously firmly. However, that would also mean that removing a canopy in case of an emergency (e.g., in case of a fire) will be difficult. I just do not see this idea working.
    If they want to decrease the odds of stuff hitting drivers heads, adding a cover may be one idea, but another idea worth investigating may be taking measures to reduce the amount of things that can hit heads. To name a few: making it less likely that a car is lifted into the air (cf. Alonso/Grosjean), don’t use high-off-the-ground tractors on race tracks (cf. Bianchi), and keep strengthening the attachment cables that prevent wheels coming off cars (cf. Surtees).

    1. @hanswesterbeek
      ” it should be attached to the rest of the car seriously firmly. However, that would also mean that removing a canopy in case of an emergency”

      Really? The nose is part of the crash structure, and they can replace those during pit-stops. I’m not an engineer, but I’m pretty sure there are people out there who can find a solution to the “must be strong” and “must be easily removable” problem for canopies.

      1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
        9th October 2014, 18:16

        Exactly. The nose is part of the crash structure, i.e., the part that is designed to shatter and dissipate as much energy as possible.
        Seems you are mixing up crash structures and safety cells here. A canopy would obviously be part of the latter.

        1. @hanswesterbeek
          “Seems you are mixing up crash structures and safety cells here.”

          No, not really. I never claimed they were equivalent, just stating my belief that if they can engineer the crash structure to come apart with such ease, then there is probably also a solution to make a canopy capable of quick-release.

    2. Fire would be my main concern as well about adopting a closed cockpit. Smoke inhalation in such a confined space would be a massive problem. At least in touring cars etc, there is a far bigger cabin so it takes longer to fill with smoke, also many of those can open windows if they need to, or get out another door. F1 would not have that luxury. If they could do some sort of fighter jet ejection it might work although that might be cost prohibitive.

  3. If they used canopies, then they would also need to use explosive bolts for egress. Any new solutions will bring many new (and possibly unforeseen) problems, for example, the canopy would be narrower than any airplane, and would therefore also distort vision. As far as new safety measures to implement, maybe wheel skirts make more sense? How about modular Armco aprons that can be brought from race to race and attached to tractors?

  4. As pointed out by several commenters since the idea of cockpit canopies started to re-emerge in the past week is that is reaction is a direct response to the deeply concerning incident that befell Bianchi in Japan, and would not have helped in that circumstance. Yes a canopy could lower the threat from cars going over the top of others and deflecting loose debris – the source of the terrible incidents involving Massa and Surtees – but like so many people have noted bring with it a host of other problems. Specifically with regard to driver extraction – for example how quickly could a driver be removed from a canopied car if it had rolled over, which draws parallels with the initial concerns surrounding the gullwing doors on the SLS GT car – preventing escape when upside down. In that case – I believe – explosive bolts were used to eject the doors if necessary. But there is a lot more room to play with in a GT car in comparison to a single seater.

    If an F1 car rolled with a canopy could first responding marshals get to a driver, or would have to wait for larger machinery to approach the car to lift it first. Because with the way a F1 comes to rest when upside down due to the shape of the car – there would be nowhere for a canopy to eject to as it would be pressing on the ground. At least in the case of the GT the doors came away to the side so there would be a natural point of egress. Meaning not only do we have the problem of recovery vehicles on track, but a driver trapped in a car waiting for it to arrive. Admittedly in a roll over situation the safety car probably would have been deployed – one would hope – lowering the risk to other drivers, but I think that F1 would do a lot better focussing on the other causes of incidents such as Bianchi’s – procedural changes to enforcing driver responses to yellow flags, use of the safety car and the implementation of slow-zones and placing track-side recovery under the jurisdiction of race control.

    1. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
      9th October 2014, 18:17

      Very true indeed.

      1. I disagree. The canopy would not be a load bearing structure if the car rolled, any more than the drivers head is a load bearing structure…that is the job of the roll hoop and it would continue to serve that function. The drivers are jammed in with a piece which locks in over there shoulders today and this must be removed before the driver can be extracted.
        The canopy could be secured in a similar fashion and would not be the load bearing piece so there is no change to driver safety here.
        The purpose of the canopy is to prevent debris from having an unobstructed path to a drivers head. The fact that it might also help deflect and absorb some of the energy in case something larger (such as another car going over the top) is a bonus.

        The argument you are making is similar to when people claimed that seat belts were dangerous because you might get trapped in a car if it went over a bridge and you had to get out before the water could trap and drown you LOL That silly discussion actually delayed seat belts becoming mandatory here in the US.

        This driver extraction argument only distracts from the fact that something can be done to improve driver safety and you’re letting strange and unlikely what-if scenarios prevent an obvious safety feature.

        1. But it needs to be strong enough to withstand serious loading from impacts (high speed tires ,spring, and that car going over etc.) to be of any use so it will be load bearing @daved, and think of Magnussen/kvyat issues in Singapore, no cooling? All probably solvable, but not as simple as you claim.

          1. I’m not the only one saying it could be solved rather simply. Rob Smedley knows a bit more about this stuff than I do and he said that same thing, very clearly.
            Load bearing would be even better. I don’t know the characteristics of bullet proof glass. But it sure can’t have a negative affect on safety and it would certainly be able to deflect objects so it’s better than nothing. If it could stop a bullet, then it could certainly stop a spring or bolt, etc from hitting a driver in the head.

            Are you suggesting that we don’t do anything unless it’s a perfect solution that could solve every problem?

    2. When the car is upside down whether it has canopy or not doesn’t make huge difference. If the canopy is so deep in the ground that extraction is not possible then it is better to have the canopy than not have because there is a risk of the driver’s head going into the ground. In both cases the car needs to be rolled over in some fashion to get to the driver.

      I find the whole argument for the car uglyness a hilarious joke at most. The cars are already hideous, sound awful and then we have people saying we can’t have this in f1 cars because it would make it ugly. Maybe it is one of the parts of the dna of modern f1 that the car must be ugly but only when it makes them faster, not safer.

      1. Yes, if they’re worried about ugly, then look at those hideous noses…which are very dubious for safety anyway. Yes, you don’t have to worry about a driver getting T-boned in the head from the high noses of 2013, but now you have to worry about them submarining under and sending another driver airborne.

    3. If the canopy was load bearing when the car rolls, surely they’d be able to raise the height of the roll hoop in order to shift the point of contact with the ground further down the nose?

  5. I know for a fact the FIA will look at other things such as cockpit covers to cover up the fact that their yellow flag periods just don’t cut it in the means of safety.

    Drivers have been basically ignoring double yellow flags which means slow down and be prepared to stop, Jules was doing over 200kph, no way is that slowing enough. The whole rules need looking at again and maybe need scrapping, introducing a slow zone would be a good solution and would be a better option than bringing out the safety car on every occasion.

  6. This is a diversion from the real problem, not respecting yellow flags, as highlighted by Gary Hartstein on his blog. I was surprised this artile did not make it to a roundup here on F1F.

    It is perhaps a controversial article but it is a great one none-the-less. It makes an important point which should be considered – perfect the already impleneted safety systems rather the call for new ones which carry just as many problems as they solve.

    1. Not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but it seems more likely that the track has inadequate drainage at that particular corner. Redesigning the cars is all well and good but it won’t stop cars going off the track at that particular place under similar conditions.

  7. Add some fenders, too.

  8. I think open cockpits are one of the main reasons why Formula One is able to attract fans who aren’t interested in motorsport in general (such as myself), because open cockpits highlight the drivers. With closed cockpits, Formula One would be boxes running around the track to the majority of people .

    It seems cruel to keep open cockpits and thus put entertainment before safety, but there will eventually be a point in which Formula One has to do just that. For instance, restricting maximum speed of Formula One cars to 200 kph would make the sport safer, but that would be very dull.

    I know that’s an extreme example, but that just shows that if we choose safety over entertainment on every issue, we probably shouldn’t have Formula One at all.

    Having said all that, I understand that it’s possible that within 20 years Formula One cars have cockpit covers and everyone’s wondering how it’s possible that people were once against closed cockpits.

    1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      9th October 2014, 20:26

      @hotbottoms maybe, if the canopy proved to be strong enough, drivers could drive with their bare faces (wearing helmets similar to wrc) so, instead of having “running boxes” you could see drivers’ emotiobs, at least on the replays.

  9. When you look back over the last 20 years, it’s a wonder we haven’t had an accident of this severity in a while. Fernando’s right, he could have easily been killed two years ago…

    1. Well we do not have high-noses any more, so that to happen again it’s quite low risk.

      1. I personally think these low-noses are more dangerous than high-noses. I remember two (there might be more) collisions in this season where other car was sent in the air because the low nose scooped it up. I believe it was massa who rolled over on one occasion and maldonado who took air in another one.

        1. In the case of Maldonado flipping over Gutierrez, it was the contact between the tyres

          quite the same if I’m not mistaking in the case of Massa

          but You’re right, that danger exist and also the danger of an car to hit the car in front, the nose goes under and lifts the back end dangerously towards the driver.

          1. PS sorry, but it seems that I was unable to link the utube videos of the accident.

  10. Sorry to be like this, as I know this may seem like an inconsiderate comment, but F1 is and (almost) always has been an open cockpit and open wheel racing series. We have seen all sorts of variations over the past 60+ years, but for me personally, this is what F1 should be. Drivers compete in the series knowing the risks of open cockpit racing, and accepting them. While situations need to be made as safe as possible, changing the cars in this way is almost removing the ‘Formula One’ out of ‘Formula One’. Just my opinion though.

    1. Not always open-wheel actually. There have always been open-wheel cars racing, but not all cars have exclusively open-wheel.

  11. Safety improvement should be a continuous thing, and therefore I very-much hope that Bianchi’s accident has absolutely no effect on the policy with closed-cockpits. The FIA/FOM should have a very healthy amount of research & analysis done on the subject and while Jules’ accident was shocking, I don’t expect it to add anything unexpected to core of that research.

    If the attitude to closed cockpits were changed with no significant new data then either a) a route would be being followed simply for people’s appeasement or b) there has been a fundamental failure towards safety all along. It would be like the Perez-Monaco chicane alteration all over again. Don’t wait for an accident to happen before making safety improvements, and don’t change things after an accident just to look like you’re doing something. Keep analysing safety, keep improving things, and when an accident happens you should always have a good-enough reason for why things are the way they are.

  12. Would a great design like Adrian Newey’s Redbull X2014 car work? That’s pretty much a Formula One car on steroids but does have a closed cockpit. He designed it and I honestly think that at least a concept for a real car should be done. The only problem I see with a closed cockpit is the heat… it already gets super hot in the car with an open cockpit.

  13. I don’t like the canopy idea, but if so, what happens if the teams need to change the steering wheel as we’ve seen happen more than once this year? It will take even more time and I feel like it may not have made a difference in Jules’ instance.

    1. The Strategy Group will probably decide that all cars must carry a spare steering wheel.

    2. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      9th October 2014, 20:22

      @beejis60 that would be just a technical failure comparable to stuck tyreguns or time needed to change the nose.

  14. It’s a very problematic subject, the one of canopy in open wheel racing. It reduces some ricks of direct impact with the drivers helmet, but it gives birth to others, like the time needed to step out of the car, in particular in the event of a roll over.

    I think is safe to say that if we had canopies in F1 20 years ago, Ayrton Senna would have walk away from Tamburello, or Henry Surtees would maybe race in F1 today, to mention a jut some.

  15. F1 to me isnt about open cockpit racing, its suppose to be the pinnacle of motorsport and evolve with the times. You cant hold on outdated traditions for the sake of it.

    It doesnt matter if a closed cockpit would have helped Jules or not, the fact is a closed cockpit provides safety in numerous other situations. Are there downfalls and potential other hazards of a closed cockpit? Yes, but the benefits greatly out weight the negatives. This is like people back in the day claiming airbags would be a bad choice in cars.

    No brainer to me.

  16. Has anybody investigated the posibility of a popup structure? Something could pop up from the body of pop forward from the roll guard.

    Or maybe it’s possible to have enough room in the cockpit to allow driver to cower inside completely? Looking at the video of the Crash, it appeared as if Bianchi was lowering his head as much as he could, but still missed a couple of inches that was sticking up from the cockpit.

    Annother possibility could be a mechanism that would lower the body just enough to protect the head.

  17. My 2c worth:
    1c. Don’t completely enclose the cockpit but introduce a high windscreen in front only. This would help protect the driver from flying springs and wheels but still allow normal egress to the sides.
    2c. Introduce compulsory pit lane limiter in double-waved yellow segments. From the point where they reach the yellow lights to the point where they reach the next green. Every driver has to slow down equally and safely and it is easily policed by the stewards. Would also have the advantage that safety car deployments would be reduced.

    1. I agree with that. I think – and this is no way is to reflect on the crash that just occurred – that drivers often only pay lip service to the requirement of slowing under double waved yellows. After all, their job is to go around the track as fast as possible and make the track as short as possible, so it is understandable why the words ‘Slow down’ just don’t compute sometimes. A compulsory limiter, deployed by the pitlane, might be the best solution.

  18. If we put canopies and fenders on them then the teams can just get LeMans cars and use those. Think of the cost savings.

  19. I think a lot of the negative reaction is the instinctive fear of being trapped, but this is F1 where rescue is never more than 2 minutes away. The cockpit would be sealed, so any fire would be outside, not inside. They wouldn’t be allowed to put batteries or fuel lines in there.

    All the various difficulties can be solved, including aircon and wipers, it just needs a leap of imagination. As has been pointed out they wouldn’t need helmets in the same way, just for HANS basically, so we might see more of the drivers rather than less.

    ISTR the problem the FIA analysis stalled on last time was visual distortion, in 16mm of polycarbonate, but that might not be insuperable if the will is there. Which it should be IMO with the drivers’ heads running around at 300 kph.

    It’s not really the solution to Bianchi’s accident, but even so if it had deflected the car an inch or two to the right that might have made a critical difference.

  20. It doesn’t matter what type of container you put the human head in, the fact is that the severity of some crashes is so great that nothing will protect you from them. Lexan and its counterparts are not indestructible materials and even if they were, you can choose to have your brains splattered over what you hit or you can choose to have them splattered over the inside of a canopy, in either case the result is the same. If Mr. Bianchi had been in a closed cockpit, I’m certain he would have died due to the canopy shattering when it impacted the crane and piercing his head and body, so how is that result any “safer” in this one instance?
    The problem is that the human brain within the human skull can only survive a certain level of g-forces before the brain impacts the skull. The HANS device does a good job in the front to rear type of impact in keeping the neck from snapping but it does nothing if the impact is so great that the brain contacts the skull.
    If you cannot slow the brain’s acceleration and impact with respect to the skull, there is no cure in this instance canopy or not.

    1. @IceBlue Polycarbonate does not shatter. Also Bianchi wouldn’t have sustained such a brain injury from the car decelerating over a distance of 5m or more, which from say 140 kph is in the region of 16g, his helmet must have hit the tractor.

      1. Speed nearer 180kph, deceleration from that to about 40 kph in about 1m gives over 75g
        So I am surprised he has survived at all

  21. I personally do not think canopies are the way to go. Yes they prevent certain head injuries in some cases, but as I’ve seen people say before, there are other categories where the cockpit is enclosed and yet have suffered fatalities. A canopy may serve to hinder the driver’s escape, granted – but F1 engineers are geniuses, they would come up with a quick release mechanism and a way to ensure it’s effectiveness in all scenarios.

    Besides, the real issue is respecting flags. I’ve said this for years, none of the drivers respect the yellow flags. They lift off a little, they don’t really slow down. And as for double waved yellows, the rules state “slow down and be prepared to stop” and yet I have not seen a single driver obey that. I have always said it would punish someone one day, and whilst it is deeply deeply saddening that this has happened and my thoughts are with the Bianchi family, it has caused a serious injury. In my opinion, the FIA are taking the best steps in order to introduce a speed limit system, that will be far more effective, and more efficient for cost and time, in improving the safety standards in F1.

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