Crash shows open cockpits are an “area of concern”

2015 Austrian Grand Prix

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The first-lap crash between Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso’s crash showed further improvements need to be made in the area of driver cockpit safety, according to Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa.

Alonso’s car landed on top of Raikkonen’s and its right-hand sidepod passed close to the driver’s head. Alonso found himself in a similar situation in Belgium three years ago when Romain Grosjean rode over the front of his car.

The FIA has previously investigated whether Formula One cars need to have closed cockpits. “We know that that’s an area of concern still, this open cockpit and the risks that there are in that sense,” said Rosberg when asked about it after the race.

“Of course it’s an ongoing investigation to try and improve the safety, step by step and we need to see what we can do about it in the near future.”

Felipe Massa, who was seriously injured after he was struck by a piece of debris during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, agreed that work must continue in this area.

“Definitely we always need to look where we can improve,” he said. “If you see that after what happened to me in my accident, they improved the helmets, they improved the visors and I think we definitely always need to look where to look.”

“I don’t know if completely closing the cockpit… We have some improvements to do – we need to do it.”

Last year Jules Bianchi suffered serious head injuries after colliding with a recovery vehicle during the Japanese Grand Prix. An investigation concluded that enclosing the cockpit would not have “mitigated his injuries”.

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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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    70 comments on “Crash shows open cockpits are an “area of concern””

    1. I think Kimi was very lucky to be not injured and climb out of the car after the crash. Seen some gif replay of the accident and Alonso’s car was dangerously close to his head. The tray underneath the front crash structure for just inches away from causing a serious accident.

      If things don’t improve in the second half of the season, I can see Kimi retiring. Too much at stake for too little rewards. He got a son only recently and it will be on his mind as well.

      Ferrari definitely have to look into the spins caused in his car before something untoward happens.

      1. it was himself who said that F1 should be more dangerous, isn’t he?

        1. yeah he said afte race “it’s dangerous, but racing is dangerous always. It must have been worse for the guy that was standing there and we must have come close to hit him.”

      2. Neither of the drivers quoted was in a position to see the accident, both drivers involved were uninjured, you may have reservations about the safety of open cockpit racing but nothing about this accident supports those reservations.

    2. I was more worried about the gap in the fencing.

    3. Sadly I don’t think anything will change in F1 until we see a fatality.

      1. We haveve seen fatalities and things have changed, we’ve seen near fatalities and there have been changes, no sporting endeavor is entirely 100% safe, we have just recently had deaths in cricket, horse racing, rugby and waterskiing, not to mention the dangerous sports such as snow-skiing, mountaineering, power boat racing, driving to work. F1 has made huge advances in safety already, it is surely already one of the safest forms of motorsport.

        1. Sadly within a couple of hours of posting the above comes the news of another Rugby(league) player dieing from injuries sustained in a match on the weekend, we should all be grateful that injuries in F1 are so rare in this era of the sport.

        2. Road cars are not dangerous but if the drivers are incompetent and arrogant it sure will be hell of a danger and the amount of people who died from road accidents is humongous. So F1 is still very safe!

      2. Let’s face it, Jules is all but a fatality. I’d love for him to recover, but I also don’t consider his current state much of ‘life’ either. In short, with respect to safety and regulation in F1, I don’t think anyone should feel better about it due to Jules’s state than one would feel if Jules had actually died.

        1. Let’s face it, the only reason Jules is in the state he’s in is because there was a tractor on the circuit, not because of the lack of safety in the car design.

          A closed airplane style bubble cockpit, which have been offered as solutions, would have given little to no protection to Jules in his particular accident. He hit the 6+ ton tractor so hard it lifted off the ground.

          It was a freak accident caused by ridiculous circuit management. Had the tractor not been there, Jules would have hit the barrier, climbed out of the car and walked away.

    4. Noses to high, fear of ramming injury.
      Noses to low , fear of submarining.
      Open cockpit, danger of head injury.
      Closed cockpit, danger of entrapment.
      The only way to make racing a safe venture is not to have racing. There are risks. This isn’t to argue future safety development. I think one of the best safety features available to drivers is to be surrounded by fellow professionals who know what they are doing. Get the hint pay drivers?

      1. Have to disagree with your second point. Accidents can involve even the most experienced, week paid drivers, as happened today.

        Do agree that there will always be a degree of danger and that driver skill and training can help them react to avoidable incidents.

      2. No seatbelts – driver is thrown from the car in an accident
        Seatbelts – driver could be trapped in the car when it’s on fire

        ‘Conventional wisdom’ is often the biggest obstacle when it comes to improving safety. There have been plenty of enormous accidents in sportscars, some where the cars have ended up inverted, and in most cases the closed cockpit has saved, rather than endangered the drivers’ lives.

        I think when talking about closed cockpits, it’s really just a question of when it will happen, and what will be the thing that triggers it. Either it’s because the powers that be collectively come to a sensible conclusion, or it’ll be because a driver loses his head.

        1. A total +1

          It will happen, the question will be whether a driver will die from a head injury first.

          1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
            22nd June 2015, 13:01

            +1 completely agree.

            It’s a matter of time before closed cockpits are implemented so we can either do it the easy way or the hard way. Waiting for someone to actually have their helmet smashed in is rediculous.

            Grosjean almost took Alonsos head off a few years back and now Nando nearly snapped Kimis neck, thats enough near misses now to know it’s not a freak occurence, but a likely one.

            Andries van Overbeeke has done some great concept chassis mockups, which I personally think look fantastic:

      3. We have brains…Why just give up???

      4. The solution is play the racing sims.

      5. @fletch This is an excellent comment, I completely agree.

        This is racing at nearly 200mph, the drivers have to accept the risks.

      6. “I think one of the best safety features available to drivers is to be surrounded by fellow professionals who know what they are doing.”

        The crash this post talks about was caused by a world champion.

    5. Racing is dangerous. Why not put 30mph speed limits to avoid all accidents in the future? Ban all human drivers and let them race with a joystick in hand, then nobody will ever get hurt. And they wonder why F1 is losing viewers. Let the drivers race. They know the risks and are paid handsomely for it.

      1. I race model cars, Lewis Hamilton used to, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner still do.
        Funnily enough every so often somebody gets a relatively small injury, we have to have race licenses and £1M public liability insurance.
        As you say, racing is dangerous.

      2. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        22nd June 2015, 13:11

        Lets go back to no helmets or no firesuits then… Since they know the risks and are paid hansomely etc…

        F1 is not an extreme sport, and I dont agree that high likelihood of death is a necessary component of the Formula

        1. @fullcoursecaution Using helmets and firesuits don’t change the essence of F1. F1 is an open-wheel open-cockpit formula. It’s part of what makes it F1. If a driver prefers a closed cockpit they can always go to WEC IMO.

    6. Wheel guards could help here to help stop the cars getting airborne in the first place.

      1. really? indy has some wheel covers, and we saw quite a few car airborne in the last couple of seasons

        1. That was because the indycars were going 230 mph on an oval and spun backwards. Not a problem we’re going to see in F1.

      2. pastaman (@)
        21st June 2015, 21:23

        Wheel guards are only there to protect from punctures, there are still plenty of crashes where one car ends up on top of another (Indycar)

        1. They’re also to protect against interlocked wheels which was a common cause of crashes on ovals prior to the current DW12 car.

    7. You wonder how much of this is due to the low nose of Alonso catching the undeside of the rear of Raikkonen’s car. Surely in this day and age, a rear on crash is going to be a lot more common than a side on?

      1. @mouse_nightshirt – I completely agree. I can’t remember ever seeing an F1 car lifting another before they introduced the low nose regulations.

        Am I correct that they introduced the low noses precisely to protect against this?

      2. Am I blind, or was it not Alonso on top of the Ferrari, ie even with a low nose the faster car climbed over the obstructing car.

      1. Trenthamfolk (@)
        21st June 2015, 18:28

        @skiny Thanks for the link… :-)

      2. Wow really nice, but it doesn’t have vipers, will affect visibility in rain. Plus it would also require an air conditioning unit, mean more power needed and weight.

      3. Great drawings, illustrates the case against closed cockpits perfectly, Kimi would have been trapped in the cockpit until the crane arrived and lifted the McLaren off.

        1. could get decapitated too… either way motorsport is and will be dangerous, as I said just great looking illustrations.

      4. Wow! Cool, thanks for the link.

    8. Trenthamfolk (@)
      21st June 2015, 18:26

      Crash shows that going fast in a motor car is a concern… Fortunately, Red Bull have that one covered…

    9. Well, Kimi asked for more dangerous racing…

    10. The problem isn’t the open cockpit, it’s the current noses:

      1. @paeschli I would not read too much into Newey’s crying over the fact that some of his favourite toys are out of the game now. It’s been more than one year since that article you refer to and we did not have a single case of low nose making trouble (AFAIR). We also have more than 20 years of low noses to look at and assess the danger, and it seems negligible compared to other factors – like open wheels launching cars.

        I am all for low noses – not for safety reasons, but simply because high noses look ugly. If I had my way, I’d force teams to extend the regulation flat underside all the way to the front and use just a simple one-plank front wing. This would greatly reduce dependence on clear air, thus making slipstreaming more likely, and the cars would start looking good again. Add wider wheels and I’d be one happy F1 fan :-).

        1. And it is worth noting that the FIA wanted to get rid of the high noses because – certainly in the case of Newey’s cars – the high noses were potentially more lethal than the low noses (as the nose cones of his cars were higher than the side impact protection of the cars, a T-bone impact would potentially lead to the nose hitting the other driver directly in the head).

          In fact, in this particular instance the nose height made no difference given that no contact was made with the nose cones of either car – the contact was between the rear of Kimi’s car and the side of Alonso’s car, and Alonso’s car rode up over the rear bodywork of Kimi’s car (as shown in this gif here ), not the front.

      2. The low nose had nothing to do with it. Alonso car hit the barrier and lifted up then bounced up on to kimis car.

    11. Since Senna’s death 20 years ago, numerous drivers have died in motor racing series’ that do have closed cockpits. So I certainly don’t think that closed cockpits are the answer. When I think of closed cockpits there are so many gruesome possibilities for deaths that pass through my brain.

    12. By extending roll hoop / air intake further forward the
      drivers head would be protected from above and
      partly from the side without compromising visibility.
      The part of the roll hoop / air intake that extends over
      the drivers head could be made to be detachable to not
      make it difficult to enter or leaving the car.
      Also the cars would retain their character of open racing
      cars and visibility of the drivers.

      1. I read that as “the drivers head could be made to be detachable ” at first!!!

        But yes this makes some sense, they already detach the cockpit trim and it would possibly be quicker to eject the roll hoop than a closed cockpit screen?

        1. It would only be the most forward part of the roll hoop that
          would be detachable. The roll hoop proper would be the same
          as now.

      2. I like the thinking, but in Kimi’s accident, the undertray from the McLaren was what nearly got him, the extended air intake wouldn’t have stopped that sharp edge from getting in. Plus an extended roll hoop makes for harder entry/egress, in case of emergency extraction.

    13. No knee-jerk reactions please. This is racing. It is dangerous.

    14. Lewisham Milton
      21st June 2015, 23:35

      What about stupid tyres with a dangerously narrow operating temperature?
      Why aren’t they an area of concern?

      1. This has been an issue since the 60’s… It even contributed to Senna’s issue in 94. Interesting point, perhaps this should be a more highlighted safety concern. Anyone know if this has been raised before?

        I know that RBR use to be guilty of running dangerously low tyre pressures, but in terms of operating performance, the tyres are dangerous when they lose heat.

        1. @keithcollantine damn you, I’ve got your comment from the other day stuck in the back of my mind, referring to heat and not temperature ;)

    15. I always feel a bit disheartened when the open cockpit discussion comes up, and hear the comments from people saying it shouldn’t be implemented, even though if you scroll back through articles on Massa, Surtees, Bianchi, Senna it’ll rightly be filled with comments expressing sympathy and regret. There seems to be a slight hypocrisy to the general opinion on this.

      Those saying “It’s not F1” forgot that F1 is just a bunch of regulations which can be changed. I don’t consider DRS, designed-to-degrade tyres, pay-drivers or fuel limits to be F1 but we have them. Others will quite rightly say driver extrication could be problematic, well with slighter wider cars possibly coming we can have doors which open out over the sidepods. Fire? Less of an issue now than ever and the cars have fire suppression systems built into them now.

      I’d love to see canopies introduced, strong enough to mean the driver might perhaps be able to wear an open faced helmet like rally drivers (unlikely though) so we can actually see a bit of emotion. They’re aesthetically (subjective) and technically (objective) better. But considering that Bianchi’s incident wasn’t enough to prompt any movement on this, I feel it’ll take a fatality and probable legal action from a driver’s family against the governing body for failing to do everything in their power to achieve maximum safety before anything changes.

      None of us would go to work if we thought our employers were ignoring recent trends which highlight such a risk.

      1. So you want cars built like battle-tanks, or we could have a 500cc. formula to slow the cars down ?

        1. Or even more effective, the Swiss solution, it’s 100% safe.

        2. I want the fastest racing cars in the world (implied by the ‘1’ in F1) designed as safely as possible. A 250mph tank, yes please.

          Another really obvious hypocrisy regarding the general opinion on this: see how many people express opinions aligned with “No to closed cockpits, F1 should be dangerous.” and yet others say “No to closed cockpits, they’re too dangerous.” Even the comments on this very article demonstrate this lack of consensus on why it’s a bad idea.

          As far as I can see, the only valid and consistently expressed reason why they’re a bad idea is that a tyre hitting a canopy is more likely to bounce into a grandstand than a tyre hitting a drivers head, and that the safety of the general public takes priority over that of a driver. Which is macabre, but probably logical.

          1. +1. If all we needed was F1 being dangerous, things wouldn’t have changed after Senna’s death.

            The risk is in driving the car faster. That is what should be dangerous. It should not involve the life of the driver. Crash is fine as the speeds are high but the cars must be safe enough to withstand the impact and safe guard the driver.

          2. @muzzleflash, unfortunately not even a 20 ton tank would be a safe place to be when hit by another 20 ton tank traveling at 250 mph.

            1. Sorry, I thought the use of the word ‘tank’ was a reference to strength, rather than weight. It wouldn’t be anything near 20 tons. Probably a bit heavier than current cars, yes, but at some point the extra weight will of course reduce safety in terms of the amount of energy in a crash. A lorry/truck is not inherently safer than a car just because it’s bigger.

          3. @muzzleflash I think you look at the weak arguments only. Every changes has its own benefit and risk, including to use closed cockpit or not.

            Personally, I don’t want closed cockpit F1 because the risk is far greater than open cockpit one. Like the article says, on this kind of accident, a closed cockpit could trapped Kimi until they removed Alonso McLaren from top of his Ferrari. Even worse, if the impact of accident make a the cockpit jammed, a driver cannot get medical treatment on serious crash and that precious seconds on try to forcefully remove the cockpit could be fatal. Based on this, I believe the risk of closed cockpit is greater than the benefit it gives.

            The biggest problem with F1 cockpit is there are not enough spare spaces for the driver and there’s only 1 hole for entering or exiting the cockpit that is not reinforced. So this hole shouldn’t have anything that may hinder or complicating the driver to exit the cockpit as soon as possible. On LMP or GT cars drivers have more spaces potential access point (other side door/window and windshield screen) should the primary door jammed.

            1. The F16 style bubble canopy, just placed on top of a current F1 chassis, and only able to open upwards does have this problem.

              A better solution is a slightly wider car, and doors either side of the driver, either on hinges or completely detachable like an aircraft emergency door. Something closer to this concept.

              I think the driver extrication argument is just an engineering problem which can be solved, and that all the current regulations on it shouldn’t change in terms of time to get out, access etc. Something like the above concept, with doors which pop completely off to give a Targa-top type layout seems okay, though I’m sure the FIA would come up with something better.

            2. @muzzleflash Sorry, I can’t really see where the door at the concept car picture, can you explain it more?

              Anyway, at current form, the side of the driver is not free space either, it has radiator, pumps, and battery I think. So making a door probably not an option unless we radically change the design of the formula (as in we don’t know how many article in rulebook that has to be changed, mainly about dimensions on those area). Also making a door means weakening side structural impact. Side protection is more important IMO because we get much more accident that threatening those areas instead of directly aiming to the head (and Massa spring accident is too freak to even happen).

              Mind you I’m not opposed of changing the formula if it needs to be, but probably the solution we have come up with so far is not adequate enough.

    16. Oh no, not closed cockpits for F1 please!!!

    17. Don’t think F1 can be 100% safe and speed will always be dangerous. Drivers, pit crews, marshals and even fans know freak accidents can happen that’s why it’s ‘freak’.
      What if a car get tossed over the fence and into the fans, you can’t 100% guarantee us it won’t happen. But safety has improved so much in F1 it’s even safer than soccer or rugby.

    18. I’ve read a lot of the comments about Kimi’s accident and the pros and cons for closed cockpits for F1, but I really think that this is only something that the drivers themselves should have the last say in. They are the ones that race these things, they are the ones that risk their lives each time they put it on the track. However, if you take out politics, emotional fans like us all, and just asked the drivers, in 2016, would you want F1 cars with closed cockpits or open cockpits? Whatever solution is chosen, then the safety folk at the FIA should go on their merry way and research the safest way of implementing the chosen solution. Any highlighted risks of the solution found by the FIA safety folk should be reiterated back to the drivers to confirm they’re ok to proceed and then implement the solution or change tact and implement the solution. Lets cut the BS on this one and just do it properly for once, without political interference.

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