Marco Andretti, IndyCar, Pocono, 2018

Massa criticises “dangerous” IndyCar but Alonso says the risks are similar in F1


Posted on

| Written by and

FIA Karting president and former F1 driver Felipe Massa has criticised IndyCar’s approach to safety in the wake of Robert Wickens’ crash at Pocono.

Wickens is being treated in hospital for spinal cord injuries after his car was launched into a debris fence at Pocono eight days ago. The last official medical update confirmed he is able to breathe without assistance.

He has been treated for fractures to his legs and right arm. The full extent of the injuries to his spine have not been disclosed.

Massa, who suffered serious head injuries when he was struck by debris in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, said IndyCar has not done enough to keep pace with safety improvements in other championships.

“When you see all the accidents that happens in F1 and IndyCar in the last years we can say that F1 is always trying to improve (Halo, track changes, Virtual Safety Car etc… to improve safety) and IndyCar is not doing much”, he wrote on social media.

Massa echoed Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff’s criticism of IndyCar’s debris fences. “It’s unbelievable to see a circuit like Pocono, average speed around 360kph and you see the walls lower like that, with the fences, so, so dangerous for the safety,” Massa added.

Fence, Pocono, IndyCar, 2018
Wickens hit a debris fence at high speed
“Sorry to say that, but they need to look for safety of the drivers.”

However Fernando Alonso, who is believed to be considering a full-time switch to the championship next year, said the risks are no different to those found in other championships.

“Anything can happen in motorsport to be honest. It’s not only the IndyCar series, it’s also here in F1, it’s in rally, it’s in all types of motorsport,” he said on Saturday.

“The speed, as high as it goes the more risk it is and the highest speed in the world is the Indy 500. If you commit for the full championship it’s not any extra risk compared to the 500 which is probably the biggest.”

IndyCar declined to comment on Massa’s remarks.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2018 Pocono 500 highlights

Don't miss anything new from RaceFans

Follow RaceFans on social media:

2018 F1 season

Browse all 2018 F1 season articles

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.

23 comments on “Massa criticises “dangerous” IndyCar but Alonso says the risks are similar in F1”

  1. There were two huge accidents in the recent IndyCar & F1 races.
    In the first case, a car was violently destroyed lefting a multi-injured driver & the second driver(Huner Reay) was 10 cm from severe head injury at least…
    In F1, the heavily critised Halo prevented any kind of injury, as it broke the suspension & the wheel of the flying McLaren, that was heading into Leclerc’s cockpit.
    Many F1 drivers have expressed their unwillingness to compete at Ovals. At the start of the 00’s , M.Schumacher said that he would never compete in Indy 500.
    Button & Massa after their recent retirements said the same. Its not easy to compete at the lottery called Oval. Losing J.Wilson & D.Wheldon in those extreme accidents, shows that Oval racing needs safety improvements.

    1. @miltosgreekfan Wheldon’s accident was caused by pack racing which is something Indycar no longer do as the new cars have eliminated that sillyness.

      Wilson’s death wasn’t caused by oval racing & could have just as easily happened in Pre-Halo F1. He was hit by debris that had come off another car, The yellow had come out & he had slowed down to around 100mph when he was struck.

      1. The fundamental problem with ovals is that debris has nowhere to go but back on the track. Even without pack racing, the chances of hitting someone else’s crashed car or debris on an oval track is much higher than any other kind of circuit.

        1. I think the issue is the speed at which drivers arrive to the scene of accident. Both in f1 and indycar the debris is pretty much concentrated at the scene of the accident. Wrecks of the cars tend to end up off the track in indycar ovals due to the banking and momentum whereas in f1 the cars typically stop on track.

          In indycar ovals the speeds are much higher and the cars packed much closer together. In f1 it is rare that more than two cars are involved in an accident (unless the accident happens in the first corners). In indycar it is typical to have more than 2 cars heavily involved in an accident.

          Ovals have three major issues. High speed, cars close to each other and when accident happens everybody must drive at high speed through the scene of accident as the accident is unfolding while not being able to clearly see where the cars in front are. Just look at how many cars were involved in the wickens crash. People were crashing just to avoid accidents.

          In f1 it is really rare cars need to suddenly take evasive maneuvers to avoid an accident in front of them. In indycar they need to do it everytime on ovals when there is accident. You can hear the spotters telling the drivers go high, go low because the drivers can not even see where to go at times. On ovals every accident is high speed, multiple cars involved, high g-forces, poor visibility, lots of heavy debris, lots of cars close to each other.

          1. People were crashing because fluid on the track. Not to avoid accidents. Hinch crashed trying to avoid, but didn’t crash to avoid.

      2. @RogerA
        As @ferrox-glideh & @socksolid said, the issue is the speed that they arrive & the lack of reaction time.
        Indy have been good on safety, but we have seen cars flying due to aerodynamic issues as well

  2. I’ve never really followed Indycar to comment on it, but I’ve seen F1’s progress and it’s very good. I’m glad they are pushing Indycar to comment about it with these remarks, tho!

  3. i do not think the commens are totally fair to say that indycar has not done anything for safety.

    Indycar have in fact come up with several safety improvements that F1 have adopted. For example the side impact structures now mandatory in F1 were developed by Indycar as was the rear crash structures & High cockpit sides, The anti-penetration panels are another thing that came from Indycar. Indycar introduced the HANS device 2-3 years before F1. The safer barriers that have saved so many lives was developed by IMS/Indycar.

    1. I agree. INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway developed the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, and was involved in the development of the HANS device which have improved safety greatly. Even safety measures such as having a speed limit in the pit lane were used in Indycar before F1!

      I think what irks me the most about Felipe’s comments is that it is so easy to dish out criticism, but the reality of proposing a better solution is so much harder.

      1. Good and informative comments, RogerA and @georgeod , and if it is how IndyCar contributed, then it probably shows how safety should work in motorsport, with all series spurring one another on to adopt and improve appropriate safety measures.

      2. +George O’Donnell
        IndyCar has done much to improve safety over the years, and innovated much in racing, that much is true. But it can also be said they need to do more for driver safety, and in that respect Felipe is correct. Those catch fences are an abomination. It’s usually going to wind up in disaster when you have vehicles launching into catch fencing at 200+mph. IndyCar does a good job protecting the fans at the track, but seems to be tone deaf to driver concerns at times, despite the drivers voicing their safety concerns time and again about various circuits for years.

        1. As a fan, in a motorsport, you race for the fans and job is to protect the fans. These Indy tracks are all tracks that Nascar or other forms of stock cars run at. You have a stock car hit some sort of fence designed for Indycar, and fans will die. The only race I’ve been to, Austin Dillon violently wound up in the catch fence at Daytona rows in front of me. If those fences were not built the way they are, people would have died that night. A few years earlier, Kyle Larson crashed into the fence at Daytona and his engine landes on the other side and a tire ended up in someone’s lap. Daytona upgraded their fences after that and it has already saved lives. Fans don’t sign on the dotted line like drivers do. They have a warning printed on the back of their ticket saying they assume liability for death or injury.

    2. SAFER barriers are an amazing technology and Indycar should be proud of introducing them. The Halo is an amazing technology and F1 should be proud of introducing it. As a kid I grew disillusioned by motorsport because of the fatalities. Since the sport has worked towards better safety in recent decades, I have once again become an F1 fanatic.

  4. Would F1’s halo have stopped Massa from being hit by a spring? Maybe, maybe not.

    IndyCar is set to use the aeroscreen which definitely would stop that kind of debris.
    I think it’s unfair to say they are not doing much for safety.

  5. Danger is Indycar’s only competitive advantage. Gets bums on seats. Take that away it’s a second-rate spec-car series on rutted street circuits.

    1. @anon
      Agree with your most of your assessment (except for bum drivers) but Indy surpasses F1 in that most of the drivers have a shot at a top spot on the podium if not a WDC.
      F1 fails miserably in that arena as only 2 or 3 drivers have a shot at winning – always been the same.
      Technology wise, it’s first rate – racing wise, it’s near if not at the bottom of the heap.

      1. (except for bum drivers)

        anon means danger gets spectators (sat watching in the seats)

  6. Sad, but true.

    1. (meant to be a reply to anon)

  7. Oval racing can be more dangerous than road racing but I don’t think oval racing is necisarily unsafe. In fact it’s arguably the safest it’s ever been due to the safety improvements made to the cars over the years as well as the safer barriers.

    The biggest problem in terms of safety comes when the cars get air & hit the fencing. However as Dario Franchitti’s crash at Houston in 2013 showed us this can be just as much a problem at lower speed on a road/street circuit as it can be on ovals.

    As far as i’m aware the fencing design isn’t that different, Doesn’t look like it’s too different at least.

    Pocono –

    There is always the argument that they shouldn’t race on ovals but the problem is that then Indycar loses it’s identity just like Champcar did when it abandoned Ovals. The ovals are what gives the series it’s identity in a way, They create the diversity that many Indycar fans (And drivers) like & Without them it basically becomes a marginally faster version of F2.

    Keep the ovals & just work on why the more modern cars lift easier than the one’s from 20 odd years ago did. The cars back then were faster, They collided/crashed on ovals just as frequently yet stayed planted & didn’t ever get into a position to hit the fence on the ovals.

    1. Should read “As far as i’m aware the fencing design isn’t that different to what F1 tracks use”.

  8. Perhaps they way Felipe expressed it wasn’t ideal, as Indy have done some solid safety addictions, but i can understand why he wanted to say it
    (specially Felipe with his injury history).
    I’ll give you two examples who show how unsafe driver’s head are in Oval racing.
    -Indy 500 of 2017, Dixon crashes into Howard & goes flying at full speed. He collides with the walls at the outside of the circuit, but for his good luck, he doesnt go with the head. He would have died instantly if the hit was head-on…
    -Pocono 2018, the flying car of Wickens passes some centimetres from Hunter-Reay’s head…

  9. The question of which series is safer seems academic. But I’ve found that it’s not really simple. I’ve tried to find raw data on injuries and fatalities per mile for different forms of racing. I discovered only that the main, clear observation is the dramatic fall in injuries and deaths over time since the 70s and 80s in both series. And nowadays, fatalities are so rare that it’s hard to draw meaningful conclusions on the question or make projections about deaths/mile or whatever.

    Personally I find it hard to watch high speed Indycar oval races knowing that a mere spin potentially means hitting a concrete wall at 200mph or more. But in reality, hitting anything at racing speeds can be fatal. Human bodies are ludicrously frail in relation to the speeds we even drive on the roads.

Comments are closed.