Felipe Massa, Formula E, 2018

Massa draws fire for “blinkered and inaccurate” comments on IndyCar safety


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IndyCar drivers and other series figures have lined up to criticise Felipe Massa’s comments on safety standards in the championship.

The former Formula 1 driver, who is now the FIA karting president and will race in Formula E this year, said IndyCar was “not doing much” to improve safety in the series. Massa described the debris fence Robert Wickens hit in his violent crash last week as “dangerous” and questioned why the series hadn’t introduced safety advances such as the Halo.

Fellow ex-F1 driver turned IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti told Massa “I have to disagree with you” on social media. “IndyCar is doing a lot of research in this area.”

The series has tested a windscreen, its alternative to the Halo, for future introduction to the series. “They want to make sure [it’s] 100% before they implement,” said Andretti.

Current IndyCar driver Graham Rahal pointed out the Halo could not be used in the series because of the visibility problems it would pose.

“For oval racing you need 100% unobstructed views, Halo wouldn’t provide that to us. Also note open frontal areas would still allow debris to get in the cockpit, new windscreen will not.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018
F1’s Halo wouldn’t work in IndyCar, says Rahal…
Josef Newgarden, Penske, winsdscreen test, Indianapolis, IndyCar, 2018
…the series is developing the windscreen instead

F1 can afford to spend more on developing safety improvements, Rahal added. “It’s a little easier to do things when your budget is hundreds of millions a year, new chassis every year built in-house etc…

“IndyCar is working hard, the new windscreen will not only work as well (better from the standpoint no open areas) but will be far more aesthetically pleasing!”

Wickens’ crash was the first major incident since IndyCar introduced its new aerodynamic kit this year. Chris Beatty, who was involved in the design of the restyled car, described Massa’s comments as “a very blinkered and inaccurate assessment.”

“IndyCar has the SAFER barrier, in-ear sensors, dedicated safety team, improved side impact protection, tethers on all major parts, etc… and chassis that allowed a driver to survive level of impact we saw at Pocono,” he said.

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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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22 comments on “Massa draws fire for “blinkered and inaccurate” comments on IndyCar safety”

  1. Considering it took F1 10 years to respond to Felipe’s own incident (and arguably haven’t solved it) and Henry Surtees while Indycar is already working on a solution to J. Wilson’s crash and on a far tighter budget than Formula 1 too well… yeah… Short sighted comments indeed.

    Don’t even need to mention how HANS devices were mandated years earlier in CART than F1 and SAFER barriers were also used years before F1 introduced their new barriers also, but I am anyways.

    Oh yeah also Indycar has its own specialized safety team which has been credited with saving several lives, most recent example probably being James Hinchcliffe. F1 still doesn’t.

    1. F1 was using a redesigned helmet in the year following Massa’s incident. They use it to this day.
      The Halo wouldn’t have prevented Massa’s incident.

    2. As @nathanbuilder said above, reinforced helmets that would have prevented, or at least severely reduced, Massa’s injures were mandated for 2010. On the other hand those catch fences are still there 7 years after Wheldon’s death.

      1. @paulk The problem isn’t that they haven’t been looking at alternatives to fencing (They have been since Davey Hamilton nearly lost his feet in a 2001 crash at Texas), The problem is that they haven’t found anything that would work as a viable alternative.

        Should also be pointed out that the fences used on Indycar circuits are pretty much identical to what’s used on most F1 tracks in terms of design/construction (Poles holding up mesh supported by wires) & that as Dario Franchitti’s 2013 Houston crash showed, The sort of accident that happened to Wickens is just as possible on a much slower street circuit.

    3. @saint-jay F1 never will have a dedicated safety team, because the legal paperwork of getting it across continents would make it impossible. It works in Indycars because it stays almost strictly in North America (and even then, it’s had problems on the odd occasions it’s travelled elsewhere because part of its team legally couldn’t do their usual jobs).

      As I understand it, Indycars now uses more or less the same spec of helmets as F1 has been using since 2010, though verified by Snell rather than the FIA method (F1 introduced an even better specification this year in parallel to the 2010 standard, as far as I can tell apropos of nothing except developmental discoveries by the helmet manufacturers and desire of the FIA to get revenue from the scramble to re-rate the top-range helmets).

      Fences might be the same in Indycars as at many general admission enclosures in F1, but F1 goes to a lot of effort to ensure the cars aren’t travelling that high by the time they encounter the fence. Part of the reason you see the cars tending to skim cockpits in F1 is because there are controls on what sort of speeds are allowed in corners where the walls are near, and the base of the fences have tyres/SAFER/[insert-alternate-improvement-over-concrete-here].

      Plexiglass may be a bad solution to the problem due to price, but would the same apply to putting tyres in front of the fence posts? I’m not suggesting it would be as good as SAFER, but even a single row ahead of the posts would be an improvement over the current situation, and tyres are not exactly a rare commodity in the USA.

      Perhaps if safety was a money-spinner for Indycars, we’d see more incremental steps, rather than the few but big changes we tend to see from a series that to some extent must watch its balance sheet.

  2. Massa is right when he talks about the fences and barriers for a track that fast. Paul Tracy agrees with him on that.
    We had a lot of injuries on Indy on the past few years. But maybe the language that he used wasn’t correct, it’s not that Indy doesn’t do anything, instead they should look at more points like the fences.

    The windscreen is just as ugly as the halo, but as with the later, we’ll get used to it.

    1. These tracks are also meant to hold stock cars within the fences. Pocono is notorious for viscious stock car crashes and has seen its fair share of cars flip. I’ve been at the Daytona race right behind where Austin Dillon crashed into the fence. Without those fences protecting the spectators, people would have died. Drivers know their risks and are willing to race knowing that. Fans don’t expect to have risk when going to races. If that was the case, there would be less people at the track. The fence did its job.

      1. But no one is saying to remove the fences, just to look how it works and how could it be safer for Indycars.

    2. The windscreen is just as ugly as the halo, but as with the later, we’ll get used to it.

      it it ever gets used @edmarques – Didn’t they also report some issues with distortion when made thick enough to sustain solid hits?

    3. The windscreen is just as ugly as the halo, but as with the later, we’ll get used to it.

      I think the screen is actually uglier. The Halo was always the best solution in my opinion.

  3. Well, Filipe Massa has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, so I´m not surprised that he criticize IndyCar for not introducing the Halo too, which isn´t possible to use on ovals. Which is something that he would have known if he had done some/any research on the subject before he made a fool of himself.

    Here´s a good article from Ribin Miller about IndyCar safety:

    1. Totally agreed!

      Massa was always a criticising machine, but when it comes to Indy, his biggest safety device is his wife. He said more than once to Brazilian media that his wife forbid him to ever drive an indycar

      1. Sounds like s caring wife.

  4. He should just stop colouring hair

  5. Good for the indycar guys to step up. I found it odd to see such a comment from Massa. Not sure how much he follows the series to see the real progress.

  6. Well, if there’s one thing you can’t accuse the IndyCar folks of, it’s not flocking together when there’s any kind of criticism from the outside. Even when they’re wrong, as in this case.

    1. there not wrong though.

      they have made many safety improvements & have actually been ahead of f1 in several areas which has led to f1 adopting safety measures developed by indycar.

      the catch fencing is also the same as what f1 use on its tracks so i guess f1 is also unsafe & behind in that area?

      to say indycar has stood still on safety or that they are even behind on safety is indeed inaccurate so massas critisism is incorrect & the indycar folks are 100% right to point this out.

  7. Thomas Bennett (@felipemassadobrasil)
    28th August 2018, 13:46

    Well this is a bit awkward for me…

  8. JoshR (@rossiforf12020)
    28th August 2018, 18:59

    I’ve always liked Felipe Massa, but this is something I have to strongly disagree with. I like Graham Rahal’s point of Indycar not having hundreds of millions to blow on chassis development every year. with that in mind, is this just Massa being an elitist because it’s an American-based racing series that races on ovals?

  9. F1 just leaves tractors on the circuit during the race. Nothing could ever go wrong there.

  10. The Halo wouldn’t have made any difference in Wickens crash, nor would it probably have helped in Massa’s crash. Bad things can happen when racing on super speedways at insanely high speeds. The cost of replacing the fences on super speedways is astronomical. It is a dilemma.

  11. “dedicated safety team”

    That’s a big one, and I don’t think F1 can make that claim. Safety teams and medical response vary quite a bit from one F1 venue to the next, as far as I know.

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