The FIA and the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) are debating the viability of developing closed-cockpit F1 cars in an effort to improve drivers' safety in the top flight.
The FIA recently published the results of research it had carried out into the feasibility of such a concept, prompted a couple of years ago by the initially life-threatening head and eye injuries sustained by Ferrari star Felipe Massa during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring, after the Brazilian was struck on the helmet by a stray suspension spring that had flown off the Brawn GP of countryman Rubens Barrichello ahead of him on the racetrack.
The notion of closed-cockpit cars – an initiative that would be a first for F1 – would arguably far better protect competitors from flying debris and is an idea that is gathering pace, whilst alternatives might be to maintain the current open-cockpit form but to introduce either a visor or a roll bar in front of the driver's head.
“This is something that's been under discussion for a few Technical Working Group meetings now,” confirmed Lotus Renault GP technical director James Allison, the recently-appointed head of that section of FOTA. “We're looking to try to look after the driver's head, both from large-scale things like tyres and also small-scale things like the very unfortunate incident that Felipe suffered.
“There are a few suggestions around. One of them was looking into a fully-enclosed canopy; another one was looking into a visor-type where it's still open above the driver's head, but he has a visor in front of him; and then there is a third type of proposal as well, where there isn't a see-through windscreen at all but there is like a roll [bar] structure in front of the driver that would anyway deflect any big objects.
“All those things are still in fairly early discussion. You would have seen from what the FIA published recently that they are showing some of the very early research that's being done into the feasibility and practicality of this type of solution, but there are a lot of questions to answer before we can bring it to a practical solution.
“The closed-canopy would have an aerodynamic effect – not a bad one; it would be easier to manage the airflow around a closed-canopy than an open one – but there are all sorts of other things to discuss, like egress in the event of an accident, keeping the canopy clean, for example when it might get covered in oil and the like. Each of the proposed solutions has advantages and disadvantages, and we need to do the basic research to find out what is the best way forward.”
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug, for his part, urged that if the closed-cockpit approach is indeed adopted, then it should be emulated right the way down the single-seater spectrum.
“I think that if this makes sense for F1, it needs to be applied to all formulae – the junior drivers, everybody,” the German opined, “and I think we should carefully think that idea through.”