F1 » 3 September 2012
More driver head protection 'inevitable'
The series has already built up side protection around the cockpit area, despite drivers' objections that it impeded their visibility during a race. But the sport's Technical Working Group has aiming to introduce further regulation changes for 2014 to go much further.
"We are working with the Federation to try to work on the right system of protection. With what we have tested or are working on there are also some problems that you may have," said Domenicali. "We need to be very careful on all these devices. We are still working with the federation to find a possible solution," he continued, adding that they "are working very hard."
Speaking to BBC Sport the day after the crash at Spa, McLaren's Paddy Lowe said that he felt changes were coming - and soon. "Something is inevitable because it is the one big exposure we've got," he said.
One idea that won't go away is a cover for the cockpit, similar to that on a jet plane. Last month, the National Hot Rod Association in the US finally approved designs to add canopies to their dragsters - a revolutionary shift for the sport, adding pressure on other open cockpit series to follow suit. However, the full canopy idea is unpopular in F1 circles as the material used would likely distort a driver's vision, and could even end up trapping the driver in the car after an accident and interfering with extraction.
"I don't like closed cockpits myself," confessed Martin Whitmarsh. "But we've got to think through what we could have done. I think people underestimate what a [closed] cockpit would have to be and how it could make the situation worse.
"You put this glass bubble over the driver, but you can't assume that they're safer," he explained. "A lot of work went on in aviation and it's amazing how difficult it is to protect a driver or a pilot and allow them to see through it in an undistorted manner. There's all sorts of other incidents with cars overturning or fires in the cockpit."
Instead, an open roll-bar cage in front of the driver is increasingly emerging as the preferred option, according to Lowe.
"Obviously a driver ideally wants nothing in the way [of his field of vision]," he agreed. "But in the same way we drive a road car with pillars or an old VW bus with centre pillar, you just get used to it, don't you?"
Simulator testing has shown that in use, drivers quickly compensated for the presence of any roll-bar support struts. "Your mind works out a way around it," providing the pillars are sympathetically sized and designed, said Lowe.
He added that a prototype design had already been constructed and had been tested with impacts from various objects, including tyres.
"The current test piece looks very ugly," he admitted. "The next bit is to try to produce a more optimal design."
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