Justin Wilson's fatal accident in last month's Pocono IndyCar event has reawakened the call for closed cockpits in open-wheel racing and, based on reaction from the Monza paddock, the tide may finally be turning in favour of a switch.
While Jenson Button - who has lost F1 rival Jules Bianchi and two fellow Britons, Wilson and Dan Wheldon, to avoidable head injuries and seen F1 contemporaries such as Felipe Massa, Cristiano da Matta and Luciano Burti suffer near-fatal accidents – is changing his view that it is now time to seriously consider covered cockpits
, the rest of the grand prix fraternity continues to hold varying opinions, ranging from cautious consideration to definite denial.
Valtteri Bottas is among those closest to Button's way of thinking, the Williams driver open to suggestions on how to make racing safer.
“I saw one design that looks alright, so why not?” the Finn commented, “If it doesn't limit too much the vision, I don't see any downsides. There has been many accidents with something hitting the head, so I think anything that can be found to protect that would be good.
Some people say if it is a closed cockpit then it's not F1, but I don't know what difference it would make if there is a cover that you can still see through. I'm really hoping for all these new things because of safety.”
Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton represents the middle ground, wavering between the purity of open-cockpit racing and no doubt influenced by the death of his hero Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. Intriguingly, Hamilton's employer, Mercedes, has already unveiled a 'halo' concept that does not involve covering the cockpit in the conventional sense, and the Briton says that some lateral thinking could be the answer.
“It is a difficult one, I am torn,” the Briton admitted, “On one side, I see closed cockpit as potentially the future, but growing up watching the sport and watching Ayrton's generation of racing, it has always been open cockpit. It is difficult to change minds, but sometimes change is the way forward. Maybe it doesn't have to be closed, maybe it can be different mechanisms which I think people are exploring.”
Hamilton conceded that being in a closed cockpit would take some getting used to for a driver who has spent his entire career without a roof over his head, but called on incidents in the junior formulae – including last month's near miss involving Aleksander Bosak and Matt Parry at Spa – as further proof that consideration was needed.
“I don't know if I'd like it - it would feel strange if you had a canopy over your head - but we have had too many fatalities,” Hamilton explained, “There are a lot less than 20 years ago, but there are still too many, and we shouldn't have any. We have got to make changes to improve, not only F1 but the other classes. You look at young [Henry] Surtees and then the GP3 race at Spa, where a car crashed and a wheel came flying across the track… I'm thinking 'if that hits another driver…'
Ironically, one driver who appears firmly against the idea of covering cockpits is Nico Hulkenberg, who earlier this year achieved his greatest motorsport achievement under the roof of a Porsche LMP1 machine at Le Mans.
“Obviously, there are pros and cons but, for me, I see single-seater racing as open-cockpit,” the German insisted, “When we sign up for this, we know there is some risk involved and that there could potentially be some danger, but it's in the DNA of racing and motorsports. We shouldn't sterilise the whole thing and make it too clinical and over-protect everything. That wouldn't be good for the sport and it might make things a bit more unattractive.”
FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting has already said that, in his opinion, single-seater racing will ultimately accept the closed cockpit solution, with various ideas already being put forward.