The FIA Institute has revealed that it has tested a forward roll hoop structure as it works to improve cockpit safety in F1 and other open-wheel formulae.
Although cars are currently fitted with a roll hoop in the event of a roll, the forward roll hoop would help to shield a drivers head from debris and impacts.
The desire to find a solution to the problem has increased in recent years after a number of high-profile incidents, including Felipe Massa's accident at the Hungaroring ring in 2009 when he was struck by a suspension part that had fallen from the Brawn GP car of Rubens Barrichello, and the tragic accident that took the life of F2 racer Henry Surtees when he was struck by an errant wheel at Brands Hatch.
The idea of a canopy has already been tested by the FIA which has now evaluated a titanium roll-hoop structure manufactured and supplied by the Lotus F1 team.
A 20kg wheel was fired at the hoop by a compressed nitrogen-powered cannon at a speed of 225kph to see how it would perform in the event of an incident.
The roll-hoop could theoretically be fitted to a car from the front edge of the cockpit opening to the point where the nose section meets the front bulkhead, with a peak height 100mm above the top of the helmet, so forming an impact-deflecting barrier ahead of the driver.
Mellor confirmed that the initial results were very promising: "The roll-hoop basically did a very good job,” FIA Institute technical advisor Andy Mellor said in an article publiushed in IQ
magazine. “It was able to keep a wheel away from a driver's head. We tested it both by firing the wheel down the centre of the car, and also coming at it from an angle.
"The impact deflated the tyre during both tests," said Mellor. "We tend to think that's a good thing - it means that the wheel doesn't bounce as much. It stops much more quickly if you can deflate the tyre."
Were the roll hoop introduced, it would sit ahead of the cockpit and have a major visual impact on the appearance of cars – meaning questions would need to be asked about whether there would be a negative impact on drivers sightlines.
However, Mellor insisted it was vital to look at possible options that could play a major role in safety in future.
"At this stage it's almost pure research, which we need if we're to understand what the loads are in such impacts," he said. "We're not at all looking at final solutions as such. The work is absolutely exploratory and we are beginning to understand the mechanisms in order to protect a driver's head in this kind of impact. This is the next step in a very detailed process."Click here to see a video of the test