Following the recent death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson recently, Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, appears once again to be considering closed cockpit race cars.
It’s against the Formula, so to speak, with Formula 1 racing (and several other race series) dictating an open cockpit sport, but with safety ever the concern, it only make sense that the Formula is reworked.
It’s no secret that with open cockpits, drivers are more susceptible to dangerous debris and items that may hit them where it matters most. In 2009, Felipe Massa almost met his end, when a small suspension spring no larger than the size of your fist fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car, and struck the trailing Massa in the head. Despite the use of a helmet, Massa’s injuries nearly took his life, and caused him to miss the remainder of the season with Ferrari, and struggle his way back into F1 the following year.
More recently, open-cockpit F1 saw the death of Jules Bianchi, a rising star in the sport who succumbed to his injuries following a freak accident with a track-side crane. Then, even local hero Alex Yoong echoed sentiments of dismay at open-cockpit racing.
Today, with the FIA calling for closed-cockpit race cars, teams are working on several potential solutions: the latest of which comes from the Mercedes-AMG F1 team, dubbed as the “halo” concept.
Not entirely closing off the cockpit, but providing some protection none the less, the halo concept does appear to provide some protection for drivers, obviously so from larger objects that could come into contact with them – such as a tyre, or other pieces of large bodywork.
There are however some obvious issues. One, drivers may not fancy having a piece of the halo position right in the middle of their forwards sight, no matter how thinly you design it – Mercedes could argue that it shouldn’t deter any vision ahead, and that you could get used to it.
The second obvious issue is that while larger items could be deterred, it’s not 100% free from smaller objects contacting drivers’ heads from stranger angles. It makes us wonder if something like this could have protected Felipe Massa from his incident back in 2009.
A final issue is of course the halo concept’s effect throughout a race: how would it perform aerodynamically? Also, what about something far simpler, like if something like a plastic bag or other garbage got stuck in it? Is that something drivers would really want to deal with at 300km/h?
Either way you look at the new "halo" concept, it's a start we hope ends in safer racing for all.