A push for Formula 1 rule-makers to enforce ‘closed cockpit’ designs in future rules’ decision-making is gathering ground in the wake of Fernando Alonso’s lucky escape in the spectacular first-corner pile-up at the Belgian Grand Prix.
While it was – in a manner similar to the David Coulthard / Alexander Wurz accident at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix – yet another instance where the sport enjoyed a lucky escape, it will renew pushes for the FIA institute and the sport’s technical leaders to further explore closed cockpit designs.
One such figure involved in the project is McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe, who said after the Belgian Grand Prix: "Personally I think something is inevitable because it is the one big [safety] exposure that we have got.
"You see it time and time again and think ‘that was lucky’. One day it won’t be lucky. At the same time it is an open cockpit formula so we have to protect that, but it should be technically possible one way or another."
The initial focus on closed cockpit designs had its first push in the wake of the accident Felipe Massa suffered during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, where the Brazilian almost lost an eye after being struck in the helmet by an errant spring that fell off the back of Rubens Barrichello’s car. The accident came just days after Formula 2 racer Henry Surtees was killed when he was struck in the head by an errant wheel at a race at Brands Hatch.
After initially exploring a canopy-style closed cockpit design, designers have now switched to a bar/cage concept.
"We have made a test piece and it has been tested structurally with various impacts, like firing wheels at it, and that was successful," Lowe added.
"So we understand some of the parameters in terms of the angles that are needed and the strength of the pieces. The work that is currently in progress is assessing its visibility, and we’ve done some work on the simulator with our interpretation.
"Ideally a driver wants nothing in the way, but in the same way as you drive a road car or even the old VW camper van with the centre pillar, you just get used to it don’t you? We found that as long as the pillars don’t get too big it is something you can get used to.
"So we have some parameters about pillar size, and now we are looking at making something with that pillar size and to the right strength requirement."
One obvious concern with a closed cockpit design is that it would leave a driver trapped in the car should they ever be overturned and upside-down – the concept has effectively created an entirely different set of problems.
Would you support a move to closed-cockpit designs for Formula 1, or should closed cockpits remain a mainstay in Le Mans Series and touring car championships? Post your comments below…
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