Should F1 cars have cockpit covers?

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David Coulthard, Alexander Wurz, Melbourne, 2007, 2The collision between David Coulthard and Alexander Wurz in yesterday’s Australian Grand Prix left me wondering what direction F1 car safety might take in the future.

In the years since Ayrton Senna’s death we’ve become accustomed to seeing every conceivable safety flaw being pounced on immediately by the governing body. Only last weekend the run-off area at the final turn of the Albert circuit was flattened off following the accidents that befell Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya.

It seems to me that the greatest point of vulnerability in current F1 car design is the drivers’ heads. The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger led to the introduction of greater cockpit protection. But should the next step be to cover the cockpits completely?

You only need to look at the replay of the Coulthard-Wurz crash from the cockpit of the Williams to see how vulnerable the drivers’ head is in this kind of accident. Past incidents such as the Michael Schumacher-Ralf Schumacher collision at the Nurburgring in 1997 revealed the same weakness in current car design.

But covering the cockpits would fundamentally change the appearance of current F1 cars and raise the problem of how to evacuate the driver quickly in an emergency.

It is possible, then, to make a case for covering the cockpits? Or are current cars sufficiently safe?

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16 comments on Should F1 cars have cockpit covers?

  1. Sigmund said on 19th March 2007, 10:09

    Though I often feel that the FIA is incapable of making sensible sporting decisions, I really think that they know what they are doing in regards to safety, and trust them to make the best possible decision.

    Personally I hope the cockpits stay uncovered.

  2. There is absoulutely no way the cockpits should be covered. Part of the appeal, drama and danger of F1 is that the drivers are exposed. To take that away could potentially damage the sport irreparably

  3. Maybe the solution is enclosed wheels so the cars aren’t so prone to get airborne in the first place. I guess that’s not what formula cars are meant to look like, but enclosed cockpits don’t strike me as being very F1 either.

  4. Anthony C said on 19th March 2007, 18:38

    i dont believe that would capture one of the qualities of F1. F1 has always been the ultimate in a lot of areas, and open cockpit competition is one of them

  5. If you cover the cockpits, it’s not really F1, is it?

    I don’t think it’s a huge safety flaw, because you know David Coulthard would be complaining about it if it was.

  6. ^^^^^
    What they said.

    In all seriousness, as many times as I’ve seen examples of open-topped cars inverted or in danger of having something else land on top of them, I have never seen an honest precedent that would require a covered cockpit. Furthermore, by creating yet another impediment to exiting the vehicle, it could cause more problems than it solves. Finally, Formula 1 are the likes that if a rule were passed, say, to allow Flex Wings under the condition that the entire monocoque be made of the same bendy substance, and some team found out it was really faster, all the teams would have such chassis within weeks.

    Another point that would remain aerodynamic and sound to F1’s design; why not just create a deflector that is likely to draw the speeding car away from the pilot’s helmet?

    Good topic, though.

  7. Douglas Lang said on 20th March 2007, 1:48

    Currently the cockpits must have a regulation opening to allow easy extraction in an emergency. Cockpit covers could well cause difficulties in this area. Roll bars and those bumps beside the cockpit are now mandatory as is the HANS device. The HANS device and those ‘bumps’ beside the cockpit are of course to limit neck injuries in accidents(as is the role of the roll bar to some extent). The great construction of helmets now limits head injuries significantly.

    Nanotechnology will soon be abundant in Formula 1 cars, the gains in strength and lower mass may well make fully enclosed cockpits a little more feasible, as speeds continue to increase they may also become necessary.

    A wide carbon fibre tunnel extending from the roll cage encasing the head fully at the top and sides while still allowing enough freedom of head movement would increase safety in an accident. However it would certainly hinder extraction(not to mention entry) from the car, driver visibiltiy would probably be impaired to some extent. Also aerodynamics would suffer(plastic covers would be added to fully enclose the cockpit) and mass distribuition would suffer(expect a minimum CoG to be introduced in the future though so this won’t be of such importance).

    The way to have it implemented for safety would be to find a way in which it could be done while not hindering extraction and make it a regulation.

  8. jtm said on 20th March 2007, 3:46

    I was thinking the same thing as soon as I saw that wreck, but I do think that the ease of extraction from the open top probably trumps the closed cockpit. I wonder if it would be possible to install some pylons ahead of the driver so that something (e.g., a Red Bull car) sliding from the front toward the back would be blocked or lifted above the drivers head. This would keep the cockpit open and, provided driver vision isn’t significantly impared by the pylons, provide a safe halo around the head.

  9. Number 38 said on 20th March 2007, 15:33

    OPEN COCKPIT? I didn’t know they were, all I ever see is a website address on the visor! Sorry guys, I’m the ‘old one’, I’m from the era when we could see the driver DRIVING. The drivers were known by their helmet design which was NOT part of the cars colour scheme!
    They didn’t need their name on the side of the car. My view of the Wurz/Coulthard incident, albeit from a lazyboy reclining chair, it looked like
    Coulthard came in too fast, Wurz wasn’t giving any room,
    Coulthard was forced to the right and got launched when he hit the kerb. A high risk move on Coulthard’s part but Wurz COULD have finished the race had he given way. And who else even tried a pass……the race generally was just a parade.
    You want more passing……clip the wings, far less downforce
    would make the difference. At 120 mph these cars generate enough downforce they could drive on the ceiling, that’s just not necessary, because they now RELY on downforce any interruption to downforce, such as the car ahead which you’re trying to overtake, impedes your car control hence less attempts are made.
    Wings belong on aircraft.
    Number 38

  10. Richard C said on 21st March 2007, 9:59

    Keep the open cockpits, I’m with Number 38 on this one, the drivers are remote enough as it is. No-one wants to put drivers at risk of injury or worse but there has to be the danger that a serious miscalculation can cause an injury. If that disappears you will end up with the door banging nonsense that Touring cars sometimes degenerates to, if that’s what you want to see, watch that.

  11. I agree with earlier posts that some sort of ‘deflecters’ should be
    installed to protect the drivers head in the case of a side impact.
    However, this would not prevent a driver from potentially being hurt or
    worse from a head on impact with a foreign object.
    Ofcourse, Aryton Senna’s crash is a classic case of this happening.
    Probably the most horrific case was the 1977 South African Grand Prix
    when a driver and a fire marshal were killed in a collision at very
    highspeed.
    My point? In all forms of open wheel racing the drivers head will always be exposed depending on the circumstances of the collision. Hitting a wall at 190mph head on is, no matter what the safety measures,
    no laughing matter! Hence, the huge appeal of open wheel racing.
    To enclose the driver would be like swimming in a shark cage without
    the sharks! It would be pointless

  12. bobdaspider said on 15th March 2008, 0:14

    Covered cockpits – hhhmmnn, that would be the time I’d stop watching F1. Driving very fast cars is by definition dangerous. Whilst we can, I say keep the health and safety brigade out of F1. Sensible safety measures which do not dilute the sport – sure but care is needed. Tinker too much and it won’t be ‘F1′ as loved and enjoyed by many.

    ^o^

  13. Jonathan Weston said on 17th April 2008, 8:57

    F1 cars are remarkably safe for a machine that moves at over 200 mph – please no cockpit covers – 

  14. Gusstavo Adolfo Franco said on 29th May 2008, 23:55

    May be the only thing that many of you want to see is blood, there is not a big difference between you and the roman people that attend roman anfiteatro.

  15. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th May 2008, 0:22

    It’s easy to throw insults around Gusstavo. I assume you aren’t aware that following the incident described here the governing body mandated an increase in cockpit side height for this year’s season to protect drivers in the event of a similar accident?

    Open cockpits aren’t there to make the drivers more susceptible to danger – although they do bring risks, they do make it easier for a driver to escape a car that might be on fire.

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