Why covered cockpits and wheels may be F1’s future

F1 technology

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2012F1 cars have had open cockpits and uncovered wheels for decades. It’s become the defining feature of F1 car design.

But could a desire to improve safety and the search for more efficient performance lead to the covering of cockpits and wheels?

Cockpit covers

The FIA has been investigating the possible introduction of cockpit covers in F1 and other single-seater championships since 2009.

That year saw the fatal accident of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees, who was killed when he was struck by a flying wheel. Six days later, Felipe Massa was seriously injured when he was hit by a spring which had fallen off Rubens Barrichello’s car.

Among the solutions being considered by the FIA are fully enclosed canopies and roll hoops mounted in front of the driver, each of which have different advantages and disadvantages.

Similar discussions have taken place in IndyCar following the death of Dan Wheldon in October last year.

Wheldon was killed when he was struck by a fence post after his car flew into the barriers at Las Vegas. Following the crash some IndyCar drivers such as Ryan Briscoe raised the possibility of IndyCar adopting cockpit covers.

In endurance racing the technical regulations allow for both open and closed-cockpit designs. Closed-cockpit solutions are the preferred design of the World Endurance Championship’s manufacturer teams Audi and Toyota.

Wheel guards

In an effort to improve safety, IndyCar took the hotly-debated step of enclosing the rear wheels on its new-for-2012 chassis. The result is something that looks like the offspring of an F1 car and a sports car (below).

The fairings are designed to prevent one of the greatest dangers of open-wheel racing: wheel-to-wheel contact at high speeds which propel a car into the air. Again, it’s not hard to see how this could have prevented or at least reduced the carnage of Las Vegas.

As noted here recently, F1 has seen single-car airborne crashes such as those of Riccardo Patrese in 1992, Christian Fittipaldi in 1993 and Mark Webber in 2010.

They haven’t been as prevalent in IndyCar, which has had a particular problem with ‘pack racing’ on ovals. But there is potential for an increase in this type of accident in F1.

The F1 field is getting closer in performance and innovations such as DRS, KERS and more variable tyre performance may increase the chance of a faster car hitting a slower one in this fashion.

Safety or performance?

As future regulations become increasingly concerned with improving efficiency in F1 car design, it’s not hard to see how this could lead to a reappraisal of the merits of closed cockpits and covered wheels on grounds of performance as well as safety.

But open cockpits and wheels have been a defining feature of F1 car design for decades. Would getting rid of them amount to a desecration of F1’s historic rules?

Not necessarily. Covered wheels and cockpits have been seen in F1 before and we’d probably still have them if they weren’t forbidden by the current rules*.

The dominant F1 car of 1954 and 1955 – the Mercedes W196 – was raced in both open- and closed-wheel form. The team preferred the latter at tracks where aerodynamic efficiency was especially important, such as Monza.

Mercedes’ success inspired other teams, including Ferrari and Maserati, to create ‘streamliner’ cars. The regulations were later changed to forbid this and impose the open-wheel look we have become familiar with.

Teams also experimented with cockpit canopies in the fifties and Jack Brabham ran one on his car during practice at Monza in 1967. These too were eventually banned.

Would today’s F1 cars have covered wheels and cockpits if the rules did not forbid it? When F1’s top designer Adrian Newey was asked to envisage an F1 car that ignored the rule book, his Red Bull X2010 sported both.

His creation also serves to illustrate that the aesthetic appeal of F1 cars needn’t be diminished by such a radical change in design:

Red Bull X2010

Could F1 one day see cars with wheel guards and enclosed cockpits? Would this be a change too far? Have your say in the comments.

*Technical regulations articles 3.8, 3.9, 3.10 and 3.11 define the limits on bodywork around the front and rear wheels. Technical regulations article 13.1.3 states “The driver must be able to enter and get out of the cockpit without it being necessary to open a door or remove any part of the car other than the steering wheel”.

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Ferrari image ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, IndyCar images ?? Honda/LAT, X2010 images ?? Red Bull

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189 comments on Why covered cockpits and wheels may be F1’s future

  1. dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 22nd August 2012, 14:35

    I dislike the idea of closed cockpits because hiding the driver and his reactions isolates the viewer even more from the driver. But on the other hand, it might be a fabulous opportunity for F1 to embrace provision of a more interactive experience for home viewers/Internet users. In-car cameras, more team radio etc.

  2. The arguments on here against closed cockpits are rediculous. Enclosed cockpits increase safety. Fact. Any argument regard further seperation from the audience is a joke, we have onboard cameras which allow us views from cameras mounted on the drivers helmets for christs sake. We have diagrams which show precisly the G-forces drivers are experiencing as they race! How much more access do you need?

    I’m also incredibly excited by the resulting design race that would occur if the rules were changed so drastically. Itd be great for the audience and great for the drivers.

    • dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 22nd August 2012, 15:13

      Why is it a “joke”? Humans love to watch other humans acting and reacting, especially in extreme conditions. G-force meters are great but they don’t give a lot of insight into the mind of the driver. How many times do we hear commentators analysing the position of the driver’s head (or indeed his frustrated hand signals) when overtaking or being overtaken?

  3. Andy (@turbof1) said on 22nd August 2012, 14:36

    I see alot of people complaining about wheel guards. Well, sure most of you do remember the extensive wheel covers that came really close to enclosed wheels, yet I hear nobody complain about that. Maybe for those people who have problem with wheelguards, we should allow “wheel covers”: enclosed wheels but with a different name.

  4. VettelS (@vettels) said on 22nd August 2012, 14:39

    No. I don’t particularly care for aesthetics because they’ve changed so much over the last 60 years. But one thing that has always remained the same are open wheels open cockpits. When you start covering up wheels and cockpits, it’s not really F1 any more.

    This is motorsport- it will always be dangerous. Of course, as much as possible should be done to protect drivers, but you have to draw the line somewhere. What if Moto GP started enforcing 4-wheeled vehicles, because it’s safer than just 2?

    • MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 22nd August 2012, 14:48

      Surely drawing a line by its very definition means NOT doing “as much as possible” to improve safety? Drawing the line means knowing that you could improve safety, but choosing not to.

      There are absolutely no practical arguments against improving safety by protecting the drivers’ heads. I refute any arguments about it breaking with ‘tradition’ since F1 by its very definition should be about breaking with tradition. Otherwise drivers would still be driving around in cigar shaped cars with the engines in the front and two inch wide tyres. They’d be minutes slower around most race tracks than LMP cars. That’s tradition!

      As Keith points out, open wheels and open cockpits haven’t been constants. The old logic behind having an open cockpit was down to the idea that it was better for a driver to be thrown clear of the car in an accident rather than be stuck inside it. Because once upon a time F1 cars would split their fuel tanks open and explode in huge fireballs if you so much as looked at them a bit hard. Those days are thankfully very much in the past, which is exactly where open cockpits belong.

  5. Maksutov (@maksutov) said on 22nd August 2012, 14:57

    I don’t know about everyone else, but that Red Bull X2010 looks frig’n awesome!

  6. Marc Schechter said on 22nd August 2012, 15:03

    Any Body have a picture of the Brabham car with the cockpit canopy from 1967 Monza Practice?

  7. RWMiller said on 22nd August 2012, 15:37

    I don’t know a lot about what drives the technical regulation changes. But if you step away from it just a bit you might remember that Robert Kubica suffered a career ending ( at this point ) injury in a fully enclosed rally car. Or perhaps you might remember that NASCAR lost Dale Earnhart in Daytona, again a fully enclosed vehicle. Racing is dangerous; Sailing is dangerous, Running on the side of the road for your workout is dangerous ( an old high school friend died after being struck by a car ). I personally want to see safety remain a top concern, but I think enclosing the cockpit and or the wheels of an F1 car is a sad end to fantastic open wheel racing.
    Scrap the formula, we already have a very successful LMP series, whats the difference!
    I wonder what the drivers think about it all.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 22nd August 2012, 19:39

      But if you step away from it just a bit you might remember that Robert Kubica suffered a career ending ( at this point ) injury in a fully enclosed rally car.

      Not entirely RWMiller. The significant difference between that Skoda Rally car and an F1 car is not so much the closed top, but the fact that part of the guard rail could enter through the engine-bay INTO the cockpit area.
      Had the car had a safety-cell like an F1 car, or indeed like LeMans cars and the McLaren PM4-12c has, that would not have happened. Your post rather makes the case for improving this area on Rally cars (As far as I know its something the FIA are working on with constructors too) than against closed cockpits.

  8. coefficient (@coefficient) said on 22nd August 2012, 15:49

    Perhaps an alternative could be found somewhere else.

    Most drivers can’t get out of their cars without first popping the steering wheel off and more recently the cockpit collar insert.

    So perhaps the answer could lie in extending the cockpit collar insert to incorporate the front of the airbox. You could then extend the airbox over the driver’s head to prevent objects such as wheels landing on top of the driver. The whole thing would pop out when the driver removed the collar to escape from the car.

    Obviousy this would need to be strong and could not be made from foam and plastic as it is now but I’m sure it isn’t beyond F1 to make something along these lines.

    Perhaps it wouldn’t be too pretty but I’m sure Mr. Newey and chums could sculpt some kind of aero purpose out of it which would then give it function whilst also making it easier to accept.

    • I like your idea..

      As others have mentioned fully enclosed cockpits (or cars) aren’t that safe..

      Having said that I’m all for f1 allowing closed cockpits so we can see a grid of x2010’s

  9. Victorinox said on 22nd August 2012, 16:43

    “it’s not hard to see how this could have prevented or at least reduced the carnage of Las Vegas”

    I am sorry, but this is **. The enclosed rear wheels wouldn’t have changed anything in Las Vegas. At 200+ miles per hour, even the new car would still fly through the air and hit the pole. This was proved by the only time in 2012 we had a car hitting another from behind. Running at much lower speed, Andretti’s car still was launched into the air when he crashed into Rahal’s car. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVW6Fy04UB0

    It is not hard to imagine what would have happened if Andretti was driving at 200+ mph like Wheldon.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd August 2012, 17:14

      So far we’ve only seen the rear wheel guards ‘tested’ on one occasion, one which was very different to what we saw at Las Vegas (as discussed here at the time).

      I think it’s difficult to extrapolate from that exactly what would have happened had the rear wheels guards been in place at Las Vegas. I don’t agree with your complete certainty that they would have totally failed at the one purpose they were designed to fulfil.

      The unfortunate aspect to this is the only way we’ll know for certain is if further such accidents happen, though that’s surely not something we want to see.

      IndyCar studied the accident and they believe the wheel guards mitigated what could have been a worse crash:

      http://www.indycar.com/en/News/2012/April/4-17-Rear-wheel-guards-perform-as-expected

  10. robk23 (@robk23) said on 22nd August 2012, 16:49

    Looking at that F1 car at the top of the page and then looking at the cars further down, to me it makes the F1 car look somewhat outdated.

  11. randomiam said on 22nd August 2012, 16:51

    i envisage a carbon egg shell held together by pneumatic presses, with Oxygen supply and a/c.. only thing that could kill you would be the impact g’s

  12. Theo1 said on 22nd August 2012, 17:26

    I see absolutely no reason why closed cockpits and wheel guards shouldn’t be implemented. We’ve seen how close it can get for drivers (Think Trulli/Chandhok at Monaco last year), if not outright grievous as in Massa’s case. The driver is already protected from the back and side of the car in case of fire by heat shields, and it is absolutely true that flames rising from the side of the cockpit are far more dangerous. A shatter proof carbon fibre enclosure certainly wouldn’t go astray, accompanied by a quick ejection system. The second item being wheel guards… well… let’s just thank our stars a ‘Kamui Kiss’ hasn’t yet missed it’s mark, otherwise I doubt any two drivers would want to be entangled going at high speeds.

    As far as the Red Bull Concept Model goes… it’s a bit farfetched. I’d like to go with this plus the Indie Car styled rear wheel enclosure.

    http://www.iacoski.com/wp-content/uploads/iacoski_ferrari_FX-i1_concept_KUB_1200px_RBG-600×375.jpg

    • PieLighter (@pielighter) said on 22nd August 2012, 20:03

      That’s not bad actually, certainly less of a change than that X2010, especially as the Red Bull was designed with the sole purpose of seeing what Adrian could do without the rulebook in his face.

  13. Fixy (@fixy) said on 22nd August 2012, 17:41

    Most people, when asked about F1 of the future, see spaceship-looking cars, with closed cockpits (some, using their fantasies, see them fluctuating without wheels). If we want to see closed cockpits in the future, why do we say we would hate to see them nowadays?
    I personally wouldn’t like canopies and closed wheels because aesthetically I prefer the cars’ looks as they currently are. It’s certainly not nice to see drivers get hurt, or worse, during a race, but no one is forcing them to do it. If they accept the risk, which is minimal today, then they go on. After all, F1 drivers are the best driver in the best series regarding safety. Measures should be adopted for lower formulae, which are even less technologic than F1. The consequences of flliping over in a kart are much worse than those for doing so in an F1 car. However, we can’t change a kart in an F1 car, and we can’t change an F1 car in a spaceship.

  14. zaakir (@zaakir) said on 22nd August 2012, 17:54

    F1 cars have developed throughout the years. The incident of massage happened in 2009. Safety in F1 cars have since then. We now have the platypus front nose which was implemented because of safety. If the closed cockpits was a big issue the FIA would of dealt with it immediately.

    Apart from that it completely ruins the aerodynamics which is also essential for safety.

    If the cockpits are closed oxygen will be less, escaping the car will be a problem and if something had to hit the closed cockpit the driver will end up crashing.

    Indycar is obviously a lower formula racing than F1 so therefore the safety won’t be the same.

  15. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 22nd August 2012, 17:55

    I think it enforces the aerodependence of F1, if we have cockpits and closed wheels.

    To me, restricted aero (parts) and unrestricted engines (with restricted joules to be used) would remake F1 the pinnacle again, while at the same time increasing road relevance.

    So if these parts were introduced but fixed, development forbidden, I would just have to adjust to the look again like with the new wings.

    But if it releases/increases the aero/wake demons again…. Nooooooooo!

  16. Bart Navis said on 22nd August 2012, 17:55

    this will never going to happen, because of the regulatsions. look on google: red bull x2011 is even faster than the red bull x2010.

    • Mads (@mads) said on 22nd August 2012, 18:49

      Its not that it should be anywhere naer as fast as the RB X2010. The drivers would pass out from the G-forces if they had to do that for an hour.
      Take away the massive fan generated downforce, and the stupidly powerful engine, and look at the concept then. Its simply used as a reference to how the cars could look like. Not how fast they should go.

  17. Alex Brown (@splittimes) said on 22nd August 2012, 18:18

    I’m finding it really hard to hold my tongue on this issue. Some of the comments are great. Obviously, debate and investigation into whether these measures would actually make things safer or more dangerous are required before anything is changed (we don’t want another ‘catch-fence’). As some people have mentioned, the technical aspects of the issue are nothing that the brains of the sport can’t work their way through. Changes to aero-dependancy would need to be considered.

    But what really galls is the idea that life is not precious, and not worth saving through prevention. To say that people aren’t dying or becoming injured often enough to require any change is tantamount to saying “I wouldn’t mind if someone else died in the next year or so.”

    The sport is gladiatorial, yes, but surely the feats of athleticism and skill that these people are performing is already enough to satisfy viewers. Heart rates over 200bpm, weight loss measured in kilos over the course of a race, breaking points judged to the centimetre. If you need the drivers to put more on the line than this, for your viewing pleasure… then I don’t know what to say.

    I never want to see a single person killed in motorsport. Is that such an extreme view?

    • Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 22nd August 2012, 18:29

      It’s like saying you never want anybody to get hurt or die, ever. It’s completely and utterly naive.

      What the total safety advocates need to understand is that the ultimate conclusion of the safety question has to be to ban all unsafe activity wherever it’s found. I know it sounds like alarmist talk but that’s genuinely the direction in which we’re headed. At some point people are going to have to start pushing back.

      • Mads (@mads) said on 22nd August 2012, 19:07

        @spawinte

        It’s like saying you never want anybody to get hurt or die, ever. It’s completely and utterly naive.

        No its not.
        Yeah sure people will eventually get killed no matter what you do.
        But you seem to think that as soon as safety measures are implemented then noone can do nothing.
        But its not like that. The cars were deathtraps in the 50’s. And only since the mid 90’s were there some serious work put into the safety aspect of the cars. Has that made F1 worse? I don’t think so. Safety improvements means that less people will die or get hurt over time. Why is that such a bad thing?
        Its not like the drivers will suddenly not be allowed to drive anymore.
        The cars will simply get safer, and the drivers and their friends and family will not have to worry about things flying around too much.

        If anything I find it cowardish that in your need for thrills, you want others to risk their lives for your entertainment. If the drivers stand up one day and say that the safety measures implemented is overkill, then sure. But you are rooting for other peoples head to be forced into the line of fire, just because you think the safety is too much?
        Isn’t it a bit much, to be brave (read: stupid) on the behalf of others?
        Especially as they aren’t given a choise. Canopies and closed wheels are, by the rules, illigal. At least the drivers should have a choise whether they want canopies or not.
        Whether they want to race with it or not, that could be left up to them. As long as one solution wouldn’t have a speed advantage over the other, as that would again leave the drivers no choise but to go with what is fastest.

      • Alex Brown (@splittimes) said on 22nd August 2012, 20:26

        This is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. But not your life – other peoples’ lives. Why we should withhold the safety of others is beyond me. When I go mountain-biking, I wear a lid. When I replace a socket, I turn of the mains. I still fall off, break my wrists, skin my knuckles and so on. But I don’t sustain brain damage, or die. I like it that way. If someone told me I wasn’t allowed some new innovation that might prevent me from dieing whilst doing something I enjoyed, I’d question their humanity.

  18. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 22nd August 2012, 18:22

    Why not just base f1 cars on Go karts?
    Karts are amazingly fast, and actually quite safe as well.
    The superkarts can do f3 laptimes at some circuits, and the superkarts are also fairly safe as well.

  19. “I never want to see a single person killed in motorsport. Is that such an extreme view?”

    No, and in the last 18 years no-one has been killed in F1. Isn’t that enough?

  20. zaakir (@zaakir) said on 22nd August 2012, 19:16

    But very unlikely that a tire will hit a driver on the head because if their is a loose tire it will be picked up by the team and will fall out when exiting the pits.if a tire comes out during a crash it will always go away from the cars

    • Mads (@mads) said on 22nd August 2012, 19:55

      @zaakir
      But only away from the car it has fallen off. In its path could still be spectators, marshalls, photographers or other drivers for that matter.

      • zaakir (@zaakir) said on 22nd August 2012, 20:03

        But usually the damage comes once the car is off track and wheels just braking off like that won’t happen.last year Canada button knocked Hamilton onto the pitwall but the wheel never come off only suspension damage.most accidents happen at corners so other drivers can avoid it.

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