Surtees, Massa, Wheldon, de Villota. Four high profile incidents which all resulted in either serious injuries or loss of life due to severe blows to the head. Each occurring to drivers in open cockpit single-seaters.
While it is too late to do anything that would retroactively prevent those four accidents from being so tragic, the motorsport world CAN do something to help prevent similar incidents in future. Are cockpit canopies the solution to this? Le Mans endurance racing regulations now state that any new prototype must be a coupe – meaning the driver is stationed in a closed (covered) cockpit (Audi’s R18 and the Toyota TS030) as opposed to sitting in an open cockpit, single-seater style (Audi’s old R8 and the Pescarolo Judd). This is because of exactly this issue. *(EDIT: I’ve just checked up on Wiki and it seems I may actually be mistaken in this, sorry.) Why shouldn’t F1 go the same way?
The two main issues that come to my mind when I start thinking about this are:
1) Cockpit canopies signal the end of the traditional open cockpits that F1 cars have always had since 1950, when the World Championship first began.
2) While canopies protect the drivers inside from external hazards, they also provide an obstacle to the driver if they need to vacate the car quickly after an accident. The worst case scenario being a driver trapped in the car while upside down, with the ground preventing them from being able to escape the cockpit.
While no. 1 has a great deal of nostalgic value to fans, it’s not a good enough reason to stop F1 going closed-cockpit if the FIA find a solution that they really do believe would decrease the chance of drivers receiving such severe blows to the head. I think no. 2 is the real issue here, as while we want to see something introduced to help prevent similar injuries, we also don’t want to create any new problems at the same time.
So, thoughts? Is it time that F1 became a closed-cockpit formula or are there any alternative solutions you can think of?