Formula One drivers are demanding better cockpit protection for their cars next season following the deaths last year of two open-cockpit race car drivers just a month apart.
Speaking to the BBC, Grand Prix Drivers’ Association Chairman Alexander Wurz said the group’s members have unanimously agreed for the swift implementation of added head protection through a closed cockpit. Many designs have been proposed before, with McLaren unveiling a fully enclosed cockpit in its MP4X concept F1 car. But Wurz said drivers are leaning toward the “halo,” which looks like the tail of a C-17 cargo plane in that a large hoop runs above and around the cockpit, with a vertical structure underneath serving as support and ad-ditional protection from the front.
Debate on eschewing open cockpits has raged on over the past few years, with one side saying that a closed cockpit would not only hinder driver vision, but also kill the over half-decade-long tradition of open-topped F1 cars. However, proponents of the measure have argued that helmets no longer provide sufficient head protection, especially against direct impact from debris.
“Obviously, structural changes are required to the chassis, but with almost a one-year lead time, I don’t see any technical person speaking against such substantial safety improvements, especially given the last big accidents in open-wheel racing involved head injuries,” Wurz said. “I hope that passing the additional head protection will be a formality.”
Wurz was referring to the deaths of 25-year-old Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi in July 2015 and 37-year-old IndyCar driver James Wilson in August 2015. Bianchi had been in an induced coma for nine months following surgery for a brain injury sustained from a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix in October 2014.He was the first driver to die in F1 in two decades, the last being legendary racer Ayrton Senna, who also died from serious head and brain injuries at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, Wilson died from serious brain injuries a day after his head was struck directly by the nose cone debris of the leadcar that crashed during the ABC Supply 500, causing him to slam into Pocono Raceway’s inside wall. He had been in a coma after being airlifted to a hospital.