F1 cockpit safety scrutinised
SPINE-CHILLING MOMENT: The Ferrari team and fans around the world watched as Fernando Alonso narrowly escapes Grosjean's Lotus car. Image: AFP
Author: ALAN BALDWIN
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - The 2012 Belgian G1 GP crash
which caused Frenchman Romain Grosjean to be banned for a race has stoked ongoing debate
about cockpit safety without providing any clearer solution to
Grosjean's Lotus lifted into the air and skimmed across the front of championship
leader Fernando Alonso's Ferrari in the first corner pile-up, wrecking his car
but fortunately missing the Spaniard's head.
The incident, blamed squarely on Grosjean's aggressive driving, was a
heart-stopping moment for Ferrari fans and senior team members watching from
the pits wall as Alonso took his time getting out of the cockpit amid radio
Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali said: "We were lucky because nothing
hit Fernando on the head."
He told reporters this in a discussion that also touched on
the need for inexperienced young drivers to be punished heavily for failings in
the junior categories to ensure they arrive in F1with more awareness. Ferrari technical head Pat Fry said: "It was a very risky situation and
seeing one car fly over his, a few centimetres from his helmet, left us with
our hearts in our mouths for a few tenths of a second."
Protecting the driver's head in such incidents with flying cars and debris has
long been a concern for F1, a sport in which the dangers are evident and
there is a constant push to improve safety in all areas.
No driver has been killed since Brazilian triple champion
Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994 but everyone in F1 knows there is a constant
risk of a freak accident. Brazilian Felipe Massa's near-fatal head injury at the 2009 Hungarian GP, when another car's suspension part hit his helmet, was a reminder of that.
The governing International Automobile Federation has done tests with
jet-fighter style closed cockpits and forward roll hoops, a metal structure
placed right in front of the driver to guard against a frontal blow to the
helmet, but all carry other risks.
"We are working with the Federation to try to work on the right system of
protection with what we have tested or are working on there are also some
problems that you may have," said Domenicali.
"We need to be very careful on all these devices. We are still working
with the federation to find a possible solution... we are working very
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh agreed there was a need for some
sort of added protection but closed cockpits were not the solution.
"I think people underestimate what a cockpit would have to be and how
cockpits can make a situation worse," Whitmarsh said. "You can put this glass bubble over the drivers but you can't assume that
they are thereafter safe."
Whitmarsh pointed to the considerable amount of research carried out in
aviation to counter the effect of bird strikes on aircraft and how difficult it
had been to protect a pilot while allowing undistorted visibility.
In the case of motor racing there were the added problems of impeding sight
lines, cars overturning or suffering electrical fires with cockpits filling up