Fernando Alonso’s escape in the first-corner accident at the Belgian GP provided a reminder that, despite all the safety improvements initiated in large part by the late Sid Watkins, drivers’ heads remain exposed in all open-wheel categories.
Spurred by the 2009 accidents involving Henry Surtees and Felipe Massa, the FIA has been conducting research in this area for some time.
The emphasis has moved away from jet fighter-style canopies to a roll-cage arrangement that would be able to deflect flying wheels and complete cars, and the obvious problem of restricted vision has already been studied in a simulator.
McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe, who has been part of the group undertaking the research, says that such a device could be incorporated into the rules for the start of F1’s turbo era in 2014.
Michael Schumacher, who had a narrow escape when struck by Tonio Liuzzi’s Force India in Abu Dhabi two years ago, says that the issue has to be addressed.
“I think it has to be the future,” said the seven-times World Champion. “The last accident with Fernando clearly indicates that in the wrong moment in time this type of accident could still have fatal consequences.
“No doubt that whatever you do you will not have a 100 per cent situation of satisfaction. You will improve safety by I don’t know how many per cent, but you will have some downsides, such as vision or the ease of exit from the car.
“But you have to weigh up in total what is better.”