FIA: Protected cockpits coming…key word is protected, not covered

The tragic death of Justin Wilson this week has moved the discussion of open-cockpit racing again. The FIA have researched several options in their quest to protect drivers from errant debris such as the incident at Pocono with Wilson.

The FIA began serious research into the issue when Henry Surtees was killed by an errant wheel from another car in a junior series race only to be followed by a life-threatening incident involving Felipe Massa in which a spring struck the Brazilian in the head.

As the FIA’s Charlie Whiting points out, and we mentioned on Monday’s podcast, the issue has as many pros and it has cons and it is not an issue to simply apply pragmatism to. It takes measured and well researched solutions. Closing the cockpit like a jet fighter presents its own risks and safety concerns while other solutions obstruct the view of the driver.

Whiting told the press that they are looking very seriously at the issue, however, and that there will be further safety measures taken eventually:

“We have put in a huge amount of time, effort and research into this project, which has not been easy, in fact bloody hard,” added Whiting.

“But I can definitely see the day when this will happen. One day there will be something that will decrease a driver’s risk of injury.

“Whether it will be as good at protecting a driver from an object coming towards him as a fighter jet cockpit, I doubt that, but it will offer him protection.

“We have to persevere. We must make something, even if it’s not 100 per cent in terms of protecting the driver under all circumstances.

“But if it improves the situation it has to be good. There must be a way.”

The key will be finding the right solution that adds safety, doesn’t increase risk and doesn’t impede the driver in their ability to see and drive. As much as we may want a safer open cockpit racing series, I do hope they do all their homework and offer the right solution, not just A solution.


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Many have been shouting on the FacetwitsInstabooks that canopies have to happen now as if no one in the sport had ever considered the possibility. Of course, this has been a consideration both in Formula 1 and IndyCar for a number of years. It is a difficult problem to solve. It *is* of course solvable, but it’s not something that will, nor should, happen overnight. Careful thought and engineering needs to be put in to any solution facing open-wheel, open-cockpit chassis design. Knee-jerk solutions could potentially generate more safety problems that they solve.


Certainly everyone should take their time and come up with a safe and effective solution.

The Captain

Perhaps they should look at oval racing first?

Patrick Chapman

Motor racing is inherently dangerous in all it’s forms. That’s the main reason that the drivers get better compensated financially than say a taxi driver. The safety of an open cockpit racer today is substantially better than it was 50 years ago. In that time the drivers didn’t even have crash helmuts or seatbelts. I don’t like to see a driver get hurt or worse but that is the nature of the sport. Even jockeys have been to confined to wheelchairs after a racing incident, I don’t see them calling for enclosures or parachutes and rightly so. I can’t wait… Read more »


I very much disagree. There is danger in motorsport but this is a danger that can be eliminated and have zero impact on the actual racing.

Looking at an incident where someone is injured and killed and saying “well that’s just the way it is” is downright negligent. No one should stand by and do nothing when a preventable accident occurs.

Thomas Westergaard

And 50 years ago when Jackie Steward campaigned for safety after his near miss were there also luddits saying it was the end of racing.

Andrew Pappas

The race driver gets more money than the taxi driver because of supply and demand economics. If it were about risk, then a taxi driver would make more than a banker.

There will always be risks. But if there is a way to mitigate risk, it needs to be looked at.

I will also agree that there is a danger in making it seem too safe. Part of safety is the driver preserving oneself. It shouldn’t degrade to bumper cars either.


Although I’m no expert, my suggestion would be a super-strong transparent windscreen type cowl at the front of the cockpit. It would allow the driver to get out, it wouldn’t really be different than looking through a helmet visor, and it would address a big problem with the current system. Due I think more to aero concerns than safety, they’ve crammed the poor driver’s head so far down it’s hardly an open cockpit car anyway, with two inches of the helmet sticking up. The driver can hardly see anything. A mandated windscreen would allow them to bring the driver’s head… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

I’ve been saying something like this for a few days now. Welcome to Common Sense (TM). :-D


I’ve never been here before! It’s nice.


Same here, It could resemble an arch over the driver without protection on either side, below the helmet line. It could allow teams to lower the height of the side of the cockpit (although likely not because of safety reasons but probably necessary to allow the driver to escape), thus negating the weight of the polycarbonate, have better aero control over the cockpit, etc.

Paul KieferJr

I was thinking more along the lines of a sort-of plastic windshield shaped like half a saddle so that it can wrap around the front of the cockpit, and it would be as simple as bolting it on to the cockpit’s front edge, just in front of where the steering wheel goes (to avoid damaging it and the dashboard electronic readouts).


I gathered that from one of your other posts after I submitted. With your resolution, it would be a quick improvement and thus unarguable in the name of safety. However, more could be done because your idea does not fully address rollovers (yes, the geometry is assisted with the increased height of the shield relative to the roll hoop above the driver) or the speed of item on the Y-axis, approaching the X-axis in respect to vehicle speed.


What sends me around the bend on this topic is folks who are more concerned with preserving the “heritage” of an open cockpit than the safety of the fathers, sons and brothers that drive race cars. In reality a change like this would have zero impact on the actual racing aspect of the sport. No one is suggesting that the cars have to be slowed down or other race ruining ideas, merely folks want an extra layer of protection to prevent the fluke accident of someone being hit with debris.


Sorry, I’m totally against safety. There, I said it. While I think most everyone is NOT against safety, there is something to be said for an individual’s choice to do something dangerous. No one is forcing the drivers to do it. Driving an open-wheel racer is not like driving anything else. I had the fortune to drive one of the F3’s at Sonoma (and yes, I met Paul Charsley!) and it was the single biggest thrill of my life. The sense of connectedness to the car is incomparable. I was fully aware of the danger, and my mortality with my… Read more »


I think that driver protection is not going to go against the “heritage” of F1. I think it so important that I’m happy even if this changes the entire design and construction of the F1 car. I also think this won’t be easy and doing it may actually greatly change F1 car construction. Some people don’t think safety very important. I don’t get them. I don’t want to be mean but maybe they just have yet to face a tragedy that hits home or something. Drivers do it because they love it and it is the responsibility of others who… Read more »


It could end up looking a bit like this.

Paul KieferJr

Actually, just a wrap-around windshield would do the trick. All it has to do is wrap around the front of the cockpit and still keep the visibility clear. doesn’t need pillars of any sort, just a few bolts around the rim (and maybe keep a small gap below to keep the airflow going).

Daniel Johnson

I think a well researched canopy is the way to go, it might take a couple of years to develop something that could be removed easily even if upside down but it is doable. This debate honestly reminds me a lot of hockey and the implementation of helmets and now visors (eventually full shields I’m guessing). Especially after hearing Paul this week in the podcast and the “feeling” of driving a single seater. However I think we are finally getting to the point where any open cockpit above a certain speed just isn’t as safe as we are willing to… Read more »

Tom Firth

I’m not going to add any of my opinion to the discussion personally right now, I will later but what I am going to do is ask is for people to read highly respected single seater, team owner Trevor Carlin’s thoughts on this alongside the thoughts of Charlie Whiting above –

Steve Avery

Why not just a tether for the front end, like with tires?