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GP Week : Issue 162
31 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Carlos Slim Jr. proposal, partly because Formula One has always been associated with open-cockpit racing, but also because extensive testing revealed a number of safety limitations including – but not limited to – driver extraction. “We’ve tried fighter jet canopies. They work but there are quite a few problems with those. They need to be 30 millimetres thick which presents sufficient optical difficulties. We need to try and get something that you can see through when you’re sat down there and that’s very hard. We tried a roll structure. It’s an ugly thing but it did the job. So next we’re trying to find something that’ll be a deflector. In the end we may have to end up with something that will help a lot but won’t eradicate the likelihood of something hitting a driver. It may not prove to be possible to completely eradicate that. Even if you put a driver in a closed car, there’s no guarantee a wheel won’t fly through the windscreen for example.” While the bulk of media coverage of the FIA’s efforts to improve safety has concentrated on the will-they, won’t-they of closed cockpits, and of updates to the research on for ward roll-hoops, improvements have also been made without fanfare. At this season’s Malaysian Grand Prix, a new form of catch-fencing was trialled on the first corner. Traditionally used for avalanche containment, the fencing is made in such a way that it requires fewer posts, reducing the risk of an airborne driver colliding with one. There is no doubt that Formula One, in particular, has made great leaps for ward in the area of driver safety since the dark years when racers lost colleagues with every passing season. The efforts made by the likes of driver safety campaigner Jackie Stewart in the early years of the fight to improve standards, of Sid Watkins and his work to improve medical facilities at racetracks, and of the FIA in its role as motorsport’s governing body, mean that drivers are now safer than they have ever been before. But perceived safety can beget complacency, which is dangerous. And while those working behind the scenes continue to do all they can to minimise the risks for those on and around the circuit, no driver is safe from that random combination of unhappy circumstances that can lead to a serious incident. Shunts like Nick Heidfeld's (above, USGP) and Fel;ipe Massa's started talk of canopies, but the idea was rejected. Lotus F1 front crash zone test (left); fully-equipped medi-vac helicopters arev standard procedure these days. F1 >>> FEATURE