Formula One is going to test a new closed cockpit design, and it could be the blade-like enclosure seen above, according to Motorsport.com. The international racing news website has obtained the image along with information that the tests will begin as early as next month. The news comes just two days after IndyCar driver Justin Wilson suffered a fatal blow to his head from debris caused by an accident, though F1 was reportedly discussing testing the idea before Wilson's death.
The strange looking concept originated with Mercedes-Benz Motorsports — one of the leading teams in F1 — but has since been taken over by F1's governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, a team spokesperson tells The Verge.
It was an idea originally proposed by Mercedes' racing team
The idea of introducing a closed cockpit to F1 isn't new, and this will not be the first time that the FIA has tested closed cockpits in a real-world setting. In 2011, the FIA's Institute for Motor Sport Safety and Sustainability fired a 20-kilogram tire and wheel at a partial cockpit shield and a full jet fighter canopy, both made of polycarbonate. The partial shield somewhat deflected the wheel, but shattered to pieces. The jet fighter canopy, however, completely deflected the wheel and remained intact.
Then, in 2012, the FIA Institute tested what's known as a "roll hoop," or "roll cage," similar to what's found in sprint and top fuel drag car racing. The same wheel / tire combination were fired at the metal cage, and it bounced upwards and away from where the driver's head would have been.
There are issues with all of these designs — the blade design included — with the most common concerns being the driver's visibility and the ability to escape the car after an accident. There is also the worry that debris coming in contact with a roll cage or canopy could deflect into the stands. But with mounting accidents, injuries, and deaths related to the exposure of the driver in all major disciplines of open wheel racing, these are problems that will need to be solved. The FIA Institute may have put it best in its roll cage safety test video:
Like the canopies assessed in the 2011 test, this would mark a dramatic visual departure from familiar single-seater style but a radical aesthetic is a price well worth paying to save drivers’ lives.