Formula One cars will have partially closed cockpits starting in 2017, confirming weeks of rumors about the change. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, which runs the popular open-wheel racing series, announced the news today in a statement.
The change will be made as a part of a bigger overhaul of the design of F1 cars scheduled to take place before the 2017 season, which the series does every few years. The new cars won't, however, use the fully closed cockpit or "canopy" design that it tested a few years ago. The cockpits will be partially closed off — though the FIA has yet to decide on a specific design.
The "Halo" concept, created by Mercedes, is the leading choice
"All stakeholders are working together to make this a reality, with the 'Halo' concept currently the preferred option," the FIA's statement reads. "Other options, such as transparent cockpit protection, will continue to be evaluated."
The halo concept leaked in the summer of 2015, just a few days after IndyCar driver Justin Wilson lost his life during a race when his head was struck by debris. (A number of other F1 and IndyCar drivers have died in similar incidents.) It was originally conceptualized by Mercedes-Benz Motorsports, but the FIA took over the development process and began a round of testing in the fall. Other designs were reportedly tested, and the Red Bull Racing team also submitted its own similar design proposal last week.
The move has reportedly received a large amount of support from the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, a union that represents a number of F1 drivers. GPDA chairman Alex Wurz told Motorport.com last month that both "experts and drivers agree that the halo should come in" as long as the costs aren't too high.
A number of drivers across racing disciplines have voiced support in the past, with the most recent example being Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo. Not everyone is on board with the change, however. Driver Nico Hulkenberg recently told Motorsport.com that he thinks single-seater racing should remain an open cockpit sport.
Closing cockpits is a divisive issue
Jay Frye, the competition director for IndyCar, told Racer.com in January that the series is working on a closed cockpit solution as well. But issues like costs — which matters more in more budget-conscious series like IndyCar — means that implementation would likely be years away. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles went one step further when he spoke to the Motorsport Safety Foundation earlier this month. Miles said the series is "working extensively with an unidentified international company" but that no decision on materials or design has been made.
"It's not going to happen this year, for sure, and it's still too soon to say whether they'd be ready for 2017 or 2018," Miles told MSF. "But we're pretty confident that it can be developed."