Formula One cars will keep their open-cockpit design for at least another season. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), F1's governing body, has scrapped its plan to introduce partially closed cockpits for the 2017 season, according to a statement released today. The series will now wait until the 2018 season to make the change.
The FIA made its decision after the racing series' "Strategy Group" — which is made up of F1's president, its CEO, and the heads of the top six teams — voted against the plan at a meeting in Geneva early on Thursday. In the statement, the FIA cites "the relatively short timeframe" as one reason for delaying cockpit protection, adding that "it would be prudent to use the remainder of this year and early next year to further evaluate the full potential of all options before final confirmation."
While the drivers of major racing series like NASCAR or WEC compete from inside totally enclosed cockpits, there are others — like IndyCar and F1 — where the drivers heads remain exposed. But a series of deaths, injuries, and close calls over the last two decades have put pressure on these organizations to come up with ways to better protect their drivers.
Since F1 is considered the the most prestigious racing series, many have looked to it to lead the way in this area, and in some ways it has. The series (and the FIA's Institute for Motorsport Safety) tested a suite of options in years past — including full canopies — and coming into the 2016 season it had two options to choose from.
The series decided to do more testing even though it has two solid options
The first was the "halo" design, which started as a project at Mercedes-Benz Motorsports. The FIA took over the development process late last summer shortly after IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died when he was struck in the head by debris. The organization heavily tested it throughout the winter, and by the time it made its debut during a practice session in March it looked much different. Where the Mercedes-Benz version was a metal frame that came down over the driver's head and needed to be latched into the car's frame, the FIA-revamped version looked more like the roll cages seen on sprint cars. Driver opinions on the halo design were all over the map, but many seemed willing to submit to the change in the name of safety.
Red Bull's "aeroscreen" solution
The other option, known as the "aeroscreen," was submitted by the Red Bull Racing team earlier this year. The team reportedly spent about €250,000 ($275,000) on the windscreen-style concept, and it passed a number of rounds of ballistic testing. Red Bull drivers also ran a handful of laps with the aeroscreen in practice this season.
But Red Bull halted the project in June because of how strongly the FIA seemed to be favoring the halo concept. The FIA so badly wanted to convince F1 teams and drivers to support the halo concept that it reportedly showed them gruesome images and footage of driver deaths from years past. The organization confirmed that it still favors the halo in the statement released today, saying "the halo is currently the preferred option," but it added that the Strategy Group believes that an extra year of development "could result in an even more complete solution."
If development of the aeroscreen is to continue, it likely won't be at the hands of Red Bull. Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner said in June that the team doesn't have "the resource nor capacity" to keep testing and developing the solution.