Cockpit Canopies under discussion again after Wheldon accident
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FIA Institute
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Oct 2011   |  11:27 am GMT  |  146 comments

The accident which killed British racing driver Dan Whedon yesterday in an Indycar race at Las Vegas has raised a number of safety questions, including the wisdom of running 34 open wheel cars on a tight 1.5 mile oval track such as Las Vegas with an average speed of 220mph.

But it has also revived discussion about the possible use of canopies to make the drivers safer in the cockpit from flying wheels or debris, as happened with Felipe Massa and Henry Surtees.

The FIA Institute has done some work in this area and produced some interesting content in the current edition of its quarterly magazine, IQ. A video of their recent canopy test is posted below. There is no suggestion at this stage that a canopy might have saved Wheldon, but a moment like this always calls for the sport to reflect on safety issues and consider the work that’s already being done.

The work has been carried out by FIA Institute Technical Advisor, Andy Mellor, along with Institute Research Consultants Peter Wright and Hubert Gramlin. Prompted by the F1 Technical Working Group, which comprises senior engineers from F1 teams as well as FIA technical people, they’ve been looking into the possible benefits – and drawbacks – of adding some form of additional protection to the open-cockpit area of F1 cars.

According to IQ, “The aim was simple: to fire a Formula One wheel and tyre, together weighing 20kg, at 225km/h into, first, a polycarbonate windshield and, second, a jet fighter canopy made from aerospace-spec polycarbonate, and measure what happens (all close-up observations being recorded by strategically positioned high-speed film cameras).”

The canopy was the same as used on an F-16 fighter jet. The FIA Institute team wanted to see how it would cope with an F1 wheel and tyre.

The answer was that whereas the windshield shattered, the F-16 canopy deflected the object away from the cockpit where the driver would be seated, says Mellor, “It was possible to see that the windshield did manage to deflect the wheel over the space that would be occupied by the driver’s helmet, but in so doing it sustained significant damage.

“The canopy, however, deflected the wheel assembly suffering no permanent deformation. And viewing the canopy impact in slow motion shows it flexing to absorb impact energy, before ‘launching’ the wheel and tyre away. ”

The results are currently with the F1 Technical Working Group. It is is the first stage of the process. According to IQ, any debate on implementation would have to take account of a number of known drawbacks, such as: Visibility, Optical quality, Ventilation, Cleaning, Access and Emergency exit of the driver.

Wheldon’s accident is being investigated now. On board cameras show his car being launched over the back of another, rotating to the side and then going into the wall and fencing.

FIA Institute Jet Canopy Test from FIA Institute on Vimeo.

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146 Comments
  1. Andy S says:

    Important research – how do you weigh up Massa’s injury with the fire risk – eg Heidfeld in Hungary? We can’t invest enough into driver safety.

    1. wayne says:

      This sort of thing worries me. Rather than address the circumstances of accidents, the motivations and circumstances for the manoeuvres that led it and the environment it occurred in (such as the track)- people rush to conclude that canopies are the answer. In my opinion, all the introduction of canopies will do is encourage more and more ridiculous liberties with safety such as Bernie’s sprinklers and split chicanes, reverse grids and ridiculous one off payments for races which encourage drivers (especially those in financial need or with less experience) to adopt an all or nothing approach.

      What ever next, shall we have these talented kids drive though rings of fire for our own entertainment?

      I am truly sorry if I offend Americans who read and contribute here, I have a great deal of respect for many of your countrymen and work with you guys all the time, but…… the lines are so blurred between sports and light entertainment in the USA that there is always a need to make it all bigger, shinier and better and, unfortunately, better often means more dangerous to appeal to that terrible section of viewers who think the only good bits are the crashes.

      I hope I do not tempt fate when I say; F1 is now a RELATIVELY safe sport – not just because of the cars themselves, but also because of the conditions the drivers race under and their motivations for scoring as many points as possible over a season. Thankfully, we do not have Bernie’s medal system so there is no need to drive 99% of the races in an all out blaze of glory. And there is no F1 equivalent of Indycar’s Las Vegas $5m promotion and neither should there be.

      Thanks to Mr Werewolf for clarifying my comment in an earlier thread; I was of course suggesting that the circumstances of and motivations for the race itself in which we lost Dan Wheldon were a possible contributing factor, and not suggesting that the accident was in any way caused by Dan.

      Motorsport is thrilling in and of itself, it does not need obscene 1 off prizes, artifical environmental factors, manipulation of the starting grid or any of Bernie’s mad ideas in F1 – but I also do not think it needs canopies either if a rational and common sense approach to racing is maintained and the ‘crazies’ remain marginalised.

      1. Quercus says:

        Oval racing is inherently very dangerous — much more so than F1 — and there’s very little they can do about it. A group of open-wheel cars in close formation, on the limit of lateral adhesion at 200 mph, is an accident waiting to happen. At those sort of speeds, if you touch the brakes or turn the steering wheel aggressively to try and avoid another car in difficulties, the only place you can end up is in the wall on the outside of the bend.

        The only active solution I can see is some sort of aerodynamic ‘brake flaps’ that can be deployed in an emergency situation to increase grip. When deployed they would act aerodynamically both as a ‘whole-car’ air brake but, most importantly, increase downforce on all wheels, thus immediately allowing the driver to also use his conventional brakes and to regain some steering grip. They would have the additional advantage of making the car less likely to become airborne.

        Such a device would at least give the driver a fighting chance of avoiding the sort of accident where he becomes just a passenger.

      2. George says:

        “but I also do not think it needs canopies either if a rational and common sense approach to racing is maintained and the ‘crazies’ remain marginalised.”

        Massa, Surtees and Senna’s accidents were all caused by stray debris hitting the driver’s helmet, I would hardly say it’s irrational to consider a canopy to stop that type of injury. The important thing is that they weigh up the pros and cons properly.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if in 20 years we’re amazed that open cockpit cars ever existed.

      3. James Allen says:

        Comments from Max Mosley, “You’re always in danger, in an open cockpit, of objects striking the driver. It (the canopy) might also help if it’s reinforced with another roll bar, in things like the Dan Wheldon accident,” he said on CNN. “But that’s something that needs careful investigation.”

      4. PhilipB says:

        No offense taken from this side of the pond. Your comments are well-founded. Las Vegas was looking for a “spectacular” and tragically they got it.

      5. wayne says:

        Jody Scheckter:

        “I think the set-up they put in so it can be MORE OF A SPECTACLE makes it very, very dangerous on circuits like this. Some others [circuits] aren’t as bad.”

      6. Grayzee (Australia) says:

        Great comments, wayne. Totally agree.
        220mph is faster than an F1 on the straight at Monza. And they run side by side!
        Throw in the ridicuosly flat bottoms, and you have a jet airplane waiting to take off.
        Totally unneccesarily dangerous.

      7. Ranjith says:

        Well said. Exactly what I was thinking. Also F1′s run-off areas, gravel traps etc make the sport much safer than Indycar. Oval tracks are made for stock cars which offer a much safer environment for the driver. Open wheel racing cars have no business on ovals.

    2. Phil says:

      They said the same thing about seatbealt harnesses.

  2. Speed F1 says:

    What a shame! What a tragedy! Haven’t felt this sad since the death of Senna. Racing world has truly lost a great champion, wonderful person & a fantastic character. My heart goes out to his family and everybody involved.

    The safety of these wonderful and fearless drivers that we love to watch on television and live must be taken seriously by FIA. Technology is taking us to new height every day. It’s hard to keep up with the fast moving technology sometimes. Everything is to improve our way of life or luxury. But safety doesn’t seem to be very important to the innovators. So, I am urging to FIA to invest in this area and still keep the racing equally entertaining. Surely it is possible in the open wheel world with proper investment and passion.

    1. wayne says:

      Safety IS taken very seriously by the FIA, it’s often the overiding factor in every decision. The FIA, to their credit, have worked miricles for safety in F1. You should be calling for the promoter to take it as seriosuly as the FIA do, listening to some of Bernie’s ideas you have to wonder what his priorities are. The US based series promotors are unlikly to be any less greedy in their attempt to cater for the salivating masses of uninformed motorsport ‘fans’ who look at crashes as ‘the fun bit’.

      1. PhilipB says:

        The “uniformed motor racing fans” have seemed to move on to Ultimate Fighting. Hence the financial difficulties NASCAR & Indy find themselves in, having chased away the informed crowd with their PT Barnum displays.

  3. Lufferov says:

    Canopys keep getting discussed as a safety measure. But I feel the time taken to escape a car would put more lives in danger.

    It would also pose questions about reduced visibility, keeping canopies clean, glare etc… A visor tear off is easy for the helmets, but how do you implement a similar system for a canopy?

    It’s good to strive for better safety, but the tragic death of Dan had far more to do with the number of cars on such a small track. It also didn’t help that a number of them were inexperienced.

    1. Adam says:

      t is not only the time to escape but the flex of the canopy, that stops penetration by debris, can also be a severe hazard that I have yet to see discussed in respect to use in motor racing. Two pilots of F-16’s have died after the ripple in the canopy, following a bird strike, struck the top of the pilot’s helmet and knocked them out by spine compression. Imagine the situation for a tall driver like Webber. You need something like 4 inches of clearance to avoid that impact shock wave with a bird. A wheel is going to be just as bad as if the canopy was not even there!

      1. A-P says:

        Adam, your comment

        > Two pilots of F-16’s have died after the
        > ripple in the canopy, following a bird strike,
        > struck the top of the pilot’s helmet and
        > knocked them out by spine compression.

        intrigues me greatly. Any chance you could point to a source for this information?

        regards

        A-P

      2. Mike84 says:

        What if they added something like a less-flexible roll bar over the helmet, conforming to the lexan, to prevent that? Maybe it could flex enough to prevent breakage while also reducing the deflection.

        It’s not just wheels, a car can land on top of you, or your car can flip and hit a wall on top of your head, so the risk of deflection may be much worse than a bird strike.

      3. OzEye says:

        If you have a canopy over the driver…and a wheel hits it…the wheel WILL be re launched non a new trajectory.
        That trajectory will be UP and to te left or the right of the canopy.

        When that happens – the wheel WILL EXIT THE TRACK CONFINES and land in spectator areas like grand stands and General Admission areas – where it would most likely kill more than one person. Think of Graham Beveridges death in Melbourne a few years ago when JV had his big off. That wheel went thru a small track access port that it simply was TOO BIG to fit through…or so was thought then.

        The only way a canopy could supply ultimate safety for driver AND spectator is if the entire track was enclosed in a debris fence. By this – i mean TOTALLY enclosed… walls AND A ROOF.
        Will we see the FIA dictate that the racing surface has to be totally surrounded by catch/debris fencing?
        i doubt it.

        Maybe they will do it at Abu Dhabi – where money does not seem to be a problem – but everywhere else the promoters could not bear the cost..as well as the possible backlash from fans/spectators attending the event who may complain about the views being further obstructed by the fence.

        Canopy is not the answer for INDY cars…higher cement walls would be better…NOT HIGHER catch fencing.

        Canopies MIGHT help in F1 – but the natue of the crashes are so totally different between F1 and Indy cars that the argument is moot.

        To those worried about access to a drive inside a canopy fitted car…try this.
        The canopy could be fitted with explosive bolts that pop off if the car reaches a certain (un natural) angle of trajectory. It could be off the car before the car comes o rest. These could also be triggered by the driver in case of fire or a crash that knocks all the corners off the car – but still maintains a “natural” road going attitude (meaning still sitting on the road right side up)

        Yep there are dangers with explosive bolts…but they are lot less explosive that the fuel tanks the cars carry and you don’t hear of too many of them going off for no reason in fighter planes…unless the pilot wants to get out of the aircraft immediately..

      4. AndyK says:

        Don’t forget that F16s cruise along at more than twice the top speed of a Formula 1 car.
        All the same, I’m definately not in favour of canopies.

      5. Quercus says:

        We should remember that a fighter canopy, by definition, requires all-round visibility — including above the head, which is where the pilot is looking when he executes a high-G turn. For a race car, visibility is only required ahead and to the sides — there are no circumstances when a driver would need to look upwards. The roof of the canopy could therefore be constructed very differently to that of a fighter.

        I like the idea of canopies — especially as it perhaps would mean that the sides of the car could be lowered once again to give a better view of the drivers and to give them more visibility. It would be relatively easy to provide quick release mechanisms and at the sort of speeds we’re talking about a deflector would keep them clear.

      6. SteveH says:

        It’s not as simple as placing some sort of protection above the driver. It’s amazing how much racing harnesses stretch during an accident and it’s also amazing how much the neck stretches. Having some sort of rigid protection above the drivers helmet is just asking for impact injuries with the structure during a roll over accident. The forces are enormous; I would be very concerned about possible concussion problems.

      7. Stephen says:

        I find this argument very strange. People are saying that an impact from the canopy which may knock someone out is a reason not to use them.

        Can I just point out that if the impact is enough to make the canopy ripple then if whatever caused it acually hit the driver without anything in the way they’d quite probably suffer far more serious and most likely fatal injuries?

        I wonder also if canopies would allow lighter-weight helmets to be used, thus reducing the chance of neck damage from other impacts.

        I can’t say I’d like the looks of an F1 car with a canopy – would be interesting for someone to sketch up a picture to see what they would be like – but when it comes to it, we are putting men and women in there for our entertainment so we should be trying to reduce the risks where possible.

    2. ROSS CHEVALIER says:

      NASCAR has windshield tear offs which are removed during pit stops.

  4. Mike H says:

    It’s good to see the FIA looking into more safety, however they’ve overlooked a number of other problems closed canopy cockpits would have. The most obvious of which is how to deal with dirt build up and water on the canopy. Currently drivers have tear-off strips on their visor which works for the dirt, but they can’t do that with a canopy.

    Maybe they should just change the rules and make the cars into open wheel GT Prototype racers?

    1. Dave Swan says:

      Dirty canopies, good point, never thought of that, that complicates things.

      1. Johan says:

        MOST motorsports with more than two wheels deal with dirty windscreens. Surely Formula One could manage.

        Another advantage of a canopy that everyone seems to be ignoring is resistance to small debris, like what hit Massa, and cockpit intrusion, like what killed Senna.

        I think it’s invevitable, so let’s figure it out. Or we could just slow down…

    2. Lev says:

      Maybe a rub down in the pits?

    3. SteveH says:

      A canopy car would be might hot inside at some tracks.

    4. Callum says:

      Why can’t they have tearoffs on a canopy? V8 Supercars in Australia have full windscreen tearoffs…

    5. Rodger says:

      The closed cockpit Le Mans prototype cars have full screen tear-offs. They do a lot more laps per stint than an F1 car, so ripping one of those off at each pit shouldn’t cause problems.

  5. Sebee says:

    Of course canopy could help. But key thing that caused this accident is being addressed already – exposed wheels.

    We all love open wheel style racing, but that is the biggest fear. Wheel to wheel contact latching a car into the air. It has happened and unfortunately it will one day happen again. IndyCar has addressed it in next car design.

    For me, a tragedy like this – makes me question relevance of open wheel racing at all.

    1. KinoNoNo says:

      Anything to reduce the risk of cars getting airborne is good.

      Unfortunately in this case Dan’s car was launched of the back of another car that had already crashed in front of him.

    2. Mike84 says:

      Agree, but even if cars had no wheels, they could still flip or land on each other. Remember MS and Wurz almost getting their heads taken off? And there’s always the chance of an odd spring or exhaust header flying at you.

  6. Kevin says:

    If this happened certainly the cars would need A/C, right? It’s hot enough for the drivers as it is, but to tell them to drive in a greenhouse sounds pretty extreme. That could have serious safety issues as well.

    1. KinoNoNo says:

      Closed cockpit LMP1 cars are required to have A/C by the ACO, for this very reason.

      1. toilet says:

        if i remember correctly the ACO’s rules only stipulate that cockpit temperatures do not exceed a certain amount above ambient, not that the cars must have a/c.

        again, if i remember correctly, the current audi r18 lmp car achieves this without a/c, although most other closed cockpit car do use a/c. audi thought they could achieve the required relative temperature disparity with good old fashioned air flow, while minimising aero inefficiency. thus not losing the power needed to run a/c.

        personally i think closed cockpits in f1 would be a bad idea, but if it did happen, surely temperatures could be kept in check with venting. if audi can do it for 24 hours, i’m sure f1 teams could work out a compromise.

        as others have pointed out keeping the damn things vaguely clean would be the worst issue, along with possible extrication problems if their mechanisms became damaged in said crash.

        if i’ve remembered wrongly, sorry.

    2. Ade says:

      A lot of tin top racing drivers use ‘cool suits’ to keep them at sensible body temperatures – heat from the engine can cause cabin temps in the 40 degree range (which is not a sane environment to otherwise operate a race car in). F1 would be able to adapt such technology if it had to, but I am not personally sure it is necessary to cocoon the driver with these suggested canopies. Maybe just keep on with the developments in helmet technology and other safety equipment for open wheel racing….?

  7. Steve Arnott says:

    Firstly, it was very, very sad to observe such a tragedy in the names of sport and entertainment.

    But secondly, I think back to the horrific footage we saw yesterday…fires, overturned cars, and several drivers who needed assistance to get themselves out of their cars.

    With enclosed cockpits – possibly damaged and unopenable due to the immense forces at play – would we have been counting further serious injuries or worse?

    Closed cockpits require VERY thorough investigation before they become a reality in case they end up doing more harm than good.

    1. bad_whippet says:

      @ Steve Arnott

      “With enclosed cockpits – possibly damaged and unopenable due to the immense forces at play – would we have been counting further serious injuries or worse?”

      That for me is the big question mark hanging over enclosed cockpits.

      As you say, with the forces involved in some collisions, can we be guaranteed they’d actually be able to open the canopy? Probably not, though obviously I’m not a fighter jet canopy manufacturer, so maybe they do have backups in place in the event it can’t be opened in the normal manner?

      Still, the thought of a driver being trapped within the canopy whilst the car is on fire is unthinkable.

      This would also surely open a whole big can of worms on how races are marshalled – all marshalling staff would need extra training etc., not to mention the added responsibility and burden on them, especially in the event of a life-threatening accident…

      RIP Dan Wheldon

      1. ChrisG says:

        Canopies can be made safer using explosive bolts on the hinges and locking mechanims, some road cars use them to aid occupant escape in the event of a rollover, the Merc SLS (as used for the F1 safety car) is one example I believe. This techology obviously wouldnt completely remove the risk of it jamming in the event of an accident, but if properly designed the risk could be minimised, and be significantly better than say an LMP1 prototype I would imagine.

        Also fire is predominently a threat when the flame or flammable liquid can get to the driver, if you had a cockpit with a sealed rear bulkhead and canopy, there’d be a far smaller risk of fire or the fuel actually getting close to the driver, so the combination of a closed cockpit and Nomex suits etc would give a much longer survival time in the event of a major fire than you have with an open cockpit, more than enough time you’d hope for the fire to be extinguished by the extremely efficient and professional marshalls we see at events of this calibre. The main unknowns there would be if the canopy partially opened / broke and the risk from extended exposure to smoke and fumes if the fire couldnt be extinguished promptly, but nothing will remove the risk completely.

        That said, I think the biggest safety aspect Indycar need to address is reducing or iliminating the tendancy of a car being launched into the air when hitting the rear of another car. Most of the recent big accidents on ovals with injuries and now sadly deaths have involved flying cars, another example being Mike Conway’s accident at Indy last year. The new for 2012 Indycar Dallara (that tragically Dan Wheldon was test/development driver for) should go a long way towards this as it has a full width crash structure which should prevent or significantly reduce the chance of rear wheel to front wheel contact launching a car, so perhaps if a similar thing were to happen in future the cars may at least stay on the track rather than flying into catch fencing. Here’s hoping.

      2. Mike84 says:

        From that video, I wonder if they’re using the same type of polycarbonate as bulletproof glass. If so, it would melt in a fire.

      3. ChrisG says:

        I imagine its similar material to that used for the driver’s helmet visor which would also melt in a fire given sufficient time and heat, but considering how thick the canopy would have to be to withstand that kind of impact I doubt the time it took to melt completely would be the limiting factor.

      4. Mark m says:

        The main problem for injuries in the dan Wheldon crash was cars being launched into the air the rotating and going roll hoop first into the catch fencing. Is now time to invest in a new safer catch fencing. I was thInk some thing along the line of a solid transparent barrier similar to ice hockey rinks. This should allow the cars to slide along the fence and come back to rest on the track. The roll hoop On dan wheldons car was ripped off by the fence leaving the head exposed to contact.

  8. James says:

    This terrible accident speaks volumes about the safety in F1 today and relative lack of in Indycar. 34 cars on a track smaller than Monaco, no breaking zones and speeds over 200mph. It’s a recipe for disaster, which happens far too frequently in this series. Yes, it’s entertaining to watch, but at what cost? Today a family has lost a son, a father and a husband.

    Canopies probably arent the answer to the questions being asked today. Many critics felt that the number of cars on the short track was unsafe before hand, unfortunately their fears have been proven right.

    Indycar needs to do what F1 has done, slowed the cars down a bit. It also needs to take a good look at itself. 34 drivers is too many on such a small track. That many on an F1 track might be acceptable.

    RIP Dan Wheldon. You were a tallented person, it’s clear to see even from early karting footage. T He greed and stupidity of the Indycar chiefs have cost you your life. Thoughts with family and friends.

    1. Henrik says:

      Agree, why do they keep using the ovals

      1. Rudy Pyatt says:

        It seems to me that while Cosworth, Lotus, March (and although they have apparently disowned it, McLaren) have oval racing pedigree, the European racing establishment has always viewed oval racing with a mix of fear and condescension. That’s understandable. It’s never been very popular in Europe – Brooklands being the exception, and, at that (certainly at this remove), Brooklands is more associated with record attempts than actual racing. There’s irony here, too. The Monza banking (so hated by British F1 teams of the era) wasn’t the site of Von Tripps’ fatal accident – the Parabolica was, as it was with Rindt.

        Here, oval racing is the heritage of racing. Someone posted on this in the other thread on this tragedy; has been from the beginning. I’ll refer you to that.

        It’s also ironic that in such a large country, we prefer our racing – of all kinds, not just motor racing (the most popular form of bicycle racing here is the criterium) – on a relatively small stage.

    2. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Slowing the cars down may help, and getting off of the steeply banked NASCAR ovals would probably help do that. They have always been problematic for open wheel cars. In (I think) 1959, during the roadster era, there was a USAC race at Daytona. A then-world record average race speed, but a fatal accident. Bill France said then that the Championship cars were too fast for the track.

      One of the cars involved had a cockpit canopy. I think that would be an effective measure for a situation like Massa’s. But I don’t know if that would have helped Dan Wheldon, or Greg Moore.

    3. Sebee says:

      New car does seem to address the issue of rear wheel to front wheel contact to prevent launch of car into the air. It would possibly have changed the outcome here.

      http://beyondtheredline.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/indy-2012-concepts.jpg

  9. Sebee says:

    Let us not forget that DRS increases the odds of such an incident. One day two cars may make contact at highest speed in DRS zone.

    1. coefficient says:

      DRS is not required for this to happen. See Valencia 2010 Mark Webber/Heiki Kovalainen.

      1. Sebee says:

        Let’s not forget how Kubica took flight.

    2. chris says:

      On a superficial level yes, but what is more important is the baseline of any car for a given track. Doing 220 mph is more dangerous than doing 210 mph but not by a lot. The danger is from doing 200+ mph. As many people have said the volume of cars, and the setup of the grid will have far more affect than DRS on its own

      1. Sebee says:

        Chris,

        Look at Villenuve and his lost wheel, and Ralf I think also being launched. Open wheel in generally is flawed by allowing easy wheel contact and likely flight of car at speeds much lower than 200mph. Sure, it’s violent at 200mph, but don’t think for second that such thing is not dangerous at 150km/h.

        What is most amazing and really quite incredible is the fast that we haven’t had this in F1. I think engineers have decided to really measure specific forces and have the suspension aparatus break away instead of being stiff enough to launch the car.

        And that may be the secret to safety here. Let the driver DNF with a broken suspension, but don’t allow the car to take flight through wheel contact by making the suspension fail at impact force. But what a fine line that is when such braking and aero loading is concerned. I’m not even sure it’s possible.

      2. Mark m says:

        Martin brundle at the first Melbourne race

  10. George says:

    Open wheel oval racing is, unfortunately, the most dangerous form of auto racing today. The biggest problem that the IRL faces is simply the speeds that these cars attain on these tracks. If it’s feasible, IRL should consider taking off the wings on oval tracks.

  11. Merlinghnd says:

    I am sure top designers would love the smooth shape of a canopy in which to sit an unaerodynamic ( if a word exists?) driver and helmet but as others have said how to get out quickly and safely.

    The fact is at the moment drivers are sitting low in the car with the body work getting higher and higher which is causing collisions due to poor visibility, maybe this is a more urgent area for research into.

  12. Noelinho says:

    It was awful to see the carnage in Las Vegas last night. It is a long time since I last saw something so horrible on a race track. RIP Dan.

    With regards to cockpit canopies, it’s hard to know much without seeing the reseach, but there are two main issues at hand here: firstly, they must not impede the extrication of a driver in the event of an accident; secondly, and of direct importance to Dan Wheldon’s awful accident, is to remember that Dan was travelling at anything up to 340kph at the time of the crash (though likely slower at impact). This is much faster than has been tested by the FIA institute so far. Therefore, the effectiveness of a polycarbonate windshield at at these speeds must be questionable, meaning that for use with Indycars on ovals at least, the F-16 canopy would be the only realistic solution if they were to go down this route.

    But I must say, I feel quite numb talking about this so soon after Dan’s tragic death.

  13. Al says:

    Such a difficult situation, clearly there are plus points for enclosing the cockpit and rightly safety should be paramount. However the open cockpit is a huge element of F1, it allows for a tangible human element rather than simply watching a mechanical car zipping around a circuit.

    Also I’m surprised that the argument regarding DRS’ safety hasn’t sparked yet. We’ve seen a couple of incidents this season already where the DRS flap has remained open or opened when it shouldn’t have. I feel like these kind of movable aerodynamic parts are a ticking time bomb, it only takes one fast high speed corner failure to cause a huge accident.

  14. Dan says:

    I think canopies were more than likely already under consideration but maybe F1 should take the lead on this one and test them in pre season testing for feedback!

  15. Bec says:

    Did you see where the wheel ended up after the FIA test?

    Grandstands would have to be situated several 100 metres away from the track, safety is great, but increasing the risk to spectators and support staff is probably not a good idea.

      1. Jimmy says:

        I disagree. That wheel hasn’t flown that far, JUST because of a flexible canopy. It’s being fired at 225kph so will fly that distance regardless of what it hits.

        Plus F1 wheels are tethered to stop them flying off as often as they use to, so the risk is far lower anyway.

        All I mean is, let’s not get confused with wheels purposely being fired at high speed compared to what happens in real accidents.

        It’s a bloody hard subject to find the right answer to there’s no doubt.

    1. Mark V says:

      Sorry but that’s a pretty weak argument. If a canopy is going to cause the stands to be sprayed with (tether-less) wheels, where do you think that stray wheel is going without the canopy? Off the drivers head first and THEN into the stands.

      1. Louie Cipher says:

        Remember that they are simulating the impact of the car hitting the wheel whilst the car is travelling at speed.

        The distance you see the wheel travelling is where it would be relative to the car. ie the car would have travelled the distance seen AWAY from the wheel.

      2. Mark V says:

        Of course. I was just pointing out that should a wheel become un-tethered and strike the driver’s cockpit, it’s rather presumptuous to assume it would react radically differently if it hit a convex shaped canopy rather than a driver’s convex shaped helmet. After all, a loose wheel is a dangerous, unpredictable thing. Remember when Rosberg’s wheel got loose in the pits last year? Even at the relatively slow speeds in the pitlane that thing went for a LONG way and bounced like a basketball when it struck something (0:52): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL1dM-t3Yts

  16. Pete Wallis says:

    These accidents constantly force the evolution more safety. As do wars push force technologies. But I think F1 and Indy are loved for what they are. Open wheel edge of your teeth racing. The closest a driver can get to the elements and this makes the racing exciting. I’d hate to see an F1 car evolve into a car with a cockpit. And I’m sure lots of drivers would agree. The fact of the matter is that F1 drivers know the risks of the sport. It’s what they love and what we as fans love. Although I realize that there are several examples of drivers who may have not sustained injuries or been killed after seeing the shocking footage of Dan’s accident I don’t think a canopy could have helped in this case. The thing that caused the massive amount of damage was the huge chain link fence that works like a cheese grater on a carbon fibre car. I have been photographing Indy car races in the past and have had a car hit a fence next to me and these think break apart easily. Maybe try should be looking at moving crowds to the inside and making more effective outer fencing.
    Anyway at the end of the day I can’t ever imagine Monaco with no open cockpit cars.

    1. Herpatitis says:

      Crowds on the inside of the oval.. interesting idea, then we could do away with the deathtrap catch fencing that rips these cars to shreds. With regard to canopies, in addition to potential drawbacks commented on above, where does the wheel land after being deflected away by a canopy? Sooner or later it’s gonna be on some unsuspecting spectator’s head.

    2. Duane says:

      Nice, intelligent comment.

      RIP Dan Weldon, you will be missed.

      The tragic death of Dan Weldon could be the result of a series of very bizarre reactions by some of the less experienced drivers, but surely is a result of bad luck. I like the idea of mourning & remembering the man, rather than arm-chair engineering to make ourselves feel better.

      My first reaction was to blame the drivers, the series, the management, etc… But after reviewing the footage & reflecting, I think this was a tragic racing incident. No glamorous negligence or malicious intent.

      I don’t think a canopy would’ve helped. I don’t think that the prize money was a factor. I certainly don’t believe that the unwashed American masses are blood-thirsty & salivating for carnage!

      Racing is dangerous. Indycar feature specially engineered components to dissipate large forces generated during accidents on high-speed ovals. Yesterday, in 14/15 cases these elements worked. In fact, they’ve had a perfect track record since 2006 (until yesterday).

      In addition, the series introduces a new chassis next year – with vast safety improvements.

      1. audifan says:

        dario franchitti is quoted as saying that within 4 or 5 laps some of the drivers were already doing crazy things

    3. Trent says:

      Well put. The safest cars might be closed wheel and closed cockpit, but it no longer resembles what we love. I have no interest in Nascar, touring cars or GTs. It’s about Formula One.

  17. simon mawdsley says:

    Have to agree with James post above, this accident was a relative peculiarity of indycar rather than F1. Did i read that ave speeds were over 200mph, and throw close quarters racing into the mix and it is a recipe for disaster…..racing in F1 is a different bag altogether, plenty of run off areas, ave speeds probably 60% of what they are in indy, a third less drivers, and the racing is rarely as close as it is in indy.

    With that in mind F1 has to approach safety in a very different way because what works in one will not necessarily work in the other.

  18. Stephen Kellett says:

    What happens when driving in the wet (spray) or driving behind a car with an oil problem results in oil spray getting on the canopy?

    With helmets they just tear off a rip-strip and carry on. You can’t do that with a canopy.

    As soon as you change it to support a windscreen wiper (that can work effectively at 220 mph!) it becomes a windscreen, not a canopy.

    This is not an easy problem to solve.

    1. James Allen says:

      It’s one of the most difficult problems, which is why there’s work going on, I guess and why it’s interesting to look into

    2. Koopra says:

      Just have a tear-offs on the canopy for use during pit stops. Some series do this with windscreens.

      Or, with F1 money, use an exotic dirt repelling coating. :)

  19. shane says:

    My understanding on this sad subject is this…..the car flipped into fencing above the energy absorbing wall and that acted as a shredder on Dan Wheldons car. The fact the car hit the fence driver side up is what caused the fatality. If the car had some sort of canopy I doubt it would have made much difference. Oval tracks need to be looked at. Not just the cars.

  20. Stephen Kellett says:

    Video of the accident is on You Tube. Its a shocking crash which plays out over a considerable distance with several cars bursting into flames almost instantly on contact.

    From what I’ve seen it looks like Indy cars are nowhere near as safe as F1 cars (you rarely see an F1 car turn into a ball of fire following an accident these days).

    Anyone know what the differences are between F1 and Indy in terms of car safety/construction?

    1. PhilipB says:

      The visible fires would be oil, spectacular but not as dangerous as the alcohol in the fuel tanks.

  21. KinoNoNo says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think a canopy would of saved poor Dan.

    He was launched over the safer barrier into the catch fencing. Once that happens the fencing just tears through the car.

    There was also a number of cars going over the top of others narrowly missing the cockpit. In this situation a canopy could be of some use to deflect on-coming objects.

    Also Will Power was lucky to not suffer the same fate as Dan, as his impact launched him into the air aswell.

    RIP Dan.

  22. PeteH says:

    The canopy does not necessarily have to cover the driver. The rear edge of the canopy could be in line with the steering wheel for example, leaving the sides and top open. In this way objects would be prevented from hitting the driver from straight ahead, which I would suggest is the most common direction that debris would pose a risk, and egress would not be impeded. Of course the potential would remain for reduced visibility but a small vertical lip forward of the canopy – much like we have seen ahead of the driver in recent F1 cars – would flick the airflow in such a way as to prevent some oil/flies etc hitting the main canopy.

  23. Rob says:

    Whoa up there…. This is not sports cars…. They have that series already and it’s just not open wheel racing (fun to watch but different).

    - Are open cockpits more dangerous – yeah.
    - Are open wheels more dangerous – yeah (far far more then open cockpit’s to be honest).

    But we all know that already…. I hope we don’t become all politically correct and start making changes on that scale because it changes the nature of the relevant series.

    No doubt someone is looking at what happened and there will be some mitigation to whatever caused the issue… and that is necessary… but lets hope we don’t throw the baby out with the water.

  24. Tim Scarratt says:

    Its worth remembering that a canopy probably wouldn’t have saved Wheldon’s life – the impact was powerful enough that the rollhoop which protects the head from impacts failed, and so its unlikely a canopy would have fared any better.

    1. James Allen says:

      It’s interesting because looking at a replay, the on board camera on the roll hoop seems to have stayed intact

      1. ChrisG says:

        There’s a scary photograph posted on Twitter showing Wheldon’s car completely devoid of the rollhoop structure down to the level of the cockpit sides, so sadly Tim is correct. I guess a canopy may have deflected some of that energy away preventing it from breaking, but it’s by no means certain.

      2. Tim Scarratt says:

        There’s merit in a canopy as a defence against certain types of incident – it would probably have saved Surtees and Senna who were both killed by debris striking their exposed helmets.

        As mentioned already amongst these replies, the danger is that in providing protection against one type of injury, a modification increases the danger under other circumstances.

      3. toilet says:

        that on board footage of the crash is from will power’s car, which took an equally impressive (if that’s the right word) flight.

  25. Steve says:

    This might not be a horrible idea for the racing that was happening in Las Vegas yesterday. Honestly, the 12 laps or so before the crash looked scary! It seems there would have been many incidents rather that fatal crash happened or not. It just looked too scary!

    Formula 1 is a different story. It is very different. Safety should continued to be pushed in Formula 1 too, but we must understand the vast differences between the U.S. crash on Sunday and what we see in Formula 1.

  26. RA109 says:

    The top LeMans prototypes have switched to covered cockpits, so there have to be some benefits there.

    I don’t know much about IndyCars, but they appear overly simple in design/construction. It doesn’t seem right to make them go so fast. The incredibly complex F1 cars don’t even go that fast.

    1. James says:

      Indycars achieve the speeds they do because of the superspeedway aero kit. It’s much lower profile than the configuration used on short ovals and road courses, where top speeds are similar to F1. F1 cars would have no problem achieving similar speeds if they had such a configuration available to them.

      In terms of safety, I think there’s some misconceptions about US racing. It is inherently higher-risk, due to the greater speeds (remember energy squares with speed) and closer running of the pack. The cars themselves are very safe, indeed CART (as it was) laid the foundations for high cockpit sides that we saw in F1 in 1995-96. HANS came from America.

      SAFER barrier technology has made huge improvements to surviveability in oval racing, and it is hugely unfortunate that these things didn’t help Wheldon. He was terribly, tragically unlucky. I would hope that the question of how so many cars at such a high speed came to hit each other is a focus of the investigation.

  27. Zippy says:

    The *least* they could do there, then, is to cover the fence with clear, flexible plastic to prevent the “cheese grater” effect…

  28. Dave Swan says:

    Personally think Canopies should be at least tried, there might be a vision issue and I wouldn’t say they were to replace helmets, Poor Henry Surtee’s might be alive today if canopies were in all racing formula. Also a shiver went up my spine when in Spa a piece of wreckage sheared of Jensons Buttons wing mirror like a hot knife through butter, If that had been 6 inches nearer I’m not sure his helmet would have survived.

  29. Koopra says:

    Sad thing is, this was not a freak accident. Car flies into the fence and disintegrates. It has has happened before, and killed before. Close racing with high speed, open wheels and no runoffs… what can you expect?

    The new car which is basically only front open wheeler, is a good step. But honestly, they should leave the “pack racing” for NASCAR, where they can at least have a “big one” without high risk of death. It’s not even much of a sport to race like that anyway.

    Michael Schumacher suggested partly covering the wheels in F1 back in the nineties. It was laughed off.

  30. David Chubb says:

    This would remove open cockpit racing from the world which would remove the thrill F1 has.

    F1 is an open cockpit racing series.

    Indy cars though are actually rather flimsy and in a crash an F1 car seems to be able to stand more of an impact. Indy car could also learn from tyre walls round the outside reducing the impact force.

    F1 has also added extra legislation to wheel tethers and on the current F1 circuit the chance of a wheel or suspension coming into the cockpit is incredibly unlikely and the crash size has only ever come close to the Indy car crash.

    F1 has too many differences to Indy car that the chance of a fatal crash like in Indy car is highly improbable. Fatal crashes are more likely to come from independent or dual accidents

    1. K says:

      (1) This would remove open cockpit racing from the world which would remove the thrill F1 has.

      - So would you be more thrilled at seeing more drivers die from a crash?

      (2) F1 is an open cockpit racing series.
      Rules are made by people, not by law of nature. Things move on, technology moves on, safety moves on. A time comes for improvement is required then it has to be made. Nothing is ever fixed forever. F1 cars had no wings in 50s or 60s, they came in, so would you argue they should stay the way it was back in 50s? Now that’s original F1 if that’s what you really want.

  31. Jesper Mathias Nielsen says:

    The LMP cars swapped to closed cockpits due to changes to pit stop rule changes allowing fewer wheel guns. Prior to that the open top formula was prefered by Audi for a number of reasons, one of them being faster driver changes during stops.
    As far as I know, safety was never part of the considerations and whether the close cockpit played a role saving the drivers in those spectacular crashes is hard to say. McNish’s cockpit did seem to hit the wall however.

  32. David Ryan says:

    Without knowing the details of Dan’s accident (and at this stage frankly I can do without them) it’s difficult to say how much, if at all, a canopy would have helped in this instance. However, it has to be acknowledged that a closed-cockpit design is inherently safer than an open-cockpit design at these speeds – hence the ACO moving towards making them mandatory in light of the two Audi crashes this year – and any sentimentality regarding the open-cockpit has to be weighed up in that light. It isn’t even a question of speed, either – Henry Surtees was not travelling as fast as Dan when he had his accident, yet the outcome was sadly the same. The issues raised about fire, visibility and debris deflection are all valid, but equally they can be addressed and should not deter a development which could potentially save lives.

  33. John H says:

    I wonder what the drivers think?

    I bet almost 100% wouldn’t want the thought of a deformed canopy getting in the way of escaping the cockpit after a crash, be it fire or just being stranded in the circuit.

    One option could be to make the helmet designs themselves much deeper at the front to protect from impact but still allow the driver freedom in the event of escape. Might look a bit strange but would definitely help.

  34. Adam says:

    Surely having a canopy on F1 car for races in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore would be too hot for the drivers?

  35. JimmiC says:

    Open cockpit, open wheeled cars are what they are – whilst safety has improved, the basic principles of Farina’s 1950 car and Vettel’s 2011 car are one and the same. The drivers are not forced at gunpoint to drive them, and they know what the risks are. I’m just as saddened by Dan Wheldon’s crash as everyone else is on here, but turning these cars into glorified Le Mans racers isn’t the answer.

    The Indycar bosses, however, need to have a long and hard look at what tracks they race on. When tracks in F1 become too dangerous they are altered or removed from the calendar altogether. Having 34 cars on a flat out, narrow loop is a ridiculous way of going about your racing.

  36. Bruce says:

    Hi,
    I haven’t read the comments already left so I don’t know if this has already been mentioned, but there is one major thing that worries me.
    The aircraft canopy seems the best cockpit cover and was really securely screwed down to the ground. In the case of whatever type of accident in motor racing, once the cockpit had done its job and protected the driver from injury, how would there be a secure enough release system so the driver could get out of the car quickly?
    Bruce

  37. Mark Adams says:

    I’ll apologise to anyone now if they get offended by the following comment. But anyone seriously asking for canopies on Indycars and F1 cars, is seriously naive.

    Go ask any F1 driver, including Felipe Massa, what they’d prefer. They’ll all tell you that they don’t want a canopy. Why? They want to be able to get out of that car as quickly as possible if something does go wrong.

    This is a complete non-issue, and should be put to bed quickly. It’s not going to happen.

    1. K says:

      “Go ask any F1 driver, including Felipe Massa, what they’d prefer. They’ll all tell you that they don’t want a canopy. Why? They want to be able to get out of that car as quickly as possible if something does go wrong.”

      Can you provided any references to Massa’s preference on canopy please? If none then I assume that’s just your assumption on drivers’ preferences.

      Massa took a direct hit on the helmet by a spring which resulted in instant blackout. He had no chance of getting out of the car. If a canopy was in place, it would have been deflected off and he didn’t even need to get out of the car coz he wouldn’t have been harmed.

      I reckon what you mentioned is more of a non-issue.

  38. Darren says:

    This would lake away the essence that if formula one , open wheel open cockpit racing , anything else and it’s not formula one , you drive at crazy speeds and your going to have big crashes and the odd death , Dan was a great guy , but was it Colin chapman who said ,do you want a fast car or a safe car that’s a second slower ??

  39. Lez Martin says:

    I would have
    doubted a canopy would have saved Dans life, the way the car hit the wall, cockpit first, and we are yet to know of what injuries he succumb to, also if he hadnt gone through the air, would have hit the car he launched from, as Paul Dana did when he lost his life, or maybe hit the car in such a fashion that it would have been like when Zanardis career came to an end, also remember, Nascar cars are enclosed, but deaths have also dogged that sport, so maybe its the tracks that should be questioned, seemingly, alot of the carnage is caused by cars not exiting tracks during accidents, or coming back onto the track in the aftermath, thus causing further accidents. Yes F1 has had accidents, but none fatal, since Senna in 1994. Massa was a freak accident, but seems to have been addressed with the new strip above the visor, and yes I suppose a stray tire could bounce onto the head of a driver in an open wheel car, but I dont think a canopy is the correct way to go, as this brings a multiple of its own problems, which could be far more deadly in some cases, Imagine if Dan had a canopy, had his accident, but because of the impact, the canopy was jammed, the car bursts into flames, getting into the canopy, with no way to get him out, and no way to dowse the flames, yes you could have on board extinguishers, but would this rob any air within the canopy?….Maybe my thinking is way off the mark,but a lot needs to be thought of, but it seems everything has its pros and cons, and no matter what you do, when hunks of carbon fibre and metal are hurling round at 150-230 mph, then death is always a possibility, no matter what safety features exist….

    1. toilet says:

      just a minor bit of being pedantic, but if you were referring to the crash in wich zinardi lost his legs, it didn’t end his career. amazingly he did quite a lot of racing after that, particularly in wtcc. i think he may even still be racing somewhere.

      1. Lez Martin says:

        Sorry, I maybe should have said that Zanardis accident ended his career, as far as F1 and Indy was concerned, but this basically is only because of the time it would take him to get out of the car, in the event of an accident…..I am sure if that wasnt a factor, he could still very well drive in either series, I think though, what I was trying to get across, was the severity of the accident itself…..

      2. toilet says:

        no need to be sorry, i agree with what you were saying. like i said, i was just being a bit pedantic about a minor bit of your otherwise entirely reasonable comment.

  40. For sure says:

    My heart goes out for Dan Wheldon. While I appreciate the FIA efforts in improving the safety, I can never understand why Indycar is legal in the first place. Excuse me for my ignorance if that’s the case. 220mph, four cars fighting for the position side by side, one inch between the cars, and those concrete walls, what do you think it’s gonna happen? That’s insane.

    1. Tim Scarratt says:

      It’s ‘legal’ because the drivers are all adults who understand the risks when they choose to get into the cars.

      1. For Sure says:

        According to your logic, taking drugs should also be legal if you are over 18 since we are grown adults and we know all the risks.

      2. toilet says:

        maybe it should be. then they can be regulated, ensuring they’re as clean as possible, greatly reducing health risks; it’d decriminalise people with problems who need help; it’d take away what are considered major world issues to do with the gangs involved in the global black markets by enabling relatively main stream companies to produce them and sell them; the tax man would have a blooming field day, thus benefiting society in general(supposedly, depends whether you trust the tax man); the health risks and dangers of most drugs are much lower than many, broadly speaking, socially acceptable, and legal, yet often more socially damaging activities such as drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, drinking coffee, eating unhealthily, show jumping/3day eventing, all of us driving our own cars, instead of having a fully integrated, fully functioning mass transit system… you get the drift.

        obviously this isn’t really the place for a discussion about the relative merits of legalisation of various types of drug(hence only the brief outline of some of the salient points), however, if we follow your own logic, that because it’s potentially dangerous(indycar) we should make it illegal, and extrapolate that further on, people wouldn’t be allowed to get out of bed in the morning(ok, that’s taking it to the most extreme of extremes, but it indicates the point). let’s face it, the mere act of living is extraordinarily dangerous at virtually every turn.

        just because something is dangerous is not reason enough to make it illegal because, quite simply, where would it end?

        obviously measures should be taken to ensure such things are not unnecessarily risky. in this particular instance that step should have been to have not even considered running 34 indycars at this track, it’s just not suitable for that.

        unfortunately, they did, and quite frankly, if you watch the incident, the indycar powers that be were very lucky that only the one driver died.

      3. Tim Scarratt says:

        Actually, yes.

        Intelligent adults should be able to make their own decisions about activities which may pose a risk to themselves, such as motor sport – or indeed drug use – without a nanny state smothering us in cotton wool and banning anything that might possibly be dangerous (especially since declaring particular drugs illegal does little to stop individuals from taking them, but simply pushes users towards an unregulated and exploitative black market, and pushes the profits into the hands of criminals whilst leaving society as a whole to pick up the costs. This is straying some distance off the original discussion topic, however).

        Should Formula 1 have been made illegal after Imola 94? Should NASCAR have been made illegal after the series of fatal accidents in 2000 and 2001? They were clearly dangerous, surely The Government should have Done Something?

    2. toilet says:

      in this instance the concrete walls didn’t kill anyone, in fact they probably saved some lives.

      if they want to race ovals, and they most certainly do, a wall on the outside is about the best thing you can have. remember they have the Safer Barriers nowadays, exactly the same thing that’s now on the outside all the way up the hill at interlagos (ok, not the greatest example as they’ve had a death there too this year, but they genuinely help. in case you don’t know it’s basically a second, inner concrete wall not fixed into the ground, with foam between creating a compressible sandwich. a concrete wall with a bit of give, simple but effective).

      most of the tracks, even the ovals are pretty safe, but this particular race should not have happened.

      indycars could, and should be safer than they are. the strength in depth of the quality of the drivers leaves something to be desired, for what is meant to be a pinnacle motor sport.

      this track is not safe for 34 indycars. 34 cars on 1.5mile of track(indy is 2.5mile and they allow no more than 33 cars there each year). 34 cars each capable of running flat out for the entire lap and therefore staying bunched up, vying for the exact same few inches of tarmac (regardless of whether they’re one of the better drivers or not) at an average lap speed of 225mph.

      bloomin’ exciting, but also patently insane.

      insanity to such a degree that many of the drivers, including wheldon, had expressed their concerns over whether this race should go ahead at all.

      but, when told to race, racers are racers.

  41. Jono says:

    I believe the track and the amount of cars is what needs to be looked at. Sure the canopy idea could work – after some serious testing however as there are some flaws as mentioned above.

    Closed canopies can protect you from debris/wheels etc, but they’d have no chance against still/solid objects as they’re obviously designed to bend.

    Tracks/Cars is best safety bet I think, the FIA has done wonders for safety as I’m sure most of you have noticed. But accidents will always happens regardless of the safety.

  42. freaky says:

    if its safer they can go faster! and if they end up looking anything like the Redbull X1 i’m all for it.

  43. Albert Schummy says:

    Sorry if some people may not like this, but it’s just my point of you. I know how many people (specially north americans) love to watch races in oval tracks. I have never liked races in this type of track and have used to watch IndyCar races just when they take place in street or other permanent circuits. Never found amusing to watch races in oval tracks. And just yesterday’s incident made me remember how dangerous they have always been with cars reaching such massive speeds and no run-off areas at all. I don’t understand what they were thinking when they built this type of track. If a driver makes a little mistake and goes off, it is logical he immediately will crash into a wall at such massive speed or even if someone touches the wall will bounce back into the track and put in danger other drivers. Formula One venues never take place in oval tracks and Senna’s death in 1994 marked a new era in safety with no other casualties after then, but oval tracks in other racing categories still keep claiming lives in spite of today’s advances in safety. I think, and it’s just my opinion, that the best safety precaution to be taken should be not to race in oval tracks as they will always be extremely dangerous unless very, very huge run-off areas are built with a lot of gravel that can slow down the vehicle before touching any wall. In North America, there are some very amazing tracks such as Road America, Watkin Glens, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca, but I really condemn racing in oval tracks.

  44. Ben Youngs says:

    I wouldn’t rule out canopies for F1. The safety of the driver should always come first so if it means canopies, so be it.

    Why not increase the strength of the wheel tethers and introduce a sort of ‘roll cage’ that is in a sort of x shape over the driver’s head. As long as it’s big enough so a driver can get in and out of the car quickly of course.

  45. Kitkat says:

    Is it too heartless to suggest that race fans and drivers alike should accept that motor racing is inherently dangerous and forget about these “improvements” to safety?

    The drivers must accept that by strapping themselves into the car and pushing the limits, there is a big element of danger of dying or being maimed. After all, they get a payoff for doing that, whether that is fame, glory, money, or just a thrill.

    Sorry, I don’t want to see my drivers cotton-wooled in complete “safety”. There HAS to be an element of risk and danger in motorsports. That is a big part of the spectacle, heroic men and women pushing the limits.

    For those who are a little more timid (like myself), they can always elect to NOT drive a race car in the first place, and get themselves a desk job …

    Oh, and btw, the canopy looks stupid.

    1. JohnBt says:

      ‘Oh, and btw, the canopy looks stupid.’

      I was thinking, what if a driver gets cooked in there should the lever jams when car catches fire, you cant rule that out.

  46. Jeff says:

    I recently watched a documentary entitled ‘Formula 1, the killer years’. It details the early years of Formula 1, where deaths in the sport were just accepted as a fact of life.

    The safety levels changed when racers like Jackie Stewart started to push for greater safety, even going as far as refusing to race at venues they considered to be unsafe. As a direct consequence of their actions, Formula 1 races on safer tracks, with safer cars.

    Since that tragic weekend in 1994 when we lost Senna and Ratzenberger, Formula 1 has suffered two fatalities. They were both marshalls, Paolo Ghislimberti at the 2000 Italian GP, and Graham Beveridge at the Australian GP the following year.

    Paolo’s death resulted in the addition of wheel tethers to the cars, though they tragically failed in the case of Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR which resulted in Graham’s death.

    By comparison, despite having a full-time body of professional marshalls which travel to every race (something F1 would do well to copy, IMHO), Indy car has remained very dangerous. Indy car has seen fourteen fatalities since 1994 (seven drivers and seven non-drivers).

    The Las Vegas race featured more cars than are allowed to run at the much larger Indianapolis speedway, and many of the drivers have commented after the race that the flat-out nature of the track resulted in pack racing with very little to differentiate between the drivers. This set up the circumstances for the fatal pile-up. The walls and fences which lined the track sealed Dan’s fate.

    I don’t know whether a cockpit canopy would have saved Dan’s life, but the main problem is the nature of the tracks. The impact protection levels of a modern Indy car are comparable to those of an F1 car, but drivers are dying far more frequently in IndyCar.

    In F1, a loss of control usually results in a trip into the kitty litter, or on to a tarmac run-off area. With the exception of a few first corner incidents, most involve one or two cars at most.

    In many Indycar races, a loss of control results in impact with several other vehicles, a potential launch into the air as open wheels touch, and impact with a solid wall or catch fencing. There are no run-off areas, and the cars are often tightly bunched together. The banked super-speedways are part of American culture, but they are the main problem here, not the crash protection features of the car.

    You can only do so much with the car – it makes more sense to remove the source of the problem. Transfer away from the super-speedways, add more road courses, and enforce the track-level safety features that are common in modern F1 tracks. I don’t know if there is an IndyCar equivalent of the GPDA, but if there is, they need to start wielding their power, as it’s unacceptable to keep killing people for something that is, when all’s said and done, entertainment.

  47. S says:

    Canopies wont happen. Its the expected knee jerk reaction just so they can say at least someone is looking at it. In reality, nothing will happen. You only have to go back to Massa’s accident to realise that any change will be minimal. Everyone was talking about canopies after Felipe got hit and what happened? They strengthened the helmet design. See what i mean? The minimum. Its whats always happens in these circumstances unfortunately, the knee jerk extreme reaction followed by the eventual solution chosen to cause minimum inconvienience.

  48. FastGuy says:

    I watched the entire broadcast live, and the drivers themselves pointed out the root cause of the problem. In the first half of the two hour red flag period, before anyone knew how Dan was, many of them gave their impressions. It’s not the cars, canopied or not; the cause was the unusual situation.
    I believe it was Franchitti said it most succinctly, “There’s no way for the drivers to differentiate themselves”, meaning they were on a track where they ran flat all the way around all the time. Other drivers said largely the same. The whole (extra large) pack was locked together nose-to-tail, side-by-side at 220mph, and it didn’t take an actual mistake to set off an accident, just regular car movement that eventually brought two together. They probably shouldn’t have raced those cars on that track, and that was implied by some if not actually said outright (I don’t remember).
    The accident does expose the catch fence as an area for improvement; it does have a ‘shredding’ capability if a car hits it the wrong way and slides along rather than bounces off.
    Otherwise, the cars are not at fault, the drivers are not at fault…the mistake was bringing the cars to a track where they couldn’t *race*, couldn’t get away from each other through driver skill.
    And that won’t happen again. Painful, horrible lesson learned.

    The five laps they ran in Dan’s honor, especially in context after the two hour wait and the increasingly desperate hoping and praying that he’d be alright, was the most gut-wrenching, sad, and beautiful thing I ever expect to see. It was just the right thing to do…a fitting salute.

  49. William says:

    Absolute tragedy.

    However we must avoid knee-jerk reactions. I would have to say that by and large open cockpit racing is as safe as it can get. To provide further safety, canopies cannot be the answer. I don’t know what the answer is. But turning them into road going fighter jets surely can’t be it.

    The obvious drawbacks have already been mentioned. Extracting drivers is the main concern. Some have answered with the exploding bolts ala SLS. Problem with that is I cannot imagine having pieces on a racecar that are designed to explode. It seems counter intuitive to safety as race cars are dangerous enough as it is. To say “its ok, the driver won’t be trapped because the canopy has an explosive component” doesn’t seem like common sense approach when you consider the amount of racing events that happen year round compared to the amount of fatalities.

    I think the biggest factor has to be the ovals. It’s the nature of those tracks which allow for the 200mph+ speeds due to the oval aero packages and the lack of braking zones sufficient enough to slow the cars down. Let NASCAR stick to the ovals. Open cockpit racecars are not suited to speedways.

    On another note, the drivers before the race were expressing concern about the speeds reached in practice, but tellingly, not concerned enough to stop them from competing. These guys are racing drivers, it’s what they do, it’s what they love. Yes we can argue it’s not worth dying over (no job is) and lament the destruction of families left behind but I can guarantee before long, it’ll be back to business as usual. We collectively have short memories. Every single motor racing event that has gone before or will happen in the future is dangerous. It’s strange that we only act like it’s dangerous when accidents happen. It’s dangerous all the time and accidents can and will happen occasionally. As I alluded to before, jobs aren’t worth dying for. The unique situation racing drivers are in is they are combining a job with a passion. And we will do crazy things when driven by passion.

    When Lewis and Mark were tangling in Korea for example, that was dangerous too. That’s part of why they do it. And partly why we find it so exhilarating to watch.

    Trying to invent racecars one can’t be killed in is like the governing body of professional swimming trying to invent water that you can’t drown in. A noble cause no doubt but it’s a completely unattainable goal.

    The safest form of motorsport is no motorsport at all. And that isn’t the answer either.

    RIP Dan

  50. Craig in Manila says:

    Personally, I think that canopies create as many problems as they resolve. I just cannot see how they can easily get around the issues of fire, visibility, medical extraction, etc etc without changing the whole definition of “open wheelers”.
    I think the underlying issue is doing something to decrease the changes of cars ramping off the back of other cars and getting airborne as this is likely to be the most dangerous crash-type. This will sound odd/ugly but best answer for that is for “crash bars” behind both rear-tyres so that the fronts of the following car cannot touch the rear wheels of the preceding car ?

  51. K says:

    I have read quite a number of posts here with regards to concerns on having a canopy when an accident happens and the driver cannot get out quickly.

    I’d like to make several points for discussions:

    1. Some manufacturers like Audi in Le Mans already went from open to closed top, AND have suffered an accident where the chassis remained rigid like a rock and no harm done to the driver.

    2. Following the point above, the driver obviously needed some help from marshals etc to get out of the car during that incident, but he came out fine. Would he have ended up far worse had it been open top? I’d think not.

    3. Like someone mentioned earlier, a pilot requires to look all round including above his head, whereas a driver looks left right and centre only, so the construction would most definitely be different to one used on a jet fighter. There is less (not saying none!) concern with regards to the top part of the canopy.

    4. Someone said they prefer open top for the sake of entertainment. I’d like to question: Would anyone here including the OP find it entertaining to see more copies of the Ayrton Senna or Dan here dying from accidents? I think this is a rather sick comment from the OP.

    5. If it’s proven to work in Le Mans, why suddenly worry about it in F1?

    6. True on the concern of dirt and visibility. For visibility, I’d imagine there are dark and light colour canopies like ones you see from drivers’ helmet visors. Dark for sunny days, light for cloudy/rainy days for more visibility. As for dirt, that’s one issue the FIA has to look at. Windscreen wipers isn’t exactly a new invetion. Automatic removal of layers of tear-offs would be an idea. Things can be looked into and invented.

    Thoughts?

  52. Ashwin says:

    In rain, if the temp inside the cabin (i suppose it will be called cabin rather cockpit ;)) is warm, then what about the fog build up?? It should have a cooling mechanism to address this.

    If a canopy cracks up, how fast can it be changed at the pits

    The canopy can help deflect off the tyre and wheel.. what if another car comes straight at.. pretty much what happened to Schumacher 2010 Abu Dhabi from Liuzzi of FI..

    Or, are we all discussing something which is fundamentally flawed … Safety and Risk.
    I mean just look at Moto-GP, do they also need such a thing.
    F1 is far more safe than Moto-GP considering the exposure of the driver.
    If a canopy has to be introduced, I mean they can as well introduce parachute braking, ejection seats etc. or make the car go slower.
    If safety in F1 has some road relevance, then limit the speed to 155mph.

    1. Ashwin says:

      I feel so terrible for having posted something on Moto-GP… damn…

  53. Jonathan says:

    To prevent wheel-to-wheel contact, the FIA could introduce a rule that any wheel-to-wheel contact will result in both drivers receiving a drive-through penalty.

    Drivers are already very careful when it comes to avoiding wheel-to-wheel contact — it’s easy to forget how much of the safety in F1 is due to the drivers’ common sense. But penalizing it would provide an additional incentive.

  54. seifenkistler says:

    My feelings are with his family, even i can’t remember to have seen him racing (indy not really covered in german TV).

    This thread brought back memories from a time i was a young boy and did gravety car racing (in german Seifenkiste , as in my nick = soap box) and got a trophy from Stefan Bellof who was living nearby.

    There was a german sport TV-show in 1985 short befor the Nurburgring race: I think at least 3 of the invited racers died short after the show:

    Elio D’Angelis, Stefan Bellof, Manfred Winkelhock …

    I think that had more impact on me than the death of Senna which happen later and i already knowing how dangerous this sport is, half of interviewed people dying in half a year or so.

    For interested readers: parts of the show with english translations:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ5bXpwFQ_Y

    Elio playing piano at the same show:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkUQC028wOo

    In 1985 i asked my dad why they died,and his answer as a firefighter was more or less: stuff happens, you can’t predict everything.

    Today,studied maths and physics and being a volunteer firefighter:
    In more than 200 accidents i was called, there were situations were savety belts, airbags added to injuries.

    Same as with Kubica, where a classic 200 year old wall from bricks would have been less harmful than a modern steel barrage. But statistics say that this modern savety tools will do more good than bad in the long run.

    But when doing all this discussions, never forget what is most important at races: it is not the savety of drivers but the one of visitors.

    So saying move them inside the oval, or use savety glas and no wire mesh, …

    Emergency access at a mass panic inside an oval is not possible, savety glas are plates and not produces big enough to prevent impacts at connection points, …

    Plane canopy to deflect and not absorb is same. I have to review the video, but i think the wheel is not rotaing when it was fired. A rotating wheel, deflecting might jump up as high as 40 metres. Just remember the damm buster bombs from WW2.

    So this post is for all drivers who died way too young…

  55. captainj84 says:

    I understand where most folk are coming from regarding the safety aspect of the canopies, yes there would be plenty of benefits but it just doesn’t sit right with me. Folk have suggested “quick release catches” so drivers get out quickly. What if the car ends up on its roof? I’ve seen drivers in the past crawling out unaided thanks to the roll-bar creating a void between the car and ground. How would a driver be able to escape the same situation unaided with a canopy in his way? What happened with Dan is very sad but I hope the fia don’t have a knee jerk reaction and take time to consider the options. Let’s not forget that this happened in INDYCAR which races on some tracks that safety wise could only be compared to “pre 94″ f1 tracks with cars that aren’t as safe a f1 cars, so in that comparison you have to take your hat off to fia for keeping safety at the forefront.

  56. JohnBt says:

    “Dario Franchitti, who was in the race with Wheldon, said “I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff. I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it’s about. One small mistake from somebody..”

    The 5 million dollars prize money made drivers wild IMHO.
    PLEASE! no more such temptations.

  57. Roberto says:

    Dear James,

    It will be always extremelly sad to hear about the death of a driver in a race, we don`t know yet if a canopy could be the best solution, but at least shows that the FIA is working on improving safetyness, which is not what the promoters of indy are showing to be doing, due the rate of deaths that have ocurred during the last ten years, it`s not a competition about who is safer is about provide the fans, the drivers, the teams and organizers a safety plattform were to put a solid show, there will be always a great risk involved, but 34 cars at 220 mph in an oval? that`s in one word crazy, and if one they go around 300 mph for sure many drivers will sign for it because it`s in their souls but there`s got to be alot of safety placed first. The problem wasn`t only about the crashing and the flipping it was three cars in flames, which shows a lack of safety on impacts to the fuel tank or how explosive is the fuel used in the series. Once again, Drivers know the dangers of racing, but also they expect their cars and circuits to be at a level were safety comes first. We have seem terrible accidents in F1 after Senna`s death, Luciano Burti in Japan, Schumacher flying and landing over other car at germany, webber`s “flying” at Valencia, Kubica`s huge crash on Canada and some others, but the cars and the circuits have been redesigned and worked with safetyness at paramount. The last dead person in F1 if i`m not mistaken was the marshall at 2000 Monza Grand Prix due a tire goint out of Trulli`s Jordan.

  58. Prisoner Monkeys says:

    I think people are getting a little bit too carried away with this. Wheldon died forty-eight hours ago, and the accident investigation is still underway. How can we reasonably say “this solution will work” without even knowing the cause of the accident in the first place? It’s a bit like saying the answer to a question is four, because the first half of the question is two plus something. While driver safety is imperative, it’s an exercise in wastefulness if we simply rush in solutions that don’t necessarily address the problem. In the case of Indycar, there’s almost six months until the next race – there is no hurry to apply extra safety precautions. Formula 1, on the other hand, does not race on ovals, so there is less risk of an accident of the same magnitude as the one in Las Vegas.

  59. Lez Martin says:

    I think I may be a bit of a purist, because If you follow the link, the car that is pictured, looks great as a race car, but as an F1 car, I wouldn’t like it….

    http://www.iacoski.com/fx-i1_closed_cockpit_concept/

  60. Matthew Miller says:

    Formula 1 boat racing uses Canopys and they still have driver deaths from accidents. I remember some drivers even being hospitalised after part failures inside the engine caused chemicals to leak into the canopy overcoming the drivers during races in the past.

    In the early days of the Adelaide V8 Supercar Saloon race in australia there was a occurance where drivers were being exposed to unhealthy levels of chemicals exhaust fumes etc from engines falling to bits and badly ventilated cars. This was only a specific problem to the Adelaide track. being an enclosed street circuit. I’ve seen similar things happen in the WRC and the Dakar rally where on one occasion the cabin filled with smoke that prevented the driver from seeing inside his own cockpit.

    The more i think about the idea of canopys the less i like about it.

    If you really want to save lives. You could just have drivers control the car using remote controls from the back of the garage.

    PS: James Allen I love your blog, i’ve been reading it for 3 years now but i’ve never commented before today.

    Excellent articles and discussions. Keep it up.

    Regards Matt

  61. Luke Potter says:

    I’m not a scientist, but is the idea of using this cockpit canopy material instead of debris fences any use? Surely it would stop cars from being so destroyed whilst enabling the spectators to see.

    1. Koopra says:

      Neither am I but… A transparent material strong enough would be far too expensive.

      Debris proof glass would work for the second fence to protect the crowd. Like what F1 uses on the pit wall.

  62. ACB says:

    As Rubens Barichello often says ‘there are no accidents, these things happen for a reason.’ The tragedy last Sunday didn’t occur because of one mistake on the track, or because of a couple of missteps. As is often the case these sorts of horrible incidents are the result of numerous problems that are systemic. The troubles with the IRL go back at least a decade when they had a split and then ended up competing for a very small slice of the pie with CART/Champ Car. When they merged Indy car racing was down to a handful of teams, most of which were subsidized in some way by Tony George via the Hulman family fortune. Often the field of competitors was rather small, which pushed the IRL to accept drivers who were under funded, and under qualified. They’ve struggled to find sponsorship, venues and TV airtime. This has led to running in venues that are far from ideal for the Dallara Indy Car-meaning the so called ‘short tracks’ that are an integral part of the Nascar schedule. Nascar has recognized the danger of excessive speed on a short track and has limited the engines in the cars with restrictor plates. Indy car has no such limits. NASCAR has also understood that vehicles can still become airborne and so there are catch fences to protect the spectators. These are suitable for restraining a stock car but not an open wheel, open cockpit car.

    At this point I would say the first steps for the IRL are first, procedural, and then technological. The IRL must consider what a safe venue is and they must also insist upon better credentials for drivers than what they have now; they must also restrict the field of cars. Then comes restricting the performance of cars for certain venues if it is necessary and looking at other possibilities such as canopies. The barriers that are standard fare on all oval tracks came through IRL, and they can innovate again if they’re honest with themselves.

    I think that canopies for open wheel cars is a worthy technology to pursue, it has worked for boat racing and if developed properly could bring a considerable measure of additional safety.

  63. f1Jonnie says:

    I dont agree with canopies, but do agree some additional protection for the drivers head is required.

    This could either be an additonal pop up roll bar that fires when the car achieves an unnatural angle. This would pop up with titanium netting in front of the driver preventing anything larger than gravel hitting his helment.

    However, this does not answer the problem of wheels or small metal debris.

    Wheels should be prevented from leaving a car through tethers that work mostly, but not 100% of the time.

    The other way is impact sensors, that will trigger the pop up roll bar.

    A pop up will leave the cockpit uncovered with the exception of unnatural angles or impact. Therefore the general aero will remain the same. This could be fired manually if the driver applies emergency braking. or by pressing a button if time. IE if a driver can see the crash occuring but does not have room to avoid the accident. He can press his a red button on his sterring wheel that deploys the impact absorbance system with titanium netting. The netting could cover the entire cockpit if required.

    Just my thoughts.

    PS too many cars on the oval track, that was the problem and the promoters and officals are responsible for Dans death. It was a predictable risk which should have been managed.

    1. ACB says:

      I imagine over the off season you will see some key people will no longer be with the IRL. Randy Bernard will stay, Terry Angstadt will stay, but without a doubt Brian Barnhart will be replaced, and perhaps Tony Cotman. IRL doesn’t have a Mosely or an Ecclestone who have a sort of self aquired plenar authority, so there is no one short of the Hulman family who own the IRL to make any sweeping changes. The other thing to keep in mind is that Indy Car is a very close knit community, the drivers are keen to see it succeed and so to most it is far more than a business.

      Short tracks for Indy cars should be a tragedy that never gets repeated. Yes, the promoters and race operators must ultimately answer for what happend. Yet the drivers share a part too, though they all complained about the race track and the lack of practice, none of them were willing to sit this one out. It was the ultimate race of the season, the championship was going to be decided, as well as the last race for one of Indy Car’s favorite drivers (Patrick) no one refused to race either. Compare that with the 2005 USGP where most of the field refused to race unless changes were made. I think the Las Vegas race is a wake up call for the drivers to stand their ground from now on and insist upon what is right for them, and who knows, maybe start a drivers association as F-1 has.

  64. Paul Barrass says:

    Firstly, let me say that we need to seperate our viewpoints here from spectacle, competition, sport and activity.

    Racing car/motorcycle drivers/riders, are like climbers, free-runners, base jumpers, and in context of this article, pilots; and are generally driven by exhilaration and a little risk. It is the activity of racing that spurs them on and gives them the basic rush or high, and regardless of any other factor, people will continue to want to engage in their chosen activity despite of, and in some cases, because of, the risks. It was not too many years ago when a competitor was killed in a Downhill event at Scotland as part of the UCI Downhill World Championships (Mountain Biking) and people are killed whilst diving, white water rafting, etc. all of the time. These events are personal tragedies for the families involved but rarely contribute to the overall cry for improvement to a discipline/activity as we see here. It is the nature of competition; competing to see who can be the best (This then leads to sport where we spectate competition and formalise competition) which is of interest, as the nature of the competitive beast means we will continually try to better ourselves and equipment until we are on the ragged edge of what is possible under a given set of conditions. In these conditions we will have what are; avoidable deaths. Deaths which are caused by pushing too near to the limit of what is possible. In sport, which is formalised, governance then requires we adjust the parameters so that these deaths are prevented in the future, but unfortunately, the spectacle demands continued improvement. Better results, faster times, closer contact, etc. This is why we keep records and statistics and why the sport/spectacle generates an audience, alongside an interest in the actual activity. Unfortunately, this trade off is always going to occur and death in sport is always going to happen regardless of what is done, but I for one have full confidence in the FIA as far as safety goes. It has done a tremendous job, kudos to max I think, and will continue to do so and I am sure they will evaluate this proposal on it’s merits and against all of the opinions from those engaged in motor sport activities in all areas, through to the commercial rights holders, the viewers and choose the best approach for safety against the aforementioned factors.

    Finally I would just like to offer my thoughts to Dans family and friends. It is my hope that in light of this tragedy, his love of driving and his commitment to the series acts as a spur for Indy to improve this aspect of their formula.

  65. terry says:

    I was thinking of a half windshield that is 6 inches above the drivers helmets reinforced with a full 1 1/2″ roll bar roll bar around the back of the windshield. It would also have tear away’s layered windshield protecters that could be changed at pit stop.If the windshield is damaged it would be easily replaced as nose change on F1 car.
    Three things would come with windshield on F1 cars protect the driver from flying debris, Improve driver safety when a when a wheel rolls over driver cockpit from the top in accident, Improve aerodynamic air flow over the car.
    Terry

  66. Alex says:

    I can not believe that there are still people out there who are against a fully enclosed cockpit! Look at all of the people who have been injured or who are dead because there was not a canopy over the cockpit. In F1 and Indy car. I think that there have been more of this type of problem in F1 than Indy. Hell F1 teams could afford to put blow off bolts on the cars so that the canopy could fly off like it does in a fighter jet.
    And to those who think that fire is a problem. Look at most of the fire deaths in F1 or any racing body. Most have 2 things in common:
    1. Driver incapacitated being one and not being able to extract himself
    2. Ill prepared fire crews. Either not trained, not enough of them on site, not enough fire fighting equipment, or (and this is the biggest problem of all) not having proper personal protection equipment. I mean I can go online and buy $1500 – $2500 USD worth of personal protective equipment that would keep me safe fully engulfed in a fuel fire for 1 minute. Now I’m sure its not easy to work in and save someone in that environment, but 2 guys in that much gear could do alot for a driver then. If not extract him then at least beat back the flames so other safety people could work the extraction. So the whole fire issue could be defunct if they would put trained people who are geared up at the tracks. Not to mention the fire suppression systems that are available out there now. They have systems that use foam dispersal that could fill the inside of a NASCAR full. These types of systems could coat the whole cockpit in a matter of seconds.

  67. I think the set-up they put in so it can be MORE OF A SPECTACLE makes it very, very dangerous on circuits like this. Some others [circuits] aren’t as bad.

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