Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Innovation and safety - Is there any room for compromise when it comes to new F1 designs?

Published by Steven Roy

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Credit: Mercedes GP

We have grown used to certain things on F1 cars being so fundamental that they only change when regulations make change inevitable. Most changes in recent years other than incremental aero updates are invisible to fans regardless of how hard we try to spot them. If you examine the most revolutionary technology of the last decade like tuned mass dampers, J-dampers/inerters and KERS it is not hard to understand why they make no visible difference to the car other than cooling for KERS batteries.

Even things like the double diffuser which was last season's big item makes no real difference as it is all but invisible other than when the car is viewed from a very specific angle with decent lighting. As a result of the restrictive rules F1 has increasingly introduced the only visible novelties we have had in recent years are things like dumbo flugels and in the past two years the little horn like appendages on the nose of the Red Bulls.

I was therefore extremely pleased to see the latest developments Mercedes made to their car for the race in Barcelona. The airbox inlet being above the driver's head has been a given for many years and although teams have experimented with all sorts of odd shapes from triangles to flattened ovals its location within the roll hoop has been fixed. I was really enjoying trying to understand the advantages of having two separate inlets lower and further back than normal such as the reduction in drag and at the same time trying to work out how the flattened shark fin may help generate downforce or aerodynamic efficiency.

I was so pleased that someone had taken something that everyone assumed was a given and had come up with development that was radically different visually to what had gone before until someone pointed out that instead of a roll hoop the car had a roll blade. I have always treated safety very seriously and to me the most important thing that can happen in racing is that every time someone gets in an F1 car, they get out of it in one piece. So this modification of a safety feature causes me great concern, as it is so clearly inferior to what went before and has such a clear failure mode.

If the Mercedes rolls on tartmac or concrete the roll blade will work just as well as a hoop. I have no doubts about that. But many cars don't roll on a sealed surface they roll on grass or gravel and while a hoop will in the vast majority of cases still function on a loose surface the blade in many occasions will cut into the surface like a blade and bury part of itself into the ground and massively increase the chances of the driver's head contacting the ground. Clearly this is entirely unacceptable and I can see no justification for the FIA allowing Mercedes to continue with this component or allowing other teams to race their version of it.

What is the point of studying the horrific accidents that befell Felipe Massa and Henry Surtees last season and trying to improve driver head protection when the car is upright if a car can have hugely inferior roll over protection that puts the driver's head at much greater risk if the car rolls? That makes absolutely no sense to me.

The roll blade must be banned immediately.