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Jackie Stewart: closed cockpits need ‘considerable research’

We chat to three-time Formula One champion Sir Jackie Stewart on F1’s big safety issue

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Closed cockpits require “a considerable amount of research” before they are implemented in F1, Sir Jackie Stewart has told TopGear.com.

Speaking at the Singapore GP, the three-time Formula One world champion, Rolex ambassador and long-time safety advocate spoke on the issue of closed cockpits in the wake of the tragic accident that took the life of IndyCar racer Justin Wilson.

“It’s very sad about Justin,” Sir Jackie told TG, “but we’ve got to be careful not to overreact. We’ve got to be sure that what we’re fitting is not only strong enough to take an impact at high speed, but also in the instances if there’s oil and everything on the screen, and it rains.

“What happens if there are no other missiles that come at you, but you have a big accident? Are you sure that the canopy will come off quick enough to get the driver out?”

Stewart also noted that ventilation was a key issue too, “not just getting air in, but getting air out”.

In recent months, several of Formula One’s leading drivers have accepted the inevitability of canopies.

“I see closed cockpits as the future,” Lewis Hamilton was reported as saying, with Fernando Alonso noting that “if one closed cockpit saves one life, it is worth doing it”.

Alonso’s McLaren-Honda teammate Jenson Button has also made similar comments. “I am one of the people who have always said it is an open-cockpit formula, but I don’t care about that anymore,” he said.

“I raced with Justin when I was nine years old – it was me, Justin, Dan Wheldon and Anthony Davidson – and it was such great racing. And two of them are gone, through injuries that could have been helped by a closed cockpit or canopy.”

Last month, Mercedes-AMG previewed a new ‘halo’ style design hoop on a Formula One concept car. The hoop could stop certain types of debris from entering the cockpit, while a hinged mechanism would allow for easy removal.

The FIA is also researching closed cockpit designs, noting that previous tests were ‘problematic’ because the debris rebound could injure spectators, while accessing an injured driver could also be difficult.

On the issue of spectators, however, Sir Jackie, who has long spoken on the necessity to increase track safety, medical facilities and driver safety, also told TopGear.com that Formula One could learn from NASCAR.

“F1 is currently very safe,” he stated. “The car has a survival cell better than anything we’ve ever seen, and everything is very sophisticated.

“But we need to be careful about debris getting into the spectator areas. I think some tracks are better than others, and Formula One has been very active, but NASCAR is very good because the cars are bigger and heavier, so the catch fencing is maybe superior to ours…”

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