While Formula One driver safety has greatly improved over the years, head injuries remain a cause for concern. In 2009, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa was nearly killed when a spring thrown from Rubens Barrichello’s car struck him in the helmet, causing a life-threatening injury (and requiring a titanium plate to repair Massa’s skull).
Just two weeks before this incident, 18-year old Henry Surtees, son of motorsport icon John Surtees, was killed when he was struck in the helmet by a wheel assembly that had broken loose from a competitor’s car in a crash.
Sometimes it’s not just car parts that pose a danger: Champ Car star Christiano da Matta collided with a deer during open testing at Road America, and the resulting head injury effectively ended da Matta’s racing career.
The FIA is constantly looking at ways to make open-cockpit racing safer. Last year, the FIA Institute tested fighter-jet style canopies
for impact resistance by firing a wheel assembly at high speed into the canopy. While the canopy took the impact without shattering, adding a canopy to formula cars would likely meet with resistance from drivers and fans alike.
Another solution, tested in the video shown here, is a forward-mounted roll hoop assembly, which would serve to deflect debris above the driver’s helmet. As the video shows, the hoop assembly functions exactly as intended, even if it does create dangerous blind spots in the driver’s field of vision.
It’s uncertain if either of these designs will ever make their way onto the next generation of race car, but this much is certain: efforts to make racing safer may reduce the level of danger involved, but they'll never eliminate risk from motorsports