Investigating a Front Rollover Hoop – Full Story
The FIA Institute has been testing the safety benefits of a forward roll-hoop as part of its latest investigation into improved cockpit protection in open-wheel racing.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE FIA INSTITUTE CANOPY TEST…[raw][/raw]
At first glance it looks like an unremarkable roll-hoop structure from an ordinary racing car, and somewhat out of place fixed to a metal plate and resting on the concrete here at a remote airfield in Suffolk, England. Only the imposing mechanised structure – essentially a huge cannon powered by compressed nitrogen – looming over it with a Formula One wheel and tyre attached, the whole immense assembly directed threateningly towards the roll-hoop, hints at the significance of this seemingly unremarkable little titanium fabrication.
It’s an everyday part of motor racing, of course, with recognisable equivalents in all single-seaters from the most humble junior classes to Formula One, but its importance lies not in its design, but how and where it would be mounted on a car.
Meet the forward roll-hoop – the latest step in the FIA Institute’s meticulous research into improved cockpit protection for Formula One and other open-wheel single-seater drivers.
Shielding their heads from debris and impacts is now, arguably, the most critical area in single-seater safety research.
EXPERIMENTAL TITANIUM ROLLOVER HOOP AND SUPPORT BRACKET SUPPLIED BY THE LOTUS F1 TEAM WAS IMPACT TESTED BY A 20KG F1 WHEEL AND TYRE ASSEMBLY FIRED AT HIGH SPEED FROM A COMPRESSED-NITROGEN POWERED CANNON
The increase in cockpit side protection in the 1990s marked a substantial stride forward, but the life-threatening injuries suffered by Ferrari driver Felipe Massa in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix (when a 1kg suspension spring from the car ahead came loose and struck his helmet just above his eye), and the tragic death of young British driver Henry Surtees in a Formula Two race that same summer, highlighted the potentially horrific effects that flying debris can still have.
While the two incidents could easily be dismissed as completely freakish, the FIA and Formula One were certain that lessons could and should be learned.
So those accidents led to a renewed push for better head protection, and even raised questions about whether fundamental changes were necessary to what has always been an open-cockpit branch of motor sport.
Led by FIA Institute technical adviser Andy Mellor, the previous round of cockpit protection research tests in 2011 saw a 20kg F1 wheel and tyre assembly fired at 225km/h into, first, a 30mm polycarbonate windshield, and then into a jet fighter canopy (see IQ issue 2). While the windshield deflected the wheel but shattered in the process, the aerospace canopy flexed but resisted the impact, diverting the wheel away more convincingly.
In the latest evaluation, the same impact test was carried out on a titanium roll-hoop structure manufactured and supplied by the Lotus F1 team. The roll-hoop could theoretically be fitted to a car from the front edge of the cockpit opening to the point where the nose section meets the front bulkhead,with a peak height 100mm above the top of the helmet, so forming an impact-deflecting barrier ahead of the driver.
Mellor confirmed that the initial results were very promising: “The roll-hoop basically did a very good job. It was able to keep a wheel away from a driver’s head. We tested it both by firing the wheel down the centre of the car, and also coming at it from an angle.”
Another positive outcome of the test was the rollhoop structure’s effect on the tyre, the FIA Institute understandably not being keen just to see how well the device resisted the flying object, but where and how the wheel was deflected afterwards.
“The impact deflated the tyre during both tests,” said Mellor. “We tend to think that’s a good thing – it means that the wheel doesn’t bounce as much. It stops much more quickly if you can deflate the tyre.”
Another key area of the process was striking a balance between head protection and visibility, since forward-mounted structures designed to protect drivers’ heads might also dangerously impede sightlines. During the forward roll-hoop test, a helmet was placed in the position that a driver’s head would occupy relative to the structure.
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