Monday, February 29, 2016

Open Cockpit Safety - Active Cockpit Protection

In recent times there has been plenty of debate about improving safety in Formula One and open wheel racing.  The reason of course has the death of 5 drivers in open cockpits since 2009.

Henry Surtees, Dan Wheldon, Maria de Villota, Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson.

A lot of this debate has centred around 2 particular ideas which involve a permanent addition to the car while racing: the halo and the canopy.  But perhaps there is a compromise?

The idea is now being dubbed "Active Cockpit Protection".  This involves the car itself providing maximum protection to the driver when they need it most - in a very big accident.

Consider this ... the driver has had a bad accident or there is a dangerous, life threatening hazard ahead.  They have a critical few seconds or less until disaster...

So what can they do?  At the moment they can do nothing.

Perhaps, with imminent disaster looming they could push a button or pull a lever and this deploys the car itself into "accident mode".  The car then instantly creates the safest possible environment for the driver to survive.

This could be much more than just an airbag which happens in road cars at the point of impact.  This is technology could be deployed BEFORE, during and after impact.  Once initiated, in microseconds a screen could deploy to increase safety substantially.  The car could change from being a aerodynamic device to the ultimate safety cell, cushioning the driver and protecting exposed areas.   

Take the example of Ayrton Senna's death.  There was a crucial time between when his Williams was on the circuit lapping normally and when Senna knew that he was going to connect with the wall very hard indeed.  It is during those key moments, given modern technology, something could be deployed to provide maximum safety and maximum chance of survival.  It's about "telling" the car that a big accident is about to happen.  This kind of technology could have saved Senna's life.

In fact Active Cockpit Protection could have potentially saved the lives of all 5 drivers mentioned above with the possible exception of Maria de Villota.

An issue with this idea could be additional safety concerns, i.e. what about the drivers arms?  The system would have to include a safeguard to ensure the arms don't extend beyond the cockpit.

In summary, head protection in open cockpits is clearly an area that needs improvement.  Why not give the driver every chance of survival when they need it the most?

For more on F1 safety, please read my blog "Improving Safety in Formula One".

(UPDATE: July 2016)

F1, via Charlie Whiting, has reviewed this technology and has so far deemed it to be "impractical".  He has said; "I cannot see how you can deploy it in the right amount of time".

Thanks for reading, please leave your comments.

Pep, F1 Podcast.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

F1 Country Guide - New Zealand

New Zealand is a country with a proud history of Grand Prix racing and famous F1 racing names ... McLaren, Hulme, Amon.  This blog will explore New Zealand's Grand Prix racing past and also what it offers F1 fans today.

The Past


In total, 8 New Zealand drivers have contested the Formula One World Championship.  Let's look at some ...

McLaren of course is the mega successful F1 team was started by New Zealander Bruce McLaren.  Bruce himself won 4 Formula 1 Grand Prix, his first win in 1959 made him the youngest ever driver to win a championship Grand Prix at the time.  Bruce and was also very successful in other forms of motorsport, particularly Can-Am. 

Denny Hulme was the most successful New Zealand F1 driver ever with 8 wins and also winning the F1 World Championship in 1967.

Chris Amon; at 19 years old was the youngest ever driver to start in a championship Grand Prix at the time.  Chris he is often quoted as the most talented driver never to win an F1 championship race.  He won non-championship races, drove for Ferrari and was also an F1 team owner. 

Mike Thackwell; at 19 years old qualified on pole for the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix.  The youngest qualifier ever, a record that would stand for 29 years.

The New Zealand Grand Prix

The New Zealand Grand Prix began in 1950 and was held mainly at Pukekohe Park Raceway and the Ardmore Circuit.  It had many famous winners such as Sir Stirling Moss 3 times (1956, 1959, 1962), Sir Jack Brabham 3 times (1958, 1960, 1961), Graham Hill twice (1965 and 1966), Chris Amon twice (1968 and 1969), Bruce McLaren, John Surtees and Sir Jackie Stewart. 

Of course the New Zealand Grand Prix was also part of the Tasman Series which ran between 1964 and 1975.  So there were other Tasman races held in New Zealand at this time at circuits in Levin, Wigram and Teretonga.


Activities for F1 fans

If you are visiting New Zealand, these are the options for F1 fans:
  • Various motorsport circuits, events and experiences (see below).
  • Take a ride in the Orange Arrows F1 3 seater car.
  • The Bruce McLaren Trust and Museum (located at the site of the old McLaren Service Station).
  • Visit Bruce McLaren's childhood home; 8 Upland Road Remeura.  His grave is at Waikumete Cemetery, Glen Eden, Auckland.
  • The National Motorsport Museum, Otago which has 2 F1 cars on display.
  • Maybe buy a supercar (?): The Hulme Supercar.
  • Several go-karting locations.
  • Sim racing (see below).

  • Various motoring bookstores (see below).

Thanks for reading.  Please leave your comments.

Pep, F1 Podcast


New Zealand Grand Prix:
Tasman Series:
New Zealand F1 drivers:


Pukekohe Park Raceway (Pukekohe):  http:/ /
Highlands Motorsport Park (Otago):
Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park (Taupo):
Hampton Downs (Waikato):
Ruapuna (Christchurch): 
Teretonga (Invercargill):

F1 3 seater ride:
Bruce McLaren Trust and Museum (Remuera, Auckland):
Bruce McLaren grave:
National Motorsport Museum:
Hulme Supercars:

SIM racing:

Virtual Racing Centre (Auckland):
Hyper Simulator (Auckland and Wellington):

Motorsport books:

DML Motorbooks (South Canterbuy):
Pace Publications (Auckland):
FAZAZZ (Christchurch):
Octane Books (Auckland):