F1 officials discussing three alternatives to avoid new Bianchi cases

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International Automobile Federation bent on boosting safety for drivers making 300km/hour

Jules Bianchi

02 de noviembre de 2014 (13:11 CET)

A brutal car crash that left Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi fighting for his life has sparked a debate about safety measures for drivers making lighting speeds. The Marussia team member crashed into a digger whilst the machine was removing Adrian Sutil's stranded car. Now, Bianchi remains in a critical state. At a higher level, discussions are ongoing within the International Automobile Federation to avoid twin accidents.

The racing body is seriously considering the best way to avoid mid-race crashes. One of the most successful proposals has to do with laying in helicopters to remove broken down cars. Officials insist that the choppers would not touch the track and would therefore safely haul single-seats out of the track.

Accordingly, if a car crashed into tyre barriers and was being removed by the helicopter, the chances of dramatic accidents like the one that injured Jules Bianchi would be virtually nil. In any case, experts claim, no diggers would block the way and pose a risk in doing so. Also, crashes against a stopped car are not as violent as impacts against heavy machinery, they argue.

Tying in the above, the Swiss firm Air Zermatt has taken a step forward to be assigned the task. Before, the helicopter operator tested the system in A1GP races in 2005. Results were encouraging, the company adds.

Closed cockpits, speed limiters

In parallel with a fleet of helicopters, Formula 1 officials are considering new laws to enforce closed-cockpits cars. By doing so, driver's bodies would be completely shielded from impacts. A point worth underlying is that drivers' heads are often exposed to crashes.

In fact, head injuries account for the bulk of the latest spate of F1 car crashes where pilots came off harmed. The Italian driver Felipe Massa was hit by a spring in the course of the Gran Prix of Hungary in 2009. Female F1 driver Maria de Villota was killed in a tragic accident during a training lap in 2012. She had hit a truck loading ramp mid-race, sustaining grievous injuries to her head.

Alternatively, officials are working over an alternative to scrap safety cars. Vehicles would be replaced by an automatic breaking system fitted on racing cars. The technology would slow down the vehicles when rival drivers are stranded or have skidded off the track. Solutions along these lines are delta-time-type systems (that is, timed laps) or Code 60 measures. The latter is essentially a switch fitted in 24 Hours of Le Mans participants' cars. It allows drivers to break automatically when the track is blocked.

However, experts warn that these two systems could prompt rear-end collisions, for drivers would only brake when see something untoward.

In the circumstances, the IAF contemplates implementing one alternative or the three systems at once. Meanwhile, the body is open to listen to alternatives.

Red flag

For the remainder of the season, however, the automobile federation has warned that races will be brought to a halt if accidents occur. Indeed, officials will fly the red flag if obstacles block the track.

For their part, drivers have called on the federation to call in safety cars every time heavy machinery is hauling cars off the track or the hard shoulder.

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