Playing it safe but true
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No compromise on no cockpit is matched by quest for driver safety, writes Bob McMurray
The IndyCar season ended with the best possible result for Scott Dixon’s supporters, as well as the best possible result for the series — if nailbiting, to-the-wire races are what a series needs.
After the death of Justin Wilson from head injuries in the previous round, with poor television ratings and crowd numbers dramatically down on previous seasons, the championship needed to end on a high.
No matter the points system that enabled Dixon to win the championship at the very last moment; no matter the graceless way his rivals whined about that system (although Juan Pablo Montoya was the architect of his own demise by attempting a rash overtaking manoeuvre); no matter the comparatively poor season that Dixon had up to the last race ... the fact is he won and did it with characteristic skill and determination.
Over the off-season the teams and the organisation will be wrestling with the problem of driver head protection. Some will come up with imaginative ideas but none will be practical.
To retain the ethos of open-wheel, open-cockpit racing is to retain the very essence of IndyCar and Formula 1 cars.
The emotional argument is strong on tradition. No compromise, no cockpit.
The practical argument against a closed cockpit is also very strong.
Although Formula 1 rules prohibit covered wheels and closed cockpits, the FIA — the governing body of much of the world’s motorsport — has been working for many years on this problem with the finest Formula 1 engineers and no satisfactory solution has been found.
A closed cockpit may well protect a driver from some injury. But in the event of an overturned car, a driver attempting to get out of a car quickly, or damage to the cockpit, there are no answers.
Conversely a closed cockpit may well have prevented some deaths — Francois Cevert at Watkins Glen, Tom Pryce at Kyalami — or perhaps minimised the injuries to Jules Bianchi at Suzuka.
Incidences of driver injury due to debris entering the cockpit are rare.
Since the day the first driver started racing, he or she has been exposed to the elements.
From karting and lower open-wheel classes to the top level, the driver is aware of the risk.
They grow up with the dangers and by continuing in the sport they accept those dangers as being a part of what they love to do.
Motorsport, in all its forms, must continue to strive to eliminate unnecessary risk to drivers and spectators but the possibility of injury, or death, is ever-present and has always been so.
The flip side to this is the number of accidents where, due to continued striving for safety, drivers have walked away relatively, or totally, uninjured.
Wilson’s accident was a tragic coincidence of time and space that may never happen again.
Mario Andretti says safety in motor sports is a project that should never end.Picture / NZME
One who knows more than most is Mario Andretti. In an interview about the Wilson accident he said: “Obviously, you learn something from every incident. You cannot predict what’s going to happen. There are no two alike.
“Something that happened here on Sunday will never happen again. But do you do something about it? Yes.
“There’s so many factors that you could bring in more problems than you’re actually trying to solve, with canopies.
“Safety in motor sports today is an ongoing thing. It’s a project that should never end.
“Life goes on. Put it in perspective. If your neighbour loses his or her life on the way to work, do you stop going to work? You have to think that the individual who’s the victim today would be the first one to say, ‘We go on.’
“These are things that we cannot control, but we cannot stop living.”