Formula 1 cars could be fitted with forward roll hoops in the future, if ongoing tests by the FIA Institute into increased driver protection continue to deliver good results.
As part of an extensive research program conducted in the wake of the crashes suffered by Felipe Massa (F1) and Henry Surtees (F2) in 2009, the FIA Institute has already evaluated polycarbonate windshields and jet fighter canopies to see if they can offer better driver protection. The latest tests (scroll down for video footage) have involved using a titanium roll hoop structure, built by the Lotus team, into which a 20kg F1 wheel is fired at 140mph.
Whereas tests of the shields yielded mixed results – with the polycarbonate one shattering and the aerospace canopy flexing – the roll hoop tests have been more encouraging.
Andy Mellor, the FIA Institute's technical advisor, told the latest issue of IQ magazine: "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 center of the car, and also coming at it from an angle."
The other benefit of the roll hoop design was that the impact deflated the tire, which meant that it had less chance of being deflected further in subsequent impacts.
"The impact deflated the tire 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 tire."
Although the first tests have been encouraging, Mellor insists that much more research is needed before the plans can be seriously proposed to Formula 1's decision makers.
"At this stage it's almost pure research, which we need if we're to understand what the loads are in such impacts," he said. "We're not at all looking at final solutions as such.
"The work is absolutely exploratory and we are beginning to understand the mechanisms in order to protect a driver's head in this kind of impact. This is the next step in a very detailed process."
When the FIA Institute is satisfied with the results of its tests, and feels that one of the solutions will improve driver safety, then it will put forward its finding to F1's Technical Working Group.