By Alan Baldwin
SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) – Ferrari will trial a new transparent frontal protection cockpit ‘shield’ in British Grand Prix practice at Silverstone next week, Formula One’s governing body said on Saturday.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said the aim was to carry out a first full track test at Italy’s Monza circuit in September.
Silverstone will allow drivers to give initial feedback early in the development process, however.
The shield is an open canopy in front of the driver and made from polycarbonate, a tough but see-through thermoplastic polymer.
The aim is to protect the driver’s head from flying debris without obstructing his vision.
The FIA has been focusing on that concept rather than a previously tested ‘halo’ cockpit protection system that was extensively tested last season to a mixed response from teams and drivers.
The reaction from some drivers at the Austrian Grand Prix on Friday showed that the FIA still had a way to go to win over the skeptics.
“Looks pants (rubbish) doesn’t it?,” said Renault’s Jolyon Palmer after Reuters showed the Briton an artist’s rendering of the shield, published on the FIA website (www.fia.com).
“There’s a lot of problems with it and I’d rather be able to have nothing there and see where I’m going,” he added.
“You’re constantly getting muck coming off the cars in front and if you’re racing with that, you won’t be able to see after a few laps so you’re making your own safety issues then.”
Brazilian Felipe Massa, who suffered near-fatal head injuries when he was hit on the helmet by a bouncing spring in 2009 Hungarian GP qualifying, said he was reserving judgement until he had experienced it.
“I am totally on the side that we need to improve safety all the time,” he added. “But I think before we try it, it’s very difficult to comment.”
Cockpit protection is seen as a key area following fatalities in other series where drivers were hit by wheels and flying debris.
While the FIA said in January that the safety benefit of the halo had been established, some leading F1 figures were wary about dramatic changes to the look of the cars.
“A possible geometry has been developed and the FIA is currently working with teams in Formula One on further defining its geometry,” the FIA said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Jon Boyle and Julien Pretot)