Following extensive discussions about cockpit safety in Formula 1 in the wake of the tragic death of Jules Bianchi, it was decided that a safety device would be in place from 2018 onward.
A number of devices were put forward for testing, none of which have been universally well received. The Halo had aesthetic drawbacks, but rather more concerning was the extraction test results which were said to fall well out with targets. These concerns were underlined when Alonso was involved in an incident at the 2016 Melbourne GP. He landed upside down in the gravel and was able to crawl free of the car, however this would almost certainly not be the case with the Halo in place.
Red Bull Racing then offered up the Aeroscreen as a solution. This was a glazed structure that would prevent flying debris hitting the driver and with less extensive side attachments, may have offered an easier route out of the car. The major concern with this was visibility. When cars come in after a race, they are smeared in rubber streaks from marbles striking them. This, along with oil etc is the reason the drivers’ helmets have tear off strips which can be removed and disposed of during the race. Whilst tear offs could be made for the Aeroscreen, the driver would not safely be able to use them during the race so would have to pit to clear the screen. When you consider that the visors have 8 tear offs per race, this seems unlikely to be workable.
It was announced, in the Drivers’ briefing in China, that the FIA had come up with its’ own solution – the Shield. This is also a glazed structure, but the more acute angle of the Shield relative to the bodywork of the car would be less susceptible to streaks whilst still deflecting debris away from the driver – in theory. The FIA admitted at the time that the original plan put forward would serve only to deflect debris from in front of the driver as there was no side attachments but this is the most likely trajectory of the debris, so it would serve the purpose it was intended for.
It was originally set to be tested in Monza, however, with the 2018 cars requiring modification to accommodate the safety measures, progress has been sped up and it was announced today that the Shield will be put through its paces during FP1 at Silverstone where Ferrari will run it and provide feedback.
Images released this morning show that the product appears to have had a significant redesign from that seen in the original renders and, with such extensive side attachments, it does risk falling into similar territory to the Halo with regards to extraction issues.
The feedback provided by Ferrari, and potentially other teams if they are subsequently given the opportunity to test the Shield, will help the FIA to decide whether this should be the safety measure introduced for next season, or if the Halo, which is being seen as the default solution, will be implemented in place instead.