The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the world governing body of Formula 1 and motorsport, has introduced a package of changes for the 2023 race calendar. Unlike in 2022, this year’s Formula 1 season will not see a comprehensive overhaul of the sport’s technical rules and regulations, but some of the changes should go a long way in improving driver safety.
International Injury partner Chris Deacon has acted for the family of Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi and Formula 2 driver Juan Manuel Correa following racing incidents in the FIA championships. Chris has also commented in City AM on F1 safety standards and previous crashes in the 2020 and 2022 seasons. Here, Chris provides his thoughts on three of the key changes that are most likely to improve driver safety in 2023.
Introduced following Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident at Suzuka in 2014, the Halo roll-hoop came to the rescue once again at the start of the 2022 British Grand Prix when Zhou Guanyu’s car was flipped upside down in a high-speed collision. This is not the first time that the Halo has been credited with preventing death or serious injury. In 2020, the cockpit head protection device likely saved Roman Grosjean’s life when his car collided with a steel crash barrier at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It is encouraging to see the ongoing efforts at improving the Halo’s effectiveness, with the FIA’s 2023 Technical Regulations tightening the requirements for safety testing and requiring a rounded-top on the roll hoop to reduce the chance of it digging into the ground in the event of the car being flipped.
Wider rear view mirrors
Even the simplest of changes can enhance driver safety, as illustrated in the wider reflective surface for rear view mirrors on all cars introduced this year. This will mean drivers have greater all-round visibility. Limited visibility has been a recurring feature of recent incidents and near-misses in motorsport, including in the fatal accident at Spa-Francorchamps during the Formula 2 Belgian Grand Prix in 2019 and at Suzuka in both 2014 and 2022. It is essential that drivers are fully equipped to react and avoid disaster on the track and this change demonstrates how a straightforward safety feature that any driver is accustomed to using has the potential to improve safety.
Of course, simple changes of this nature must be matched by robust operational standards, as the scenes involving the track-side tractor in Japan 2022 highlighted. The FIA must stand by the commitments it made following that accident and ensure its regulations make clear the operational standards and expectations when a tractor needs to come trackside during a race and during race emergencies. Indeed, the use of tractors really ought to be a thing of the past following Bianchi’s accident and Pierre Gasly’s close shave last year, with the use of fixed cranes being made mandatory.
Not all safety improvements are as straightforward as increasing the size of the car’s mirror. One of the more technical changes to the F1 rules this year relates to the aerodynamic phenomenon known as ‘porpoising’. In short, this is where the flow of air underneath or over the top of the car can create a bouncing effect. This is potentially dangerous as it increases the prospect of a driver losing control.
Changes introduced to the specification and design of the F1 car in 2023 should mean that porpoising does not happen, ensuring the driver maintains control of the car, reducing the risk of an accident and further enhancing driver safety. F1 team bosses have already suggested that the new regulations have had a positive effect in the recent pre-season testing in Bahrain.
We support the ongoing efforts to improve safety in motorsport and continue to highlight the importance of learning safety lessons in our representation of drivers and their families who have been impacted by some of the most serious incidents in the FIA championships in recent years. We recognise that the FIA and the various stakeholders in its championships at all levels, notably the Formula Motorsport Series promoter, are always looking for ways to improve the safety of the sport, improvements that the changes made for the 2023 season reassuringly reflect.
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