An open letter to the future President

Dear Mr. President,

Today we learned of the death of Sean Edwards. It’s been a rough season. You know that at least as well as any of us. The fact that we know you share our deep sadness and sense of loss is important to every fan of motorsports – it is true that tragedy draws us together. And this sense of connection can and should be leveraged to make our sport better – safer, cleaner, more popular and accessible. This is why I’m writing.

In what will no doubt be a flood of comments, criticisms and suggestions, I would like to discuss an initiative that may be a fruitful way forward as concerns driver safety. I refer to it as “Cockpit-out design”. Let me explain.

When designing a racing car for any given formula or series, I believe that the starting point for the engineer should logically be a set of “best practice” guidelines for creating the safest environment currently possible for the driver. Only when this is done should the engineer begin the process of “surrounding” the driver with the highest performance vehicle allowed by the regulations. This is what I mean by “cockpit-out design”. As you fully understand, this is pretty much the opposite of the historic way of creating a race car. Only a more or less limited set of regulatory requirements (depending on the formula or series) need be incorporated, often as “engineering afterthoughts” into a car entirely conceived for performance, at least as concerns the driver’s immediate environment.

Several steps will be necessary before instituting this kind of process. These are of several orders – philosophical, scientific, logistical and administrative.

Philosophically, it appears to me (admittedly not the most objective observer) logical that in the design and construction of a racing car in the second decade of the 21st century, the driver would be provided with a workspace that is the fruit of current knowledge as concerns safety. Discussion of the concept widely, with an emphasis that this should in no way (quite the contrary!) compromise performance. The various relevant FIA Commissions must discuss these ideas until the concept becomes engrained at all levels of the sport.

In terms of science, let’s be perfectly clear. When using current best practices, and following modern engineering principles the modern racing car is a remarkably safe and well constructed vehicle considering the energies involved. That said, the current set of regulations have been arrived at individually, piecemeal. Again, the ensemble (collapsible steering columns, foam head surrounds, etc) is remarkably effective; most of these steps have been arrived at as the fruit of research.

What is needed is a fully international consensus as to exactly WHAT constitutes the safest cockpit possible . . . today. All aspects must be considered, thinking both structurally (e.g. the safest seat) as well as functionally (what are the injuries and what must we do to prevent them?). A major conference, calling on experts from relevant fields should be called with an aim to coordinating working groups. The goal would be the creation of a series of medical-rescue regulations for FIA formulae, and which could be copy/pasted by ASNs and other series.

Administratively, prior to presentation to the World Motor Sport Council, such regulations would need to be “bounced” back and forth among the various Commissions, ideally shepherded forward by a group of wise men, to avoid the initiative being lost in commission politics and/or deviating too far from original intentions.

Logistically, this need take account of the significant amount of time for each cycle of conception, design and fabrication of a series or formula car. Cars in the pipeline must be the last cars made before universal application of “cockpit-out design”.

I’m at your disposal to discuss any or all of this at your best convenience.

And congratulations.


6 thoughts on “An open letter to the future President

  1. Good read. As for Sean’s crash, if you have ever seen the state of most of our permanent circuits here in Australia you would be appalled. They resemble goat tracks, almost all are terribly bumpy, have very high raised kerbs which roll cars and none have taken to tarmac run offs. Most still don’t even have catch fencing and the edge of the tarmac tends to have a steep drop due to cheap resurfacing over the years.

    Myself and some friends refuse to do trackdays at Queensland raceway due to this.

    Circuit safety could be greatly increased to especially here in Aus.

  2. Dr. Hartstein,
    I fully agree with, and support, your cockpit-out approach. If you felt as though an exercise physiologist could be of assistance in the implementation and/promotion of this initiative please don’t hesitate to contact me.
    Good luck reaching the right people.

  3. Gary

    Great first post. I’ve just started a blog named if I was Bernie, based around what people would change in F1. I know your article is not based purely in F1 but it’s got a great thread to it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts

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