The fighter jet-style canopy design on the McLaren MP4-X concept, a study
showing what a future Formula One racer could look like

Formula One cars could see the adoption of a closed cockpit design as early as 2017 if the Grand Prix Driver’s Association (GPDA) has its way, according to ESPN.

Racers are reportedly clamouring for increased head protection against accident debris, despite the rules of car design being revised for this year – including raising the cockpit’s side protection by 20 mm and strengthening the area to withstand a force of 50 kilonewtons (up from 15 kN last year) – for improved safety.

The news comes in the wake of the death of Jules Bianchi last year – the Frenchman suffered severe head injuries in a collision with a tractor crane during a rainy 2014 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, which ultimately turned out to be fatal. Just over a month later, former F1 driver Justin Wilson also passed away after being struck by a large piece of flying debris during an IndyCar race.

Former F1 driver and GPDA president Alex Wurz told the BBC that he saw no reason for closed cockpits not to be introduced in time for the 2017 season.

A “halo” design proposed by the Mercedes AMG Petronas team is said to be the
front-running option following tests conducted by the FIA

“Obviously structural changes are required to the chassis but, with almost a one-year lead time, I don’t see any technical person speaking against such substantial safety improvements, especially given the last big accidents in open-wheel racing involved head injuries,” he said. “So all the drivers, and I, hope that passing the additional head protection will be a formality.”

Closed cockpit designs have been seen before on concept cars that envision the future of F1 racers, including fighter jet-style canopies on the Red Bull X2010, X2011 and X2014 in the Gran Turismo video game series, as well as the more recent McLaren MP4-X. However, tests conducted by the FIA on these designs have exposed strength and safety issues that could hamper their chances of being implemented.

On the other hand, an alternative design proposed by the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, called the “halo” – featuring two protective arms above the driver’s head, joined by a central support ahead of the driver – has apparently emerged as a favourite following further tests.

“The research the FIA experts have done is very thorough and the process has brought forward a clear solution,” Wurz added. “Now the drivers feel it’s time to implement the extra protection at the latest in 2017.”