FIA asked to look at cockpit safety
|By Jonathan Noble
||Friday, April 15th 2011, 06:22 GMT
The FIA has been asked by Sauber to look into whether improvements can be made to cockpit safety in the wake of Sergio Perez's lucky escape in Malaysia, AUTOSPORT has learned.
The Mexican driver was fortunate to escape without injury after a piece of debris penetrated his cockpit in the Sepang race. Perez was saved from being hit by the item thanks to the newly-relocated ECU box, which took the brunt of the impact.
Sauber has sent photographs of what it calls a 'frightening' incident to the FIA for it to evaluate whether lessons can be learned from what happened - just in case there is a risk of drivers being injured in the future in a similar incident.
Technical director James Key has said his team still does not know exactly what Perez hit in the race - but a part from a Scuderia Toro Rosso car, as first suspected, has now been ruled out with the Italian team confirming its cars were not missing any items at the end of the event.
"It was quite an odd incident actually," Key told AUTOSPORT. "Sergio hit what he believed was a piece of wing or something, because it must have been big enough for him to see.
"It appeared to come off the car in front, which was a Toro Rosso, but subsequently we found out that they also found some damage on their car, so it looks like this piece was lying on the ground beforehand.
"What happened was pretty frightening. It damaged the front wing quite badly and it damaged the front of the floor.
"Then, it went through the side of the lower part of the chassis, in the boat area [on the underside of the nose], and pierced that. It went straight through the Zylon panel, straight through the chassis, and then into the ECU.
"It killed the ECU, which stopped the car, and then rolled along. It then went into the sidepod and then out the car – damaging the impact structures in the sidepod itself.
"So whatever it was it was either travelling very quickly, or it was very heavy and had a lot of momentum."
He added: "From the outside, you couldn't see a great deal. It wasn't until we got the car back – as we were trying to figure out how the hell a piece of debris could cause the car to stop. Then, when we saw the damage – we worked out how it was caused.
"We showed the FIA afterwards and said: "Look, there is something to consider here because that is quite a significant issue. And had it been last year [when the ECUs were situated elsewhere] it could have been more serious."
Key expects the incident to result in more discussions among teams about whether cockpit protection can be further improved – with a new impact panel having already been made mandatory this year as a consequence of the injuries Timo Glock picked up during a crash in qualifying for the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix.
"Ultimately it is down to the teams and the FIA to discuss whether it warrants further action in that area," explained Key. "I think this will no doubt happen, because we have already shown the FIA some pictures.
"But unfortunately, because we haven't got the bit [that hit the car] we don't know what it was, so that makes it very difficult to say whether it could happen again or whether it was really a one-off – something strange like a drain cover coming loose or whether it was a small thing.
"It is worth looking at for the future, because we have proved something like that can happen and, if it does, it is powerful enough to damage the chassis quite badly."