As the F1 circus heads to Sochi for the Russian GP this weekend, it's very clear that the paddock is still very much affected by the events in Suzuka last weekend and the ongoing fight of Marussia's Jules Bianchi in a Japanese hospital. Bianchi's horrific collision during the race last weekend and the aftereffects have meant that, once again, safety discussions are front and centre in the F1 world, and yesterday we saw Williams' deputy team principal Claire Williams make a suggestion which may take the debate in a whole new direction.
Williams argued that there is a chance that the Bianchi crash could lead to F1 cars making one of the most fundamental design changes in their history and running with enclosed cockpits in the future.
Speaking at the Leaders in Sport conference in London yesterday, she said that while fully enclosed F1 cockpits would be a technical challenge to integrate into an F1 car and would also be an issue that would likely cause debate among "purists" but that the discussion was definitely on the agenda:
"Enclosed cockpits aren’t easy technically for us to integrate into a Formula One car and, of course, they change the very nature of what a Formula One car looks like.
"We have to look at all the options available to us whether it’s an enclosed cockpit or not, but I think those conversations need to go on behind the scenes."
Williams also emphasised that while the "look" of the car was important, safety was paramount and, if the enclosed cockpits were presented as a viable option to improve F1 safety, they'd certainly be considered:
"Safety is always paramount so we have to find ways to ensure our drivers are as protected as possible and I don’t think the aesthetics of a Formula One car … yes they are important, they are the very fibre and DNA of Formula One … and what cars look like is important, but safety has to be paramount."
The comments follow allegations by Autosport magazine that F1 teams looked at the possibility of implementing enclosed cockpits to improve safety, but rejected them out of fear of destroying the "look" of the car.
The FIA is currently under heavy pressure from drivers, with the GPDA expected to have a robust meeting with the governing body on Friday as the drivers association seeks assurances over safety in Sochi and the Marussia team still considering withdrawing from its home GP as a mark of respect to Bianchi.
An angry Sergio Perez has already demanded changes to safety protocols, saying that the safety car should be deployed whenever there are car retrieval operations going on on track:
"In the future, when there is a tractor picking up a car, we need a safety car, no matter the conditions because there is always a risk.
"You expose the marshals, a lot of people, so we need a safety car if the tractor is on track. You could have people run out of brakes, so many factors you never expect, and if the tractor is there it’s a big problem. You don’t want to expose anyone like that. We have to take care of the marshals."
The drivers have, however, said they'll wait for a report from FIA race director Charlie Whiting on the events in Suzuka before making any formal recommendations on safety.
But surely, with cars getting faster and several relatively recent examples of drivers suffering injuries that an enclosed cockpit may have lessened (one thinks of Felipe Massa being struck by a suspension piece a few years ago, for example) and the drive for safety, the Bianchi incident has at least brought the dangers of "open cockpit" racing back into sharp focus. For the sake of the sport, the FIA needs to listen to the likes of Claire Williams and Sergio Perez very closely...F1 prides itself on being the premier "open cockpit" race series in the world, but Bianchi's plight, and the fact that at least some in F1 think that something as obvious as enclosing the cockpit could have lessened the injuries of Bianchi and potential head injury cases in the future, must make them consider the radical step of enclosure in the future.
After all, it doesn't matter how beautiful something is if it can kill you. There can't be many in F1 who would choose not to sacrifice a little "beauty" for a lot more safety given the chance. Certainly after Suzuka.
Maybe it's time for F1 to cover up.