Red Bull canopy could now be ready to race in 2017
The FIA's Charlie Whiting has revealed that Red Bull's canopy could now be ready to race as early as 2017, providing that it shows well in impact testing taking place later this week.
The canopy had previously been touted as a possible long-term replacement for the Halo concept being developed by Mercedes and Ferrari and that was previously viewed as the only realistic option for next year.
However, Red Bull has fast-tracked its canopy development to the point where, following discussions in the last meeting of the FIA's Halo Working Group on April 6, it has now become a viable alternative for next season.
A prototype will be tested by the FIA on Friday and, if it shows promise, its introduction for 2017 will be put on the agenda for discussions at the next meeting of the Strategy Group and F1 Commission on April 26.
Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com, Whiting said: "I think it's fair to say that when it was initially presented it was in its infancy.
"However Red Bull have done a great job of getting it to the point now where it will be tested this week.
"This is something that I don't think we expected to happen. But as it has, we have got to take it seriously. If it performs as well as the Halo in testing there's no reason why we can't present it as a potential solution to the Strategy Group and F1 Commission."
If the FIA tests this week go well, then the plan is for it to be fitted to the Red Bull RB12 for an installation lap in FP1 in Sochi on April 28, in order to get feedback from drivers, and from the F1 world in general.
The FIA has agreed in principle to it being tried on a race weekend as a test item, pending the results of this week's impact tests.
Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have already sampled it in the Milton Keynes simulator, and both have expressed their support.
It does not have the forward vision issue associated with the halo, and the side pillars at the front are designed to line up with mirror mounting stalks.
A definitive decision on whether the Halo or canopy are incorporated in the 2017 regulations does not necessarily have to be made by the current deadline for the rest of the technical regulations by April 30.
The two devices share common mounting point positions, and thus teams can embark on the development of their chassis without having to know which will be used.
However, there are obvious implications for aerodynamics, so a final decision cannot be left for too long.
Friday's testing will involve a 20kg wheel/hub assembly being fired at the canopy at 225km/h, the same test that was previously applied to the Halo, which was tested both straight-on and at 45 degrees.
It is understood that two different gauges of the transparent material – the same sort of polycarbonate used in the windscreens of WEC cars – will be tested.
Whiting believes that the canopy could become the preferred option.
"As it mounts in roughly the same positions as the halo then as far as I can see there is no reason why it couldn't be considered as a viable alternative," he said. "What we would hope for next week is to know which direction the teams would prefer to take.
"I think they are open to anything. I don't think that anyone is wedded to the idea of the Halo. It's frontal protection that we're after, and we want the one that offers the best protection to the drivers, and is the most practical application. I think it stand as good a chance as the Halo."
In addition to the impact tests, the canopy will have to meet other criteria to which the Halo has already been subjected.
"A risk assessment is being done on various accident scenarios – getting injured drivers out and that sort of thing has to be assessed. In all these cases you have to weigh up the pros and cons," Whiting added.
There is also the extra question of how visibility could be affected by rain and oil on the screen, which was not an issue for the halo.
Although it has yet to be discussed in detail, the likelihood is that the canopy will become a standard part that will be identical on all cars. Whether it will be made by a third party supplier, or by the teams to a standard design, is yet to be determined.
However, the fact that teams don't have expert knowledge of polycarbonate suggest that the screens at the very least could be made by a specialist.
Whiting added: "We haven't talked about the canopy, but certainly the initial talks about the Halo were that it should be a standard part, because we don't want people going off and optimising them for performance reasons. We want everyone to be in the same boat."
In the end what is most likely to build support for the canopy is the negative reaction that was generated when Ferrari ran the halo in Barcelona testing.
Its looks did not prove popular with fans or F1 insiders, whereas drawings of the Red Bull solution have had a generally positive response, and both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have given the real thing a thumbs-up.
"Personally I would say the canopy is more aesthetically pleasing solution," said Whiting. "But it's only a matter of taste.
"However, if both solutions perform equally well in testing I would be surprised if there's an overwhelming desire to keep the Halo."
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