Are Low Noses Entirely Safe?

Noses have been the buzz word around the pre-season paddock this year, as the new regulations on nose height have had engineers and aerodynamists scratching their heads. Consequently, the variety of designs and interpretations have divided opinion, with some people suggesting that all designs deserve the ugly tag. Regardless, the low nose tip has been employed to improve safety, but after Kamui Kobayashi’s first corner accident in Melbourne has led some people to suggest that the promised benefits have contriuted to equally concerning problems.
Image Credit: p_w_c (via flickr)

A Step Forward, or Two Steps Back?

In Formula One, safety is quite rightly the highest priority of the WMSC, the Strategy Working Group and collectively the FIA, (and FOTA until recently *sigh*,) and so the low noses were introduced for 2014. It was perceived that the high nose tip of 2013, which had a maximum height of 550mm, could potentially cause a car to launch over the top of a sidepod in a “t-bone” collision, which would lead to a drivers head being in the firing line. Consequently, the decision was taken to reduce the maximum height of the nose tip to a significantly lower 185mm off of the circuit. With aerodynamists not wanting to compromise airflow underneath the car, radical anteater and hover designs have been created in order to maintain bulkhead height. 
While this safety measure makes sense, Kamui Kobayashi’s dramatic accident at turn one in Melbourne has raised some concerns. Perhaps the FIA have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Kobayashi’s Caterham seemed to submarine underneath Felipe Massa, when the Japanese driver piled into the back of the Williams. The incident was at the apex of the corner, meaning that it was at relatively low speed, yet what was concerning was the way in which Massa was lifted off of the ground. The last thing we want to see is one car ‘submarining’ underneath another.
What could potentially sanitise the issue is the bulkhead design which all teams have followed. By having a low nose and a high bulkhead, Kobayashi’s incident is hopefully as bad as it can get, as the angle between nose tip and top of the chassis is such a steep incline. If this emerges to be true, then it may make sense to place a minimum bulkhead height in the regulations to counter the height of the nose tip. 
Hopefully, myself and other pundits are blowing the situation out of proportion. Ultimately, this has been an isolated incident, with connotations perhaps exaggerated by the number of aerodynamists expressing concern for the potential of these issues throughout the winter. Regardless, their are a number of potential solutions, including lowering the rear crash structure or simply finding the middle ground between the 2013 and 2014 nose tip height. One thing we do not want is the FIA to react once something more significant has happened. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!   

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