By Alan Baldwin
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Formula One drivers expressed safety concerns on Saturday after energy-absorbing barriers ended up on top of Carlos Sainz's Toro Rosso when he crashed into them in final practice for the Russian Grand Prix.
"It was shocking to see he was so deep in the barriers and he was covered by them, too," four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel told reporters.
"The idea is not for the barriers to come on top of you or the car go under, so it is something we need to understand," added the German Ferrari driver.
"I don't know why if there was any thing wrong with the way they installed the Tecpro barriers or if was just coincidence the way he crashed into them. I am sure that is something that needs to be avoided."
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) said the incident would be examined, as always, to see if lessons could be learned but said the barriers had done their job in preventing serious injury.
Officials defended the installation of the barriers, which are designed to absorb energy more effectively than tire walls at places where high-speed crashes are likely, and said correct procedures had been followed.
Sainz was taken to hospital but was not seriously hurt and still hoping to race on Sunday subject to medical clearance.
The risk of drivers in exposed cockpits suffering head injuries is a constant worry in motorsport, with the debate only intensifying after the deaths this year of British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and Formula One's Jules Bianchi.
"It (Sainz's crash) definitely needs to be looked at," said McLaren's Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion and a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association with Vettel.
"We shouldn't be able to go underneath the barriers because then the barrier's not doing what it's made to do -- which is to slow the car down before you get to something hard. Which he did hit, the Armco barrier (behind).
"Tecpro works very well if you hit it sideways on, it takes a good impact. But obviously with the nose of the car being quite low...in that situation, you'd say it's not as good as other options."
Sainz's 18-year-old Dutch team mate Max Verstappen had a big crash in Monaco this year and he pointed out that in his accident the barrier had not lifted.
"That’s how it should be because if it goes up it can hit your head so that’s a bit unsafe," he said.
Toro Rosso principal Franz Tost said Sainz's crash reminded him of the one suffered in 2001 by Brazilian Luciano Burti in Belgium, when his Prost penetrated the tire wall.
"We must find a solution because that's quite dangerous," said the Austrian.
"I think the barriers should be more fixed or whatever. I am not an expert in this but I am convinced the FIA will find a good solution for this."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)