A step too far
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As of Monday morning, Formula 1 is on its summer holiday.
The teams and the racing personnel take a breather before the season resumes late in August at Spa Francorchamps.
During that time there is bound to be a lot of talk about the FIA enforcing the halo.
It is the ugly, some say pointless, useless, ineffective and just plain daft appendage that will sit around the driver’s cockpit, ostensibly to protect the driver from intrusion into said cockpit of random flying objects or low-flying cars that have become airborne in an accident.
I have read comments from distinguished Formula 1 commentators, drivers, the public, the FIA and from the teams. All those teams, except Ferrari, voted against adopting the thing.
My view is that it is going to be introduced and we will have to get used to it. But I do not like it.
I can describe it only as looking like the thongs of a Jandal over the driver’s cockpit with the car being the Jandal.
A Formula 1 car, 2017 version, is at best inelegant, with bits of carbon fibre protruding from every permitted orifice and allowable surface, all of which perform the task of harnessing the airflow to create the holy grail of F1 design called downforce.
This latest addition to the cars will allegedly, and hopefully, go some way to protecting the driver from large flying objects that may be headed towards his, already barely visible, helmet.
However, the last time there was any intrusion into the driver’s helmet area was eight years ago, when Felipe Massa was struck by an errant part from the car he was following.
It is debatable in the extreme whether, had a halo been fitted, it would have prevented that intrusion — it may have bounced it into another driver’s path or even the crowd.
I have never raced a Formula 1 car, nor sat in one going at speed, and therefore have no experience of an incoming flying object that will do damage to my head.
Only Formula 1 drivers know what that feels like. What I do know is that the halo is ugly and the need for it is questionable.
It’s a view apparently not shared by the chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, former racing driver Alex Wurz, who tweeted “Defo not the most esthetic [sic] thing! But on the positive, please consider that safer cars mean we can race much faster & harder in the future!”
At the other end of the driver spectrum Niki Lauda, calls the device a mistake. He adds: “The halo destroys the DNA of an F1 car. The FIA has made F1 as safe as it gets. Also the danger of flying wheels is largely eliminated, because the wheels are always more firmly attached. The risk to the drivers has become minimal.”
Others, such as Sky TV commentator Martin Brundle think the device will cause more problems than it seeks to cure and that it is “plain ugly”.
Some of the best engineers work in and around Formula 1 so you would think all this combined brain power would come up with something that looks better than the contraption proposed.
Over the decades, with new ideas coming into the sport such as helmets, seat belts and fireproof overalls, deformable structures and all the rest, the sport has been made irrefutably safer.
Although part of the laudable quest to make Formula 1 safer still, this time, in my opinion, the halo is a step too far.
By even considering a halo, or a version of it, the FIA has committed itself to taking some action.
If nothing was done and a driver was injured in a way that could have been prevented by a cockpit protection device, the sport would be left open to not only criticism but possible litigation.
Motor racing is dangerous and that is a fact. So how far can it be made safe without taking the essential danger element out of it?
And what of other open-wheel race series, from Formula 2 to the Toyota Racing series, from the TRS to Formula Ford and from Formula Ford to the kids in karting? Are they all now affected by this move taken at the pinnacle of the sport?
The MotoGP riders and bike racers around the world must be laughing their heads off.
Formula 1 is on the brink of an enclosed cockpit and that, ladies and gentlemen, is sportscar racing.