Is the Halo concept really the best option we have?

The F1 community were greeted to news on Wednesday that the FIA have approved the introduction of the Halo concept into F1 from 2018. It comes as no surprise really; the FIA, including Ross Brawn, along with new owners of F1, Liberty Media have been keen to incorporate safety measures into the sport to protect the drivers since the tragic loss of Jules Bianchi in 2015. (A quick remembrance goes out to the former Marussia driver; it was the 2 year anniversary this weekend since the highly rated Ferrari development driver passed away after suffering severe head injuries at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.)

The news has been negatively received from the F1 community on a widespread scale. Many senior figures in the paddock have expressed their doubts on the Halo, including Martin Brundle, who has sent out the following tweet since the news broke.

Get ready for my rant on the Halo Concept…
My first problem that I have is that the whole decision seems completely rushed. The strategy group in 2016 decided that full frontal protection would be implemented, but I feel that more alternatives needed to be trialled before any decisions were made. The decision has come halfway through one of the best seasons in recent years; when we get to the next race weekend, the majority of questions posed to drivers will be to gain their opinions on the decision, detracting away from the Championship battle. Why couldn’t the FIA delay the decision until the end of the year, ready for implementation in 2019? This would almost certainly give teams more time run tests on the Halo design and even to refine it further before it were to be incorporated.

Halo Protection F1
The Halo concept running on the Ferrari, looking like an eyesore is an understatement!

What is more alarming for me with the current design is that it is meant to improve the safety for the drivers, yet how can a device which restricts the vision of the drivers be any safer? The horizontal section of the Halo clearly restricts the view of the driver, with the vertical pole positioned on the nose of the car potentially becoming a distraction to F1 drivers. The Halo would stop debris flying into the cockpit, but it would pose other safety concerns for the drivers. In other words, how can a device that reduces the 180 degree field of vision for the drivers be deemed as a safe option?

Even from a more practical perspective, the device just looks plain ugly. It doesn’t look like it belongs on the car; it’s as if the device has been bolted onto the top of the nose structure without any regard to the overall design for the car. F1 is meant to be the pinnacle of motorsport; Adrian Newey, an aerodynamic mastermind in the sport says that if a car looks beautiful it should be pretty competitive as well. Of course, you can’t take it away from Liberty Media and Ross Brawn in terms of their approach to making the cars faster. I do criticise the main decision makers of the halo; 2017 may well be the final year that we see truly good looking cars in the sport.

Now that is out of my system, what other options could we actually implement?
The only alternative which has been trialled was the protector shield used by Sebastian Vettel during FP1 at the British Grand Prix last weekend. To me, the shield looked vastly improved on the Halo concept; it doesn’t detract from the overall attractiveness of the car. It looks like it has been built into the car, not just added as a bolt on to satisfy safety requirements.

Ferrari Shield
Trialled by Sebastian Vettel in FP1, although it was taken off after Vettel reported dizziness

The big concern with the shield however was that it caused dizziness for Sebastian in FP1. He actually wanted to do a race run using the shield, but unfortunately had to ditch it because it was causing too many problems. Maybe when the decision was made, this was taken into consideration? Maybe the decision makers were adamant safety would be in place for the 2018 season, and the shield concept was too early in its development process to be considered a viable option?

“I got a bit dizzy,” the championship leader told Sky Sports F1.
“Forward vision is not very good. I think it’s because of the curvature, you get quite a bit of distortion, plus you get quite a bit of downwash down the straights pushing the helmet forwards. We had a run planned with it, but I didn’t like it so we took it off.”

I also understand the argument that people put forward when they say F1 should stay as an open cockpit Formula. F1 drivers have always indicated they understand the risks of getting into the cockpit of the fastest cars in the world; they all understand and accept that there could be danger during a race weekend. True, the safety of Formula One cars has improved considerably, particularly after Ayrton Sennas’ tragic death at Imola in 1994, but there are always isolated incidents – Massa being hit in the head with a loose spring at the Hungaroring springs to mind in 2009.

It just feels like the whole decision has been rushed, potentially after the accident to Jules Bianchi. It makes sense, but the tragic accident to Jules would not have been prevented by extra head protection; he was out of control and a wet track and ended up hitting the back of a JCB tractor head first! Possible concepts have not been given time to develop; even with the Halo, teams will have to develop it further before its introduction next year. The safety of F1 drivers is paramount, of course, but the whole process of introducing the new Halo seems a little bit ‘amateurish’ if you ask me.

What’s more, I fully agree with Nikki Lauda. I think major regrets will be felt when the Halo’s are introduced next year…

JrT

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