I was chatting about F1 2018 with a prominent lifestyle magazine editor late last year, briefing him on the upcoming changes and decided to also send him a picture of the incoming cockpit protective device Halo, the introduction of which, many people – both inside and out of the F1 paddock – are dreading. His response shocked me.
“Halo looks good!” he said. Yes, really. And it got me thinking, perhaps if a quality magazine editor thinks this then the mainstream backlash many are predicting/hoping for won’t happen. Perhaps it will just be accepted like the HANS device and the harmonic grumble of the turbo-hybrid era cars.
I’m not saying the hardcore fans aren’t up in arms. Let’s face it, the Halo not only changes F1’s DNA of open cockpit and open wheels, which should be sacrosanct, but it’s also an inelegant, even ugly, addition – despite the fact that aesthetics should have zero to do with safety.
There are also those who disagree another level of protection is even needed.
“Tracks and cars are acceptably safe today,” tweeted Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle last year, the former Grand Prix driver and leading paddock sage firmly in the anti-Halo camp. “All that remains soon is to exclude the driver altogether or stop racing.”
Nevertheless, the FIA’s case for Halo is compelling, as a response to recent deaths in motorsport like Henry Surtees (2009) and Justin Wilson (2015). Across a range of dramatic aerial crashes analysed, including Alexander Wurz and David Coulthard at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix and Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso at the 2015 Austrian Grand Prix, the majority of results with the Halo would have been positive on balance.
The device was designed to deflect large objects away from the cockpit, is able to withstand 15 times the static load of the full mass of the car, and significantly increase the net level of protection against small debris. Visibility for the drivers is also substantially unaffected.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but the big question is – will it be accepted, assuming there are no issues with it once pre-season testing begins? Will people keep the TV on when the lights go out? Will they look at an F1 car as a thing of beauty? I think they will, despite the fact the Halo means further hiding the drivers from view.
As long as the racing is good, which is what really matters, the general public will get over it. If Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are fighting tooth and nail at the front in Melbourne, then all will quickly be forgotten.
Regardless, Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO Andrew Westacott, whose four-day event the device will make its race debut at, is still reserving judgement on it until he’s seen it in its final guise.
“I think that reaction is just going to grow over the next three and a half months. And I really do look forward to the way it’s going to play out, and what the reactions are, and the way they appear on the cars, and the design elements that are going to feature in it.”
The sport is in for an interesting few months as the wider world discovers F1 with added Halo.