The implementation of the F1 Halo has become a serious debating point over the past weeks and months. Fan of the idea or not, there is no denying that there will be some sort of cockpit protection implemented in F1 in the near-future. Delaying the F1 Halo from 2017 until 2018 may well end up with the powers that be in hot water – not for the first time in recent memory. Despite a lawsuit already hanging over the heads of the FIA over the fatal accident which cost Jules Bianchi’s young life, the implementation of the F1 Halo has been pushed back a year. Should the most unfortunate fate bestow a driver in 2017, the FIA may find itself in even more hot water.
The Catch 22 over F1 Halo
The F1 Halo is not pretty. Few will argue that. However seeing an ambulance take to the circuit? Seeing concerned looks up and down the paddock? Seeing the news break of the death of a driver? Knowing that a family has lost a son, and possibly a brother, husband and father? Those things are far from pretty. What happened to Justin Wilson in an IndyCar race at Pocono was not driver error, it was nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Interestingly the idea of cockpit protection appears to have gone down fairly well in the States – drivers and fans alike generally warming to the idea. There has been some criticism however, in a similar fashion to the rear-end bumpers on the current IndyCars – another safety feature. The thought of the F1 Halo is somewhat cold in the Formula One world and ladder however, with claims that aesthetics are more important and that it somehow ‘sanitises’ the danger of racing, despite many drivers over the years losing their lives whilst racing cars with a roof above their head.
A situation such as Wilson’s brings forward a very good case for increased cockpit protection. The solution the FIA has chosen for the time being is the Halo concept. Only four drivers have tested the device to date, and clear issues have already been made well aware of, including claustrophobia, visibility on corners with significant elevation change and getting in and out of the car quickly and with ease in tricky situations.
Each test has been very limited as well, as the device disrupts the cooling of current-generation Formula One machines. However it does pose the question: why has the device been tested a total of twice in practice sessions this year? There have been 12 events and 22 cars at each one present which provides a total of 264 opportunities to test the device before pre and in-season testing are even considered. Why has the device not been tested more when the chances have been there?
We have had many near-misses when it comes to blows to the head in F1 in recent times. Tyres have narrowly missed drivers; large pieces of debris as well and occasionally even a flying car. Having the sort of freak accident which cost Justin Wilson his life last year occurring in F1 cannot be ruled out. Should that occur in 2017, with wider tyres and more aerodynamic pieces to the car, then the FIA could well be asked to explain why the F1 Halo was not implemented sooner. IndyCar has already confirmed their increased cockpit protection device will be in place for 2018 – when the next generation of IndyCar is introduced into the sport there, as the current cars (which will be retired next year) do not appear compatible with the device for the distances the cars cover.
Change is Coming
Like it or not change will be coming to open-cockpit racing. None of the devices tested to date – the Halo and the Aeroscreen fully enclose the cockpit but it does reduce the risk of a direct blow to the head. Some will claim that the sport is somehow becoming ‘too safe’ or that it is ‘safe enough already’ but such complacency could result in more harm than good. In some ways, yes, F1 does go too far with safety. But that is by having run-off areas which go far and beyond what they should, in turn provoking a seemingly endless debate on track limits.
In other ways, F1 must do more to ensure safety, and starting by cracking down on excessive defensive driving is a good place to start. As for the F1 Halo, it’s a good starting point, but we should have arguably been at this point six years ago, after the unfortunate death of Henry Surtees.