In the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix, Roman Grosjean, already under fire for his temperament behind the wheel, caused a multi-car incident which saw his rear left wheel come inches from Fernando Alonso’s head. The incident reignited the discussions surrounding the open cock-pits of Formula 1 which died away after Felipe Massa’s head injury in 2009, where a loose spring from fellow Brazilians Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn bounced into Massa’s helmet.
Following Spa 2013 we saw a flurry of concept design releases showing closed cockpit cars and even closed wheel, sports car-style cars posted as the future of Formula 1.
Closed cock-pits proved unpopular among fans and drivers alike. Discussions to provide a solution to the concerns that F1 health and safety advisors had over exposed drivers began to take a more ‘structural’ solution. During 2016 open testing, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari sported what has become known as the ‘Halo’. Also described by some as a ‘chicken’s wish bone’ . The section sits over and around the drivers head as an aerodynamically designed bar, which is structurally fitted to the car itself. Kimi Raikkonens feedback on the Halo was that it was “OK” for visibility. I wonder what his feedback on the halo might be after the fire in his engine in Australia two weeks ago where a quick escape for him was required as the flame lapped over his helmet.
The paddock is split between drivers who tend to have an appreciation for the efforts of F1 to make the sport safer, such as Nico Rosberg, and those referred to as ‘purists’, like Lewis Hamilton who won’t entertain being in support of any such feature. But whatever their views, 2017 will see the introduction of the Halo.
From a fan’s perspective, watching Kimi Raikkonen take his Ferrari out on track Barcelona with a Mock-Halo device fitted to the vehicle, I found it to be a disrupting influence on the viewing in that I couldn’t see Kimi’s Helmet. Often the driver’s helmet is used by fans attending the race to differentiate between one driver and their teammate. My suggestion would be to ensure the Halo is equally as unique as the drivers helmets themselves.
But is the Health and Safety mentality pushing Formula 1 too far? Already the sport is heavily criticised for being nothing more than a parade of multi-million pound cars zooming around a race circuit with drivers who hardly need to make a gear change. For many years this has been the case and increasingly the stats prove that the Formula 1 fan base is an aging demographic. Without attracting new fans to the sport Formula 1 could find itself in trouble. But is safety the cause of a boring race? No, the problem with boring racing is more to do with the design of the cars and the design restrictions placed upon Formula 1 teams in conjunction with the capital and funding barriers.
Even with the incredible leaps Formula 1 has made in the last few decades in regards to safety accidents are still causing deaths and injuries. Jules Bianche is the obvious example, and the incident as recently as two weeks ago which saw Alonso suffer a collapsed lung after a triple spin into the tyre wall. The fact that he walked away form the incident is testament to the safety features of Formula 1 cars. Maybe, one day soon the Halo will literally save a driver’s life and we’ll be thankful for it, but we must remain focused on achieving a balance between Formula 1’s sense of danger and adventure and safety. Formula 1 should never lose sight of the reason that Formula 1 exists. It is the ultimate test of how far man can push machine in terms of speed, efficiency, aerodynamics and now, safety too.
by Adrian Cockerill