Michelle Alboreto

Inside Line: The halo marks the end of an era for Formula 1

Confirmation that the halo cockpit safety device will be mandatory, from 2018 and beyond, is sure to trigger heated debate among Formula 1 fans, I for one am saddened by the fact that the system will further hide drivers from view but at the same time have to acknowledge that if is saves one life then it is worth it.

I was privileged to have photographed the sport (above) during an era when you could see straight into the cockpit, drivers toiling at the wheel as they attacked the track.

It’s been a while since those days when you could view into a driver’s workplace, since then the cockpit ‘grew’ to almost submerge the driver behind protection as it is these days. 

Granted the halo does not hide the driver much more, but in my mind it further divorces the man inside the cockpit from viewers on TV and those attending a grand prix live.

The ethos of single-seaters will shift radically when the halo is bolted on to F1 cockpits permanently, as per the rules soon to be published. 

Reuters reports that the FIA said in a statement that it had tested a large number devices over the past five years and it had “become clear that the halo presents the best overall safety performance”.

The decision to implement the halo comes less than a week after a transparent cockpit ‘shield’ was tested for the first time on track at Silverstone last Friday in British Grand Prix practice.

Cockpit protection has become a priority since the deaths of drivers in other series after being hit by wheels and flying debris.

The halo, which is fixed at three points including a central pillar in front of the driver that supports a protective loop above his head, was extensively tested last season with a mixed response.

The halo was first not universally accepted by drivers, with Lewis Hamilton saying in March last year, “It’s the worst modification in Formula 1 history. If it is going to come in I hope we have an option to use it or not because I will not be using it on my car.”

But persistent lobbying by the FIA turned his opinion, and six months later his views had reversed, “The FIA have done a fantastic job in the last 20-odd years in always making increments and steps and while it doesn’t look great, we know that, but that 17 percent we can’t ignore.”

He was referring to a demonstration in which the FIA claimed the halo would protect them in all recent accidents in which a driver’s head was vulnerable to impact from a large object, such as a wall or loose wheel, and that it reduced their risk of injury by 17% even from small flying debris.

But in February this year others who tried the device were not all convinced:

Fernando Alonso: “When I tried the halo in Singapore, one of the things I noticed was getting out of the car is a little bit uncomfortable, where you have to put the feet and where you have to jump.”

Lewis Hamilton: “Apart from getting into the car, I didn’t notice much difference. I didn’t really notice it, apart from blocking my mirrors – I couldn’t see the rear wing.”

Nico Rosberg: “It doesn’t disturb me when driving. I could go fast straight away and even set the best time of the session with it this morning so I think that was a success. My opinion is that it represents a big step forward in terms of safety. Following the fatalities we have experienced in recent years in racing that halo would have saved lives, so we absolutely need it.”

Kimi Raikkonen: “First impression on the visibility test is positive. The structure does not hamper [visibility].”

Romain Grosjean: “As drivers we certainly do not want safety to stop improving, but we also cannot delete the DNA of Formula 1.”

Sebastian Vettel:  “It was not great. There is quite a bit of impact in terms of visibility.”

But the FIA are carrying this torch with relentless commitment and in the end, no matter what, you cannot argue against a device that augments safety for drivers.

No doubt the clever people researching and developing the device have thought this through thoroughly and fears that the halo may trap a driver in an overturned car or should a fire engulf the cockpit are perhaps unfounded.

However, I am curious to know if in an emergency the ability of a driver to alight a cockpit or marshals/ medical teams access a stricken driver rapidly, is at all hindered by the halo. I would like some proof that in scenarios such as this, and of fire engulfing the cockpit, a driver is not compromised.

In other words: this halo one solution does not create a host of other dangerous problems.

But, as mentioned, I am sure the halo ticks all the boxes on the FIA’s list of checks, and sincerely hope they have also thought this concept out the box too.

I for one accept that the halo is another episode in the inevitable march of the progress of safety in our sport, but at the same time am saddened by the end of an era in Formula 1.

Big Question: Is the halo needed in Formula 1 and all other single-seater categories?