The subject of cockpit protection has been hotly debated since it was first mooted over five years ago. When we ran a post about the tests the FIA Institute had been carrying out on the halo, the canopy and other devices it was one of the most read posts of that year.
But now that the federation, in conjunction with the new commercial rights holders, has made the halo a reality from 2018 onwards, the discussion has been raging about whether this is the right thing for F1.
So much so, in fact, that the FIA has issued a statement with its justification for the decision. Essentially their point is that there is a demonstrable need for better protection for the driver’s head; that various options have been tested and that the halo is the most effective, while also providing the least constraint on the drivers.
And so with such a system ready to go and the only argument against it being that it is ugly, it is the federation’s duty to bring it in so that no F1 driver henceforth will suffer the kind of accident that killed Henry Surtees in F2 or Justin Wilson in IndyCar.
Looked at purely like that, it is hard to argue against.
So is the visual argument alone, the negative impact on the aesthetics of an F1 car, strong enough to outweigh it?
Clearly the federation thinks not. The FIA has become part of the family of sports federations that examines what it does and how it does it, in light of corruption and critical governance errors in football, cycling that athletics, the responsibility of a sporting federation has been reinforced.
In that vein, the motorsports federation would not be doing its job if it made decisions solely on grounds of aesthetics. The regulators believe that people will get used to the halo with time, as they did with the HANS device on the driver’s neck, or with high cockpit sides and a host of other things.
Although it has no impact on safety, the sound of the hybrid turbo F1 engines is another thing that fans were supposed to get used to when they were introduced in 2014. But they haven’t. And four years after their introduction, the FIA, F1 Management and F1 teams are still working hard on a better solution for the 2021 power unit, because F1 cars experienced for the first time, just don’t have that wow factor.
At Silverstone there was a parade of old F1 cars, including Nigel Mansell’s V10 engined 1992 Williams, making a splendid noise and then we also have the two seater F1 car (based on the old Minardi with Cosworth V10 engines) from F1 Experiences going around. Some teams, like Red Bull, sent V8 cars to the Live London F1 street event. What all of this achieved was to showcase a sound that modern F1 no longer offers to its fans.
Liberty Media needs an F1 product that they can promote to fulfil the brief of making the sport bigger, earning more revenues and reaching new audiences. The engine sound is critical to that and what we have at present just isn’t exciting enough.
This site has the view that the halo will serve to cut the fans off from the driver even further, reducing the feeling of engagement with him. When you watch a Le Mans car you support the team, not the driver and you can’t tell which of the three drivers is in the car without help from a commentator.
F1 will have to rethink the individual branding of a car to make it distinctively the “Lewis Hamilton car” or the “Sebastian Vettel car”, otherwise it will be harder for fans to feel a connection to their driver. Work will have to be done on camera angles, shortening them to create an engagement as well as to enhance the sense of speed. Greater use of driver facing on board cameras will be needed; the list goes on.
So how will they sell the halo?
Liberty’s key player in F1 management, Chase Carey, has got off to a good start in his relationship with FIA president Jean Todt and had made it clear in interviews that he has no desire to interfere in the business of F1 governance, as Bernie Ecclestone liked to do.
The dynamic between Carey and Todt, helped by Todt’s long collaboration with Ross Brawn, F1 motorsports managing director, means that those two bodies can get a lot done together.
While the F1 Strategy Group was under Bernie Ecclestone’s management, his relationship with the leading teams was sometimes stronger than it was with Todt, with whom he frequently had tension.
Liberty have supported the halo, not seeing it as a grounds for a battle.
There are some major battles with teams coming up, however, over the distribution of F1’s revenues after 2020. The dynamic between the FIA and F1 Management and their solidarity will have a significant effect on the outcome.
The tendency is to reduce the disparity in importance (and therefore value) between the top teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull and the smaller ones.
The top teams have other ideas about that and the next couple of years will see many skirmishes as they battle to show who’s more important to F1. The skirmishes have already begun in some areas.
Safety is not an area that one fights political battles over.
Can you be wrong about making a car safer?
Surtees was killed in an F2 car, not an F1, so the halo, once introduced, will surely have to be fitted to all cars in the FIA’s single seater pathway; F4, F3, F2 and F1 and that is just what a single seater racing car will look like from now on.
It will be safer, but will it have the ‘wow factor’ that attracts people to watch drivers racing cars against each other at high speeds?
Can you ever get the balance wrong between danger and entertainment?
Can you be wrong about making a race car safer?
What do you think? Has the FIA done the right thing or can the look of an F1 car outweigh safety concerns? Leave your comments below