For two laps today during pre-season testing all focus seemed to be on the Ferrari on Kimi Raikkonen, and the device he was trialing.
It wasn’t a controversial front wing, or some super-secret piece of the Ferrari areo package, it was the ‘halo’ head protection device drivers have been campaigning for. For those of you who have not followed the halo debate, drivers in the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) have been looking into increased head protection in light of the increasing number of fatalities from head injuries. Especially following the deaths of former F1 driver Jules Bianchi and Indy-car driver Justin Wilson. The GPDA have been looking to get the ‘halo’ made standard on all cars in time for the 2017 season. Several ideas were tested over the last year following the accident for Bianchi. The drivers however all seemed to favour the ‘halo’ head protection device. The basic design involves two curved arms stretching forward from the back of the cockpit and arching round to meet at the front, where a vertical strut supports the structure. This design option gives added protection against flying debris as well.
Kimi Raikkonen debut the halo during two instillation laps in the morning of the test today. And on part this was a smart move by the FIA to get Raikkonen to test it. People questioned why they let the monosyllabic Finn with a distrust of the media test the device. And that’s one of the key points. Famously he doesn’t talk to the media, if there’s a fundamental flaw Raikkonen’s not going to discuss it with every media person in the paddock. Giving the FIA time to fix the device as per Raikkonen’s suggestion. Likewise, when he is brought up in front of the FIA to discuss the device, other drivers may try to act positive, Kimi won’t lie to them if there’s an issue. He is the oldest driver on the grid, a former world champion, with 14 seasons experience. The FIA picked the right driver, in my mind at least, to test the device.
It’s fair to say after the halo debut today, the paddock and pundits of the sport have been divided about the device. Everyone seems to agree that the concept of head protection is important and is needed. Nico Rosberg has come out in favour if the device, saying that it could have saved lives if it was introduced sooner. He was also quick to realise the device was not the best looking, but he pointed out it was still in its infant stages and that with a few tweaks it would look better in time for 2017. Jenson Button agreed that while the device was not the prettiest, it was there for a reason.
However, some people feel as if the halo is the wrong way to go. The biggest complaint so far has been that the device looks ugly, as both Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and SkyF1 pundit Martin Brundle were quick to point out. While elsewhere Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has raised concerns over the visibility restrictions for the drivers. Feeling the pillar in the driver’s direct line of vision is a safety concern in itself.
That looks even worse than I feared, in several respects. https://t.co/JO3MnL5muI
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) March 3, 2016
So where exactly does this leave the halo? The reality is, weather fans, drivers, team principals, and pundits like it or not, head protection is coming in. The rules have already stated a head protection device must be standard on all cars at the start of the 2017 season. The halo is most likely going to be this device. What is needed right now is for the drivers, designers, and teams, to work together to make sure the device that debuts in 2017 is the best it can be. The thing to remember is what we’ve seen today is by no means the final product. There will still be a lot of development on it between now and its introduction. It’s a tough call. Head protection is needed according to the drivers, but is the halo the right way to go? One thing is clear though. Now is not the time for infighting amongst teams, now is the time for action and safety.
Feature Image Credit: Scudaria Ferrari press release