The 2018 F1 season brought incredible moments: Lewis Hamilton’s stunning qualifying lap at Singapore; the rise of Charles LeClerc and lack of good fortune (bar Monaco) for Daniel Riccardo to name a few. However, hovering over all these topics (which is quite appropriate) was the issue of the halo.
Think back to July 19th 2017 when the FIA confirmed it would introduce the Halo cockpit protection concept for the 2018 Formula One season for "the best overall safety performance".
Some fans believed this was in response to the tragic loss in 2015 of Jules Bianchi after his long term injuries caused at Suzuka the previous year. In reality though, the FIA had conducted five years of research centered on increasing frontal head protection. This followed on from the events of 2009 when in the space of a week the motor racing world witnessed the heartbreaking loss of Henry Surtees (former World Champion John Surtees’ son) who was struck by a loose wheel during a Formula 2 race weekend as well as the life-threatening injuries experienced by Felipe Massa at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Safety is paramount for the FIA when it comes to motor racing but since its inception the halo split opinion. Countless articles were written on: its safety aspects; whether it looked aesthetically pleasing and whether a driver could get out of the car if it was upside down.
Lewis Hamilton said it has a 'better chance of saving a driver's life'; Nico Hulkenberg, remarked ‘the visibility wasn't too bad’. Whereas Romain Grosjean stated he "hated it"
One of the most damaging criticisms came from Niki Lauda, who knows all too well the risk involved in racing following his Nürburgring 1976 crash.
Lauda said "The Halo destroys the DNA of a Formula One car." - rather ironic seeing how the Halo concept was proposed by Mercedes in the first place.
So, what are thoughts and opinions now with the 2019 season approaching?
Well, any fan who has seen the halo flying by them at a race does not have much of an issue with it due to the fact that the view most fans have is side on and at the speed the drivers perform at it is still very easy to identify which superstar is sat in the cockpit hurtling past them at 300kmph.
The television audience is of a different opinion though because when the camera is transmitting front-on pictures of a car heading down the long straights of Shanghai International, Paul Ricard or Circuit of The Americas – the halo certainly gets in the way. Although, the F1 media graphics department should be commended on their implementation of superimposing the acceleration graphics on the halo so that vital data was relayed to the audience and the halo was not so noticeable during onboard shots.
As for the drivers’ opinion now?
Charles LeClerc tweeted: “Never been a fan of the halo but I have to say that I was very happy to have it over my head today.” following his crash at Spa-Francorchamps.
Whereas Nico Hulkenburg showed there are still question marks when he said said “I don’t know to be honest at the point if the Halo blocked me or not.” after being turned upside down at Abu Dhabi following contact with Romain Grosjean’s Haas.
Unfortunately, what this shows is that we need more times when the halo is tested to be able to see how good it is.
However, this would mean more incidents of drivers coming to harm, more vehicles becoming airborne and more near misses or even worse – tragic losses.
Therefore, if such catastrophe is the only way to truly know how useful the halo is - I for one hope we never get a clear verdict.