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'Halo' - Everything you need to know about F1's cockpit protector

Omnisport logoOmnisport 31/07/2017 Matthew Scott
Halo - cropped: Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari with the 'Halo' device attached © Provided by Omnisport Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari with the 'Halo' device attached

As Formula One heads for its mid-season shutdown, eyes have already turned to 2018 after it was confirmed all cars will be fitted with the 'Halo' cockpit protection device next year.

Opinion is split across the paddock, with drivers, teams and fans among those weighing up the proposed safety benefits against a widespread revulsion at its negative impact on the aesthetics of F1's flying machines.

It has been argued that the device will sanitise the sport too much, with safety measures already enough to have seen just one driver in the premier formula - Jules Bianchi - lose his life in action since the great Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in 1994.

However, other categories have seen fatalities in that time, with the deaths of Justin Wilson in IndyCar and Henry Surtees - son of the legendary John Surtees - in particular drawing cockpit safety into sharp focus.

Here, we analyse the pros, cons, supporters and doubters of F1's latest innovation.

WHAT IS IT?

The 'Halo' - first dreamt up by constructors' champions Mercedes - is a carbon-fibre ring, which will sit above a driver's head, supported by a central pillar - think the bit of a flip-flop shoe that goes between your toes, but sat on top of an F1 car...

Other devices have been mooted, and an 'Aeroscreen' concept - effectively a curved windshield - was put forward by Red Bull and tested in free practice sessions, but the FIA said it had "concerns as to the effectiveness of the device".

Motorsport's governing body found that the 'Halo' can "withstand 15x the static load of the full mass" of an F1 car, as well as prevent drivers' helmets colliding with walls, barriers or large items of debris on-track.


WHY DO WE NEED IT?

There can be no doubt that current F1 cars are safer than anything that has come before, but it is tragic lessons learnt from other competitions which have prompted the change.

Wilson, a one-season F1 competitor and veteran of 120 IndyCar starts, lost his life at Pocono in 2015 when the nose cone from a rival car was sent airborne in a crash and hit the Briton on the head. He died the following day.

Head injuries also cost Surtees his life in 2009 at the tender age of 19. Racing in Formula 2, he was struck on the head by a wheel which was bouncing across the track.

Both may have been freak accidents, but neither man would have died were a 'Halo' device or something similar attached to their cars. And F1 has not been without its near misses. Fernando Alonso had Romain Grosjean's Lotus bounce across his chassis in a scary crash at Spa in 2012, while the McLaren star ended up lodged between a barrier and Kimi Raikkonen's cockpit in a similar incident at Austria two years ago.

Crumple zones protect legs, necks are guarded by the HANS device and the fiery wrecks of days gone by are eliminated by further technological advances. The 'Halo' is just the latest in a long line of measures taken to allow drivers to race with less fear.

The FIA also claimed that their testing revealed the device even had a 17 per cent chance of stopping an incident like Felipe Massa's in 2009 - when a loose spring hit his helmet and left him in a coma.


WHO'S FOR IT?

The more experienced members of the paddock, by and large, are those in favour of the 'Halo' being implemented - including some seriously weighty names...

Sebastian Vettel: "Regarding the look, I like Formula One cars of the past but there's also elements I like nowadays. We're racing cars with wings, that Formula One cars didn't have until late 60's. Now it's part of it. There's plenty of other examples. We had V12 engines, which I'd like to go back to and we don't have them anymore. Overall it's supposed to help us so I think that's what we need to remember."

Fernando Alonso: "I don't want to have any more friends struggling after accidents like Jules or Justin. I want to make the most horrible [looking] car if it is safe and will save one life."

Kimi Raikkonen: "We've tried it a few times and I think it's safer for us as drivers. It will not take all the things away. There are always things that won't be protected. It doesn't matter what we do. I'm fine with it."


WHO'S AGAINST IT?

Conversely, the younger racers in F1 are almost united in their disgust for the device's ugly appearance and the prospect of further sanitisation of the sport.

Kevin Magnussen: "It takes away some of the passion that F1 is talking about. When you look at the car and it is ugly, F1 cars aren't meant to be ugly. That is the reason that a Ferrari is more exciting than a Mazda. It is something to do with passion. If it looks s***, it is s***"

Max Verstappen: "I think since we introduced the virtual safety car, that reduced a lot of risk when you're speeding under the yellow flags in the race. When there are parts flying around from the car, it's not going to protect you, so I don't really understand why we should need it."

One interesting dissenter, however, is Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda - whose fireball wreck at the Nurburgring in 1976 left the Austrian permanently disfigured.

"The Halo destroys the DNA of an F1 car. The FIA has made F1 as safe as it gets. Also the danger of flying wheels is largely eliminated, because the wheels are always more firmly attached. The risk to the drivers has become minimal."


WHAT'S NEXT?

Unless there is a major change of heart from the FIA, 10 pairs of flip-flop looking machines will line up on the grid in Melbourne next year.

Some of those aesthetic fears may be sated somewhat as teams will be allowed to colour co-ordinate the device to their cars, moving away from the black structure that has been commonly seen in tests.

Whether the 'Halo' remains in place beyond 2019 is up for discussion, however, with teams likely to continue developing and testing other ideas.

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