It's not because we're backwards and like the danger aspect, it's because it's a clumsy solution
The news that the Halo device will be on F1 cars from 2018 came as something of a surprise. Just a few months ago the F1 Strategy Group voted to drop it in favour of the new Shield device, which hoped to address the apparent issues of the Halo by offering more protection and being more aesthetically pleasing.
But less than a week after Sebastian Vettel did a single lap with the Shield, not only has the idea been canned, but the FIA has gone back to the Halo and decided that all cars must have it from next year despite opposition from teams and drivers… If they’d U-turned any faster they’d black out from the G-forces.
Like it or not, head protection in single-seaters is going to happen, and has been an absolute certainty for a while. There have been too many injuries and fatalities relating to head trauma for any governing body to simply ignore them as ‘freak’ accidents. F1 has been working on head protection for a while, and IndyCar is also going to trial it’s own solution in the near future. Eventually this will trickle down to junior series and in time the idea of having a driver’s head completely out in the open will seem as archaic as not wearing a HANS device.
However that doesn’t mean that as F1 fans, we aren’t allowed to complain about the Halo. And complaining is something we’re very good at. One quick look at Twitter, or Facebook, or any comments section will reveal a litany of fans, journalists and ex-drivers who are outraged at its introduction. I’m one of those people. But just because we don’t like the Halo it doesn’t mean that we’d rather see drivers die, or think that the danger is a necessary part of F1, or any other ridiculous reason relating to safety and purity that should go back to the 1960s where it belongs.
Oh no. In my case at least, I hate the Halo because it just comes across as an obviously half-arsed answer to an easily solvable problem. To be fair, the Shield is as well, but it’s a much more elegant solution that seems more in keeping with Formula 1. Everyone in the world can understand why a car has a screen of some sort and seeing one on an F1 car doesn’t look all that unusual.
But what other form of transport has a massive flip-flop/thong/basketball hoop on the front? What is the average person who tunes into a race going to think when they see this ungainly thing on all the cars? Because it isn’t exactly obvious what its purpose is. A huge effort went into making this generation of cars look good again, and shark fins and T-wings have been banned for next year because a couple of people thought they were ugly. Now all the cars will have these horrible Halos on them. They’ve gone from caring too much about looks in one area to not caring at all in another.
I know aesthetics shouldn’t be factor when it comes to safety innovations, but it’s not like the Halo is the only choice and with proper development, I’m sure that any issues the Shield has could be overcome. After all, drivers in plenty of other championships manage to look through a screen without getting dizzy, and wipers, chemicals and tear-offs easily solve the visibility issue in poor weather. All the benefits of the Halo, none of the ugliness! Imagine that!
If it were up to me I’d go all out and introduce a fully enclosed canopy. Yes, it would go against the tradition of F1, but what is tradition anyway? When the championship began in 1950 cars were front-engined, had wire wheels and no wings. If people are so hung up about the ‘traditional’ image of an F1 car then let’s go back to that!
F1 is about progress, about development, about new ideas. I don’t see how fully enclosing the drivers would compromise that. As we’ve seen from concepts like the Red Bull X2010 and McLaren MP4-X an enclosed cockpit can look awesome, and it’d undoubtedly be more effective than the current halfway-house option of the Halo and Shield.
As for all the potential issues of driver extraction and safety, there are ways of getting around it, as shown in this concept. But I don’t think we’ll ever see fully enclosed F1 cars for the same reason the Halo has been pushed through: stubbornness.
F1’s continued pursuit of the Halo smacks of a refusal to accept that it’s a flawed idea because it’s Formula 1’s idea, and therefore it can’t be bad. I can’t think of a reason why the Shield would be dropped so suddenly other than wondering if the FIA were ever really serious about it.
IndyCar has said it won’t pursue the Halo, but could be introducing a screen next year. And of course F1 can’t be seen to be behind another series in terms of innovation, can it? And they can’t hurry up and go with the Shield because it clearly needs more work. The Halo on the other hand seems to do just fine and it is ready for deployment - after all it was meant to be on the cars this year but was delayed due to visibility concerns. Has that been fixed, or have they decided that those concerns are less important than getting something on the cars for next year.
Head protection is coming to Formula 1 and that’s a good thing. But with the sudden ditching of a more promising solution in favour of its own flawed (though presumably still effective) Halo, the sport comes across as doing the right thing, but for all the wrong reasons.
And that’s why fans are allowed to be annoyed about its introduction - not because we want to see dead or injured drivers.