#MotorsportTribune: The great head protection debate in Formula One
In the wake of the accident that claims the life of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, talks about bringing head protection into open wheel racing has been blazing with ideas and so on.
Formula One has tested out themselves with the Halo and the Aeroscreen concept by Red Bull. Reactions from the people in motorsport and fan themselves have been mixed.
For me, as a sport like this. Risks are always a factor and that’s why those drivers are out their busting their balls and drive for their lives as well as for the entertainment purposes. It still haunts me that faithful Sunday at Suzuka but the thing is. There are things that should have prevented the accident, and the same thing should be applied for the incident at Pocono as well. But that’s my opinion, you guys might have a different one as well. Still, I still approve on improving the safety standard but in a different way.
One of the first problem that was raised with the introduction of Halo was of its effect on the drivers’ viewpoint. Remember, FIA has been strict in the pass 20 years on safety reasons they deemed as “impairing driver’s vision”.
Most notable was the Arrows A22’s “Top Wing” and Jordan EJ11’s Nose Wing at the 2001 Monaco GP and BMW Sauber F1.06’s “Tower Wings” with extra winglets was put on the nose of the car but was deemed illegal by the FIA.
Which means the FIA is contradicting their own rules to use the Halo.
Another problem that the FIA needs considering about the Halo is how the drivers will escape in the case of the car being upside down. Last year at the Australian Grand Prix, Alonso had a huge shunt with Gutierrez causing his car to flip upside down. Luckily the Spaniard climbed out and suffered minor injuries.
But there were serious concerns that drivers will not escape if there was the Halo in place. And the Halo takes considerable time to put in and out of the car, which also causes concerns on valuable times the driver has to escape.
The Halo will make the car flat when upside down. Eliminating almost any space to escape for drivers getting out of their vehicle. The death of Elio de Angelis during a test at Circuit Paul Ricard when the rear wing of the Brabham BT55 detached and sent the car upside down. The car survived the accident relatively intact and de Angelis had only minor injuries. However, there were very few track marshals at the circuit and he was trapped in the car and killed by oxygen deprivation due to a fire before they arrived. It was due to the extremely flat design by Gordon Murray that trapped de Angelis in the car.
Red Bull’s Aeroscreen concept was another interpretation of the Halo and actually a much better option than the Halo concept. Driver has much better vision with the use of the Aeroscreen but it seems the FIA still has more holding into Halo. Although Aeroscreen might have the same problem of trapping drivers like the Halo when the car is upside down.
Other options was discussed at Shanghai last week called “The Shield”. It’s also a canopy style head protection design but extends much further to the nose and is believed to be more aesthetically pleasing but does not offer the levels of protection that the Halo would.
One more concept in the works and it’s expected that it will competed with the Halo, Aeroscreen and “The Shield” as the head protection design for future Formula One car.
It’s still early to say how the head protection device will work, although it will increase the safety level. But new problem will arise.
It’s the FIA decision to implement it but they will be under a lot of pressure from fans, drivers, Liberty Media and so on. Personally I think it will not work and perhaps a full canopy option will be much better in the future. It’s still said Formula One is the pinnacle of motor racing and putting head protection is a step back for the sports.
After the accident of Bianchi, the VSC (Virtual Safety Car) was implemented and has been well received by people involving and following the sport. But if it’s putting to use, it will change single seater racing forever and might have a huge impact in racing.
Jules and Justin Wilson’s accident are unfortunate accident that should have been prevented. I think head protection should be shelved or put back at least for five to ten more years. The inclusion of Virtual Safety Car is the best move right now and with Formula One the only single seater championship focusing on head protection, the idea might not last for very long.