By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
Formula 1 has made a decision to delay the introduction of a head protection system until the 2018 season. The push back will allow for better testing and, in theory, deployment of a safer system.
On one hand this is a responsible decision and understandable, but perhaps more importantly, this is another example of Formula 1’s inability to communicate a consistent working plan that is clear to the F1 paddock.
Lets first discuss the decision to delay the Halo or any sort of additional head protection device.
Ferrari brought forth for consideration a system designed to protect drivers from large scale intrusions into the cockpit called the Halo. Things like tires, barriers and larger assorted items would have a harder time getting to the drivers sensitive head and the result was seen as a positive if albeit controversial step to create a safer cockpit for the open wheeled drivers in Formula 1.
Charlie Whiting, Race Director and Safety Director for the series, stated that the Halo system has to date, only been tested for four laps and by only 3 drivers. This simply is not enough time to insure that the solution is a well thought out and fully developed step. Whiting and the FIA added that, primarily visibility concerns are causing the delay of the Halo. They also stated that the Halo option would protect against only 17% of smaller item intrusions but would cover the vast majority of larger pieces of debris.
Only 17% of smaller pieces of debris! Is that enough?
Bob Fernley of Force India, argues that a protection system that allows for 83% of smaller items to impact the driver is simply not good enough.
The majority of team personnel agree that postponing the Halo is the right decision for the time being. In addition to the visibility concerns and the problem with smaller debris intrusion, Red Bull Racing has stated that the tested systems have affected cooling for the engine and for the gearbox. These are obviously things that need to be further engineered to make a good idea a practical one.
The drivers on the other hand, seem to be of a different opinion, which is understandable since they are in the race cars. Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. have all been critical of the delay. They have all mentioned that development can continue after the Halo is introduced and warned about an accident happening before a head protection system is introduced. Hamilton’s voice is important here as he was previously critical of the Halo system but seems to have changed his tune.
This brings us to perhaps the most critical element of the Halo delay. Who is responsible for delivering a safe head protection system and is there a firm timeline for its introduction? Pay Fry of Manor, states that F1 has been looking at head protection since 2013. If this is the case, there should be some options already on the table.
And this is where the real problem lies in Formula 1; decisions are waffled back and forth like a ping pong ball on a cruise ship in a hurricane. The lack of a clear cut decision maker or decision making process creates situations where important regulations are announced, altered and at times, they just vanish.
Which rules decision would we like to use as an example?
Lets take one that’s current………..radio transmissions.
At the start of the 2016 season, a complete radio ban was initiated that focused around article 27.1 which states: “The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.” The rules were then further restricted before the race in Hungary. Jenson Button summed up the driver reaction labeling the rule as, “stupid” while Bernie Ecclestone said that the restriction on driver chatter was not good for the fans who love to listen in on driver and team radio transmissions.
Fast forward to this week’s German Grand Prix and the radio transmission ban has just gone away. It’s gone. Teams can now say, essentially whatever they want. Now this was probably the right decision to make, but the way that F1 arrived at this decision does not show a clear cut, predictable, decision making process.
Another current example is track limits. Drivers are often seen exceeding the track limits in an effort to complete a quicker lap and they are met with a wide variety of responses from the governing body. Sometimes drivers are given penalties and in other times nothing happens at all. Currently, drivers are given warnings and if they go outside of track limits more than three times they can be awarded a drive through penalty.
Here again, we have a flip flopping approach to a rule which should be consistent for all to understand.
Which leads me back to the Halo, or the Aersoscreen, or whatever effective measures can keep these drivers safer.
F1 needs to get this done and get it done quickly.
Establish a team of subject matter experts with a wide variety of experiences and make this a priority. Keep the development of the device quiet until an effective solution can be determined. There is no need to announce every incremental step to the general public. Test the daylights out of it and when it is ready for deployment, make it happen.
With head protection, someone needs to stand up, own this engineering priority, and just get it done! Its simply too important to wait.