F1 had appeared to be entering a lesser spotted spell of positivity. A stunning display of power and personality in London was followed by a glorious weekend in the Great British countryside, leaving fans beaming from ear-to-ear, (unless, of course, they were wearing red.)
However, it only takes a day of politics to burst F1’s bubble. Positivity dashed by the news that the much maligned ‘halo’ cockpit protection is scheduled to be introduced to the sport from 2018 onwards, despite nine of the ten teams voting against it.
Cue social media storm.
The announcement comes as a result of Wednesday’s meeting of F1’s Strategy Group. Despite the panel only officially featuring six of the sport’s teams, representatives from all ten squads were present at this particular meeting.
Cockpit protection was clearly on the agenda and with 2018 technical regulations needing to be outlined sooner rather than later, the deadline to find a solution seems to have crept up on the governing body.
Just last weekend at Silverstone, fans caught a first glimpse of the shield cockpit protection suggested as a halo alternative, that was run by Sebastian Vettel in FP1. The German complained that the shield made him feel dizzy on the installation lap and Ferrari duly opted to remove the device for the remainder of the session.
Clearly, more time was required to properly evaluate this particular solution, but the FIA have seemingly backed themselves into a corner regarding the issue at large.
They realised the halo was not the most viable solution by the end of 2016, hence delaying its introduction. However, with the timeframe on developing alternatives proving unsuitably short, they have found themselves trapped without sufficient options.
Fundamentally, it’s a liability issue. The halo may not be a perfect fix, but it is a device to improve cockpit safety, which is, in turn, an issue that the FIA had stated would have a solution by 2018. Were they to leave the halo on the bench next season and an incident was to happen, the FIA would face some uncomfortable questions.
As a result, they simply had to enact the veto against the will of the teams on safety grounds.
The decision made on Wednesday, however, is not the real issue here. Instead, it is the poor preparation leading up to this ‘deadline day’ that has left the FIA in an unenviable position.
Aero-screens and shields – widely regarded by fans as the more aesthetically pleasing solutions – should have been tested sooner. FIA backed feeder series’ should have showcased the technology and while running screens in F2 and GP3 sessions would have had significant cost implications and not been entirely representative, it may have led to a less controversial ruling on Wednesday. More options would have inevitably been on the table.
What’s more baffling is the fact that despite their opposition to the halo, teams have seemingly been disinterested in running alternative solutions earlier themselves. The aero-screen made its one and only appearance in Russia last season, while Ferrari debuted a shield only last weekend, despite the device first appearing in rendered form back in pre-season.
As a result, F1 has ended up with the only tried and tested solution. Cockpit protection is an emotive subject, with driver safety being paramount, yet many traditionalists would say that the halo and admittedly the alternatives detract from what F1 truly is; open wheel and open cockpit racing.
Fans frustrated by Wednesday’s decision should bare in mind the reaction of Liberty Media. This is ultimately an FIA decision and with Liberty’s mission statement relying on increased fan engagement, a significant change to F1’s look that threatens to disillusion viewers could be damaging to their plans.
Ross Brawn’s technical working group will unquestionably make evaluating more popular solutions a priority. The halo is likely to be nothing more than a quick fix, while F1 incorporates cockpit protection into its vision for the future.
It’s not quite a disaster, but it is evidence of F1’s poor planning and strategy.