High rev racing roars past Raffles

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AS THE FORMULA ONE drivers emerged from a tangle of fractured Ferraris, PETER COSTER wondered would they be saved by a saintly device at Albert Park:

MARK WEBBER knew there was no point in complaining about Sebastian Vettel’s defiance of team orders and his ruthless behaviour on the track. When they drove for Red Bull, Vettel was the “sainted one.”

At the season opening Grand Prix in Melbourne in March next year, Vettel will wear a “halo”, but it’s one he doesn’t like.

The F1 grid will line up at Albert Park with their cars fitted with a cage-like contraption to protect them from flying debris and the possibility of death or serious injury in a rollover.

Last year, Fernando Alonso walked away from one of the worst crashes seen in Formula One after a barrel-rolling flight through the air better left to the RAAF Roulettes aerobatic team.

Alonso’s McLaren was destroyed, but Alonso could so easily have been killed.

It was the type of crash where the halo might save a driver from being crushed, in spite of the carbon cell in which they are strapped with a six-point harness and a rollover structure behind their head.

Vettel tries the Halo system at the 2016 British GP. By Jen_ross83 [CC BY 2.0]
This is described as a ROPs, which is typical of F1 jargon for what is no more than a metal hoop.
Acronyms abound in F1, all the better to sound mega-tech, such as the HANS device, or Head and Neck Support. This sits on the driver’s shoulders to prevent whiplash that “restricts head movements during a crash that would otherwise exceed the normal articulation range of the skeletal/muscular system”.

The F1 tech heads love this gobbledygook and so it is with the halo, although they will be disappointed to find halo is not an acronym but merely a description.

Vettel is no angel and his starting tactics at the Singapore Grand Prix showed the devil in the four-times world champion when he veered left to block Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who was beside him on the front row.
The idea was to push Verstappen off the racing line into the first corner but it was reckless and unnecessary. The Dutch teenager, no stranger to crash-through-or-crash tactics, was slightly behind Vettel, who obviously did not see his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen passing Verstappen on the other side.
The Dutch teenager saw what was happening and lifted, but too late and chaos ensued as the Ferraris and Verstappen slid off in a tangle of twisted metal and carbon fibre with Vettel going backwards as the grid stormed past.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen collide at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen collide at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore. Pic: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Vettel has escaped a penalty and as Martin Brundle commented, he had little chance of seeing anything in his mirrors, which are about as effective on an F1 car in the rain as “a chocolate screen in front of a fire”.
The Singapore downpour must have reminded Brundle of cold nights at home in Norfolk, but you get the picture. Daniel Ricciardo finished second in the Singapore race behind Lewis Hamilton, who started from fifth on the grid but was able to slip past the carnage. For once it wasn’t caused by Verstappen, who is fast but furious, leading Ricciardo to joke after the race there was always a chance of “Max taking out Seb”. Also taken out in the first-lap chaos was Alonso in the McLaren.  Engine changes, driver swaps and the aforementioned halo will be on view at the Australian Grand Prix in March next year.

McLaren will use Renault engines instead of Honda, which once dominated F1 but cannot match the speed of Mercedes and Ferrari. At least Renault, which powers Red Bull, is within striking distance.
The problem with the halo, according to a number of drivers, is the front pillar supporting the saintly circle. It is in the centre of their eyeline.
Enclosing the cockpit of Formula One cars has been suggested over the years but soon forgotten. Grand Prix racing is open-wheel and open-cockpit racing and the devil take the hindmost.
That is not to say safety has been ignored. Scottish triple-world champion Jackie Stewart led the campaign to reduce death and injuries. Until then, the list of drivers who were killed read like casualties from a conflict.

Would they have been saved by the halo-effect? It would not have saved Ayrton Senna, who was struck in the head by piece of metal after the steering column snapped on his Williams and he became a passenger in the car as it crashed head-on into the wall at the Italian Grand Prix at Imola in 1994.

The steering column had been cut and welded by Williams at Senna’s request. The team was acquitted of manslaughter charges but found guilty over the steering wheel failure at a retrial in the Italian Supreme Court 13 years later. There were no arrests because the statute of limitations on charges of culpable homicide had expired.

The latest to die as a result of a F1 crash was Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered massive head injuries when his car slammed into a crane on the side of the track at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014. He died the following year without regaining consciousness. The halo would not have saved him.
But it might have saved the son of former F1 world champion John Surtees when a wheel from another car involved in a crash hit Henry Surtees in a F2 race at Brands Hatch.
Wheels are now prevented from flying off in a crash by cables that hold them to the damaged car.
At Singapore on Sunday,  where the night race was run through a gauntlet of concrete around the streets of the city, any visual restriction caused by a halo may have seen more drivers hit the wall.
It was as much an all-night party as a Grand Prix and as the cars raced along Raffles Boulevard, named after the famous old hotel, I looked at a photograph on my wall. It was given to me by the manager of Raffles when he saw me looking at it in the years before the Singapore race was even thought of.
The framed photograph was on the wall of the billiard room, where a tiger was once seen circling the table, presumably escaped from a circus. Whether the tiger was shot by a big game hunter who was staying at Raffles is lost in the mists of time and the equally murky memories of journalists who stayed there during the Vietnam war.
The photograph, taken in the 19th century, showed a stiff-lipped English woman dressed in what looked like a deep-pile carpet with a bonnet on her head in the no doubt stifling heat.

She was in a rickshaw being pulled by a boy in a loin cloth on Raffles Boulevard where the mode of transport on Sunday night was at least 300kph faster.


Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.



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