IT WAS mocked when it was introduced this year, but Formula One critics were forced to eat their words when the Halo probably saved the life of a driver in the Belgian GP. PETER COSTER reports:
THE “HALO” attached to F1 cars since the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park have regained their saintly aura following the crash at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix.
The frame over the cockpit had been derided as the “thong” because it looked more like something you would put on your feet.
Drivers didn’t like it and in a test situation Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas took nearly 10 seconds to escape from the cockpit instead of the seven seconds that was the maximum previously stipulated by the FIA.
There was more than a chance that drivers would have more than their pants singed in the case of a fire.
The thong looked ugly over the traditional open cockpits and there were concerns it could affect a driver’s vision because of the centre strut.
The name caught on, with Brazilian flip-flop manufacturer Havainas sponsoring its name on Force India cars.
Now everyone is singing hymns of praise to the halo after the chaos running down to the first corner of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.
It started when Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg braked too late, locking up all four wheels and ramming Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
The Spaniard’s car was launched over Charles Leclerc’s Sauber, out of control and trailing wreckage.
The Monegasque driver, a rising star who was being considered for a seat in the Ferrari team, may well have been decapitated.
The halo, made of titanium, can withstand the weight of a London double-decker bus, according to Mercedes, who say they had to redesign the chassis to take the extra weight.
Had the halo been in use in 2014, French F1 driver Jules Bianchi might have survived a crash in which he ran into a recovery vehicle parked at the side of the circuit in the Japanese Grand Prix.
He suffered a massive brain injury and was the first F1 driver to die in a race since the death of Ayrton Senna at San Marino in 1994.
Senna hit the wall when the steering column of his Williams sheared off where it had been cut and welded after the Brazilian triple world champion did not like the position of the wheel.
Had Senna been in a car with a halo, he might have survived when a front wheel flew into the cockpit.
In the crash in Belgium at the weekend, Alonso’s McLaren skidded across the halo on the Sauber. The damage from the impact was obvious and without the halo the impact would almost certainly have killed Leclerc.
He said after the race he had not been a “fan” of the halo when it was introduced but had definitely changed his mind.
Alonso also said the halo probably saved Leclerc’s life.
The chaos at Spa as the cars raced into the first corner claimed other victims, but again the damage was to the cars and not the drivers.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo was hit from behind, which in turn pushed him into Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, puncturing one of the Kimster’s tyres and sending him back to the pit with rubber flapping.
Ricciardo had front and rear wings replaced and was a lap down when the race resumed after the debris was cleared and the safety car released the pack.
The Honey Badger had a miserable weekend at Spa. “My rear wing was pretty much ripped off and the mechanics tried to get me back out with a new wing before we went a lap down,” said Ricciardo.
“We just missed that, but they did all they could. We couldn’t just keep racing and hoping until the end, so we chose to retire with 14 laps remaining to save mileage on the engine and gearbox.
“We overtook quite a few cars, but we weren’t really that fast and we were just circulating.
“Just one of those Sundays I guess. A lot of people would love my bad days, but there you go. We will try again in Italy.”
Ricciardo and Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen were seventh and eighth on the grid, with the Dutch driver less than two hundredths of a second in front of Ricciardo.
The Ferrari of eventual winner Sebastian Vettel and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton easily outpaced the rest of the field with Verstappen third in front of Bottas and the Force India cars of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
They were followed by Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for Haas.
Red Bull usually manage to qualify behind Mercedes and Ferrari but were caught out when the rain stopped at the end of qualifying.
They had not changed to slicks and were without enough fuel to run a dry lap.
French driver Pierre Gasly in Red Bull’s feeder team, Toro Rosso, finished ninth ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the Ferrari-engined Sauber.
This was significant because Gasly in the Honda-powered Torro Rosso was able to match the Sauber in the closing laps, which indicates an improvement in the Honda engines.
Red Bull’s change from Renault to Honda engines next year is one of the reasons Ricciardo made his shock move to the works Renault team.
He had been expected to drive for either Mercedes or Ferrari if Valtteri Bottas was not given a contract extension and Kimi Raikkonen retired.
But the Ice Man has decided to stay on and Bottas got another 12 months.
Ricciardo was offered a reported US$20 million a year to drive for McLaren, which dropped Honda engines for Renault power.
However, the Japanese manufacturer, which once dominated F1, may have found more pace.
Ricciardo’s quest for a car that can win him a world championship doesn’t look the no-brainer it once did.
Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul admits it could take more than a couple of seasons before their cars are in a position to win a world championship and Ricciardo turns 30 next year.
The first Grand Prix of the season at Albert Park will see Ricciardo line up in a Renault for the first time.
Max Verstappen will be in a Honda-powered Red Bull. Who would have thought it? It will be the most interesting start to a season for years.
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.