Head protection systems and halos – F1’s stickiest situation

You have probably heard the news a few days ago that the motorsport governing body, the FIA have introduced the halo head protection system for the 2018 Formula One season.

A halo? You are probably thinking the multi-million best-selling XBOX video game series from Microsoft Studios. Wrong concept, it’s not the the video game but the controversial head protection system that has divided F1 teams and drivers alike for a few years.

After the freak accident Jules Bianchi had at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix which led to his death two years ago on the 17 July 2015. Motorsport has had to come with terms with making the sport safer, but I cannot help but feel the FIA and the sport itself are putting themselves in a uncomfortable situation with head protection systems.

Ferrari halo 2016

Credit: AutoCar

I can understand why drivers and teams not just in F1, but in other racing categories such as IndyCar are for and against with head protection systems to avoid similar accidents such as Felipe Massa at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix and the late Justin Wilson at the 2015 Pocono 500. However, it runs the risk of turning off a generation of new F1 fans who would want to make a career as a racing driver in single-seaters.

I was fascinated by F1 through free-to-air television and the speed and danger it was conveying when I first followed the sport in 1999. But with the exclusive deal Sky Sports has for 2019 with F1 in a five-year deal, that following of new fans is only going to dwindle as the sport moves from free-to-air to pay-TV. Implementing the halo may further signal an exodus of potential F1 fans from following the leading single-seater series.

One article by Motorsport.com’s Jonathan Noble highlights about F1 needing to change its approach to video games to attract new fans, but its nothing more than putting sticking plasters to a developing problem. It’s a solution and a start to attract those non-motorsport fans, but there needs to be more continuity from Liberty Media and F1 to push that in the right direction which is what it did with the F1 Live event in London to promote the motorsport industry and this year’s British Grand Prix.

Also, at this year’s British Grand Prix saw the introduction of the alternative head protection system, the shield. Current Drivers’ Championship leader Sebastian Vettel had a go in the shield in his Ferrari but finished one lap in Friday Practice as he complained of dizziness.

Ferrari shield 2017 British GP

Credit: Sky Sports

Most team bosses and drivers such as Christian Horner said that it needed more work and I would agree on that point. If the FIA are rushing for a head protection system for the 2018 F1 season by implementing the halo, then give it time to formulate a workable solution than flog something that will potentially risk a driver’s life.

To conclude where I stand on this never-ending issue of head protection in motorsport is the fact that motorsport is inherently dangerous, it always has been. You never see MotoGP or World Superbike riders ask for protection systems but they still race in the open air and get on with the racing.

The FIA has put itself in a situation that is so sticky that it risks alienating old and new generations alike with following the sport we all so love. It remains to be seen what could happen in the next few months to see whether the halo is more than just a “flip flop” device.

Pictures credited to Sky Sports and AutoCar.

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