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Crofty Blog – Hungary 2017

Hungary 17 - Grid resizeWell, it was quite an interesting few days in Hungary. From the talk of safety and the Halo device, to Paul Di Resta’s dramatic late call up, team orders, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg’s spat after the race and Ferrari’s one-two, that sent them off on their holidays with a massive smile on their faces and, for Sebastian Vettel, the perfect response to the woes of Silverstone.

Let’s start with the Halo, the preferred choice of the FIA when it comes to driver head protection from next season onwards. Three devices were tried out, but the Aeroscreen and the Shield had issues with visibility and overall protection, so the FIA chose to implement a device that,  by general consensus, looks about as attractive as on old flip flop and stinks in equal measure.

For starters though, I’m not totally swayed by the aesthetics argument. Yes, we want Formula 1 cars to look good.  Max Verstappen made the point that with the Halo on, he wasn’t excited by his car and Kevin Magnussen went one step further in saying that if it looks bad, it is bad. But what we’ve seen so far, according to the FIA, isn’t going to exactly replicate the finished article. So let’s reserve judgement on that one.

The trouble with the Halo is that when you look at various incidents over recent years, David Coulthard riding over the top of Alex Wurz in Melbourne, Fernando Alonso on the opening lap in Austria doing a similar thing to Kimi Raikkonen, and Ernesto Viso in GP2 back in 2007 when he rode along the concrete wall upside down, to name but three, often driver safety would have been enhanced had the Halo been in place.

The governing body explained their decision in this article and whilst I’m not going to go into too many specifics right now, I will say this for starters, the briefing that the FIA gave to the journalists on Thursday in Hungary, could and should have been given a lot sooner. That way we could relay the information to the fans so that you could have more facts available to help you formulate your opinions. Still, better late than never on that one.

I understand that you won’t ever totally eradicate the danger involved in motor racing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways of making the risks reduce. Once upon a time we didn’t have seatbelts and crash helmets but did their introduction really spoil the spectacle? Of course not and whilst that might be an extreme argument in this case, hopefully you take my point.

However, Damon Hill made an excellent point in his piece on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday when he questioned whether “a life without risk was worth living?” I understand that point too but, as a governing body, aren’t the FIA obligated to reduce those risks as best they can?

Personally, I’d like to see the tracks less sanitised in the future. Remove the endless tarmac run off areas, bring back gravel or closer barriers, challenge the drivers, punish mistakes and create excitement with it. Sounds simplistic and I’m sure there are plenty that would tell me that it’s impossible to do so, but if the perception is that the racing is less exciting because it’s less dangerous, let’s try and reverse that perception without increasing that danger on the drivers. Nobody wants them to get hurt, right? I think we’re all in agreement on that.

I was asked a lot on social media what my view on the Halo really is? And honestly, I’m still very much sitting on the fence. I can see the arguments on both sides.  But what is totally clear is that now the horse has bolted so to speak, now the genie is out of the bottle, it’s impossible to reverse the process. Talk of drivers making the choice on their own is folly, I’m afraid, and whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to accept some form of increased cockpit protection in the future.

And there was Paul Di Resta, ready to put forward his views on Halo over the weekend, when suddenly Felipe Massa started feeling dizzy and unwell. So a day that started with him ironing his shirt in the Sky office, ended with him qualifying for the race, and what a top job he did. P19 might not look like a good performance on the face of it, but given that he’d never driven this car before and hadn’t taken part in an F1 qualifying session for 1344 days, I thought he did brilliantly. As he did in the race too, keeping out of trouble and almost getting the car home, before a mechanical problem ended his day a few laps early. I’ve had the pleasure of standing alongside Paul in a commentary box, he’s a top bloke, but I’ve also watched every one of his 59 Grands Prix, and even before this weekend, I believed he should still be racing in F1. Whether his super-sub exploits will get him the nod again, we’ll have to wait and see. But I hope, at least, it made a few team bosses stand up and take notice.

Hungary 17 - resizeSo, with Martin Brundle recovering on the couch at home – and sending text messages throughout the race, which were gratefully received – up stepped Anthony Davidson to share the commentary duties. We hadn’t called a race together since Brazil 2011 and it was lovely to roll back the years and talk about a race that, let’s face it, was short on overtaking excitement, but still threw up plenty of talking points. Not least, whether Lewis would catch the two Ferraris and, if not, whether he’d move over and let his team mate back past if he couldn’t.

Firstly, it was brilliantly executed.  There was a real chance that Verstappen could have blasted by both as Lewis slowed to give Valtteri back his 3rd place. Staging it at the final corner was the only place they could really have done it.

Secondly, I didn’t think that Lewis would refuse to comply with the order. It may have cost him 3 points this weekend, but in the future, he can expect Valtteri to return the favour should the Finn be out of the title race, and that help he may need because Ferrari aren’t finished yet. Mercedes dominated Silverstone, Ferrari dominated Hungary, and let’s hope that both teams remain neck and neck all the way to the final race. There’s no reason to think it won’t be like this. One more point on Ferrari, I can understand why Kimi was getting a tad uncomfortable behind his team mate and with Lewis closing so fast but, had he been let by, then Seb would have been vulnerable to both Mercedes and the eventual one-two might have ended up as a one-four. Ferrari did the right thing.

Meanwhile, with Fernando taking up the deck chair option a few days early, the summer break is nearly upon us. It’s clear that Kevin and Nico won’t be sharing a beach during August. I loved Kevin’s line in the pen, he started the weekend in outspoken fashion and ended it that way too. You could argue that he was rude, but given that he was penalised for running Nico off the road and the German didn’t get a penalty at all for barging Magnussen’s team mate Romain Grosjean earlier in the race, you can understand the frustrations. And if Nico did go to the Stewards to ask for a tougher penalty, as has been claimed, then maybe he got the response he deserved.

Have a happy summer everybody.

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