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The Crofty Blog – Russia 2016

Ferrari had trialled the flip flop looking ‘Halo’ device in testing, now it was time for Red Bull to show their idea to the world.

There was a rather large gathering of TV crews and photographers outside the Red Bull garage as the clock ticked to 10am in Sochi last Friday morning. You could tell where the initial story was for the first practice session, even if you hadn’t been keeping an eye across the various Motorsport websites in the previous 24 hours.

The Crofty Blog - Russia 2016

Daniel Ricciardo was due to go out and complete one installation lap, a lap where all the systems would be checked on his car to make sure it was in working order, before getting on with the rest of his programme for the session. But his car would have one key addition for this lap, the Red Bull ‘Aeroscreen’ or canopy to the likes of you and me.

As Formula 1® raced on the date of Sunday 1st May for the first time since the San Marino Grand Prix at Iola in 1994, where we tragically lost both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in the space of 24 horrific hours, driver safety was thrust very much into the spot light.

Ferrari had trialed the flip flop looking ‘Halo’ device in testing, now it was time for Red Bull to show their idea to the world.

And if we’re talking aesthetics I liked it, well I liked it way more than the ‘Halo’ anyway. It had a futuristic feel to it and didn’t jar visually with me. But aesthetics aren’t really what this subject is all about and let’s face it, how many times do we originally not like the look of a Formula 1 car after a regulation change, only to not even think about it a few races later?

This subject is way more important than looks alone, it’s something that will dramatically change the nature of Formula 1® and open cockpit racing for the future and as you’d expect, has attracted a massive response and as diverse a range of views as I think you could ever have. It’s a sensitive issue and its right that the FIA have to look into how drivers are better protected.

The FIA are certainly concerned about the number of head injuries that have occurred in recent times in open cockpit racing, which has led to this push for increased head protection.

The drivers themselves have had their say on the matter, it is only right, as they are the ones that take the risks week in week out for our entertainment. As far as I’m aware, amongst the 22 drivers on the F1® grid currently, there’s a pretty even split between those that want to see some sort of canopy/halo introduced and those that aren’t in favour.

In an emotive debate it’s hard to disagree with the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, who ran the Aeroscreen in Sochi, when he says that if it saves even one life in the next 20 years then “you’re going to take it”.

But by the same token, when Lewis Hamilton speaks about the excitement of watching Formula 1® knowing that the sport is dangerous and that every time he gets into his car “there is a danger and that has been the same since I started, when I was 8 years old.” You can understand his point. Hamilton went on to add that it “was a risk he was willing to take and every single driver that has ever got into a car was willing to take too.”

Maybe there are some that aren’t willing to take that risk any more, not if there was a way of reducing that risk. But is the perceived element of danger one of the big attractions of a sport like Formula 1®? That danger has helped make heroes of drivers throughout the years, however sadly, way too many of those drivers aren’t with us today to enjoy the exploits of their modern day counterparts, because for way too many years, safety wasn’t on the agenda.

But certainly since that day at Imola in 1994 it’s been at the forefront of the FIA’s mind and great advances have been made, many of which have had little impact on our perception of the sport we love. But the canopy idea will, F1® will no longer be open cockpit racing and for some that is a difficult concept to agree with.

The canopy of course comes with a number of associated issues, not least that it would drastically affect the aerodynamics and cooling of the cars themselves, which is why Ricciardo was only able to run one installation lap last week.

What if the windscreen gets covered in oil or bugs and affects the drivers’ vision? What happens if it rains, what about glare from the floodlights at night races or from the sun during the day? Will it hinder a driver trying to climb out of the car after an accident and why stop at an Aeroscreen?Why not bring in a full canopy that totally protects the drivers head? I’ve heard all these questions and more and as yet nobody has answers to all of them, which is why further tests are scheduled for the summer, absolutely essential as this cannot be a rush job.

The Crofty Blog - Russia 2016

As a fan of Formula 1® I want to see the drivers displaying their skills on the track. Absolutely evident of course when you look at what that car is doing. But I also like to see the driver in the cockpit and appreciate because I can see it, the effort it takes to produce the end result of whatever move they’re trying to make. Go back 30 years and you could see way more of the driver in the cockpit then, but as safety improvements have been implemented the driver is now lower down and better insulated from the dangers around them.

Does this diminish our enjoyment of the sport as a result of the risks being lessened? Not at the moment it doesn’t, but if the driver sits behind or even underneath a canopy, some would argue that it could. That certainly seems to be an argument put forward by many in the F1® Paddock but on the other hand, the safety rationale is difficult, if not impossible to ignore.

Nobody is suggesting that a canopy would have saved the life of Jules Bianchi; sadly, it wouldn’t, had there not been a tractor by the side of the track at that moment in Suzuka, chances are Jules would still be with us. As a result of that day the Virtual Safety Car has now been implemented to slow drivers down when cars are being removed from the side of the circuit, with safety regulations that will help prevent another tragedy like that, the sport acted to prevent another tragedy. If it was right to do that, and of course it was, maybe the canopy idea is one that can’t be ignored?

The debate will continue and the feeling is that it’s a case of when, and not if, a canopy or halo will become part of a modern day Formula 1® car. Motorsport will continue to be dangerous, those that run it will continue to do whatever they can to ensure that it doesn’t have to be deadly as well.

Take a look at what the canopy looked like here.

The Crofty Blog – Spain 2016

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