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F1 drivers don’t like the halo, but have gotten used to it


MADRID (AP) Formula One drivers haven’t hidden their disdain for the “halo,” the new protective cockpit device that is mandatory this season.

They quickly got used to it, though, and the season will start in Australia in three weeks with few complaints about the odd-looking shield implemented to improve safety.

Most say that, as ugly as the halo may look, it won’t cause a major impact on racing.

“I’m not going to lie, I don’t like it,” Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly said. “But that’s what we have. And honestly, when you drive, you don’t really see it. You are paying attention to other things, so it doesn’t disturb you at all.”

Some drivers tested the halo last year, but this week’s preseason testing – which ended Thursday – in Barcelona, Spain, gave them a first real look at what to expect from driving with the new device.

“When you are sitting there you only see the center pillar and a small part of the wider one, but you are not looking there anyway. It’s a small thing in the middle and that’s it, I’m completely used to it and it’s fine,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said. “It took a little bit of time to get used to it but its OK. It’s not been disturbing anything.”

The halo brings the biggest change to F1 this season, significantly altering the cars’ design with a ring going on top of the cockpit to protect the drivers’ heads.

Purists loudly complained when the introduction of the halo was announced, saying it altered the essence of the open-wheel series.

“I’m not impressed with the whole thing,” Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said last week. “If you give me a chainsaw I would take it off. I think we need to look after the drivers’ safety but what we have implemented is aesthetically not appealing. We need to come up with a solution that simply looks better.”

Motor sports governing body FIA said the halo was the best-available option to limit the risk of head injuries like the ones that killed French driver Jules Bianchi and British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson a few years ago.

It is supposed to reduce potentially fatal impact of objects like a loose wheel, and to protect drivers from head collisions with outside elements during rollovers.

“There’s room for improvement with the halo,” Renault driver Carlos Sainz said. “Aesthetically, it’s not part of the DNA of Formula One. It’s also difficult to get in and out of the car because of it. But if it saves one life in 10 years, every person in the paddock will be grateful.”

There were concerns the halo would reduce the drivers’ visibility on the track, keeping them from seeing safety signs and flags, but after the four days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona this week, most said it wouldn’t be a major issue.

Teams also complained because the device significantly affected the cars’ balance and aerodynamics.

“It’s a massive weight on the top of the car, you screw up the center of gravity massively with that thing,” Wolff said. “As much as it’s impressive to look at the statistic that you could put a bus on top (of it), this is a Formula One car.”

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said all the series can do now is accept the halo and move on.

“Again, this is a safety device, it’s head protection for the drivers, so there should not be any debate on that, as long as it’s a safety device,” Alonso told Sky Sports. “Yeah, aesthetics aren’t the best at the moment, and in the future I’m sure that the sport and the teams will find a way to make it a little bit nicer, for the fans, and for the cars to look a little bit better.”

Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.