Davidson: Halo cockpit protection ‘not ideal’ but ‘the best solution’ for F1

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Former Formula 1 driver Anthony Davidson has called the proposed ‘halo’ cockpit protection design “not ideal” but “the best solution” after testing a prototype to aid the drive for improved safety standards.

Following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson as a result of head injuries sustained while racing, driver safety has been in the spotlight once again with a particular focus on cockpit design.

Many have called for single-seaters to switch to closed cockpits to offer drivers more protection, with Grand Prix Drivers’ Association Alexander Wurz telling MotorSportsTalk last year that they were the most logical solution.

As talks continue regarding the updated technical regulations in F1 for the 2017 season, cockpit safety is on the agenda once again with a number of different designs being put forward and tested.

One such prototype has been dubbed the ‘halo’ as designed by Mercedes, featuring a structure around the cockpit area that would protect drivers’ heads from errant objects such as large pieces of debris or loose wheels.

The halo’s biggest drawback is the limit it may place on vision in the car, featuring a central pillar that holds up the structure directly in the centre of the driver’s eyeline.

It is believed that this concept is the front-runner for any implementation of additional cockpit protection for 2017, and was up for discussion at a meeting between the F1 teams in England this week.

The halo design has been tested in a simulator by Davidson, who currently races with Toyota in the FIA World Endurance Championship where closed cockpits are used in LMP1 (pictured).

Speaking to NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton after testing the halo design on a simulator, Davidson said that the biggest issue was the more limited peripheral vision while in the cockpit.

“Side vision doesn’t seem to be too different at all compared to what the drivers would be used to, but the version that I tried had a central fin or post,” Davidson said.

“I think a lot of the teams have been working on that in conjunction with the FIA to come up with the best solution. It’s not ideal. It really is not an ideal solution and it’s never going to be.

“As I’ve said before, the more you try and increase protection for the safety of drivers, the flipside is you suffer with visibility and the central post is, honestly, like a big aerial sticking up in many ways which the drivers already have to deal with. It is a distraction.

“I found that actually in cornering, that was the one time you could forget about it. It was on the straights and looking at things on the horizon straight ahead of you, like trying to pick out an early braking marker board, I found that it sometimes would obscure the view.

“Actually in the corner, in the apex, looking for the kerbs and picking out the details you normally look for, that didn’t change at all. I was quite relieved about that. It was more just straight ahead.

“Obviously one thing you can’t account for in the virtual world is what it’s going to be like in close combat with another car, when you’re completely behind them. I don’t know. But that’s going to be another challenge I think.”

However, Davidson thinks that the halo design is still the best answer to the cockpit safety question for the time being, believing it will make a big difference.

“I think in terms of it making an object deflect and bounce away, it is always going to do a better job than being there in an open cockpit car with just your helmet,” Davidson said.

“I can see why they are making steps to try and solve that problem. In trying to keep it in keeping with an open cockpit solution. They’re trying to tick every box and in a way it is an impossible task to please everyone.

“Aesthetically it’s not going to look as pretty as an open cockpit car. Visibility is not going to be as good as not having one in the first place, but the argument against it doesn’t really hold, I think. You have to accept it because it can’t carry on the way it has been with drivers dying because of a blow to the head.

“Through lots of thought you come to a conclusion that there is no easy solution. But for now, this seems to be the best compromise.”