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

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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.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).