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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.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).