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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.”

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

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“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).