The final leg of winter testing ended ahead of the 2016 Formula One season, with teams testing pace, mileage and tyre wear at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Scuderia Ferrari, who last year struggled to match the raw power of Mercedes, a fact team principal Maurizio Arrivabene publicly acknowledged, have this year shown immense promise, with a more aerodynamic car, a stronger engine and success for both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen on softs and supersofts – a promising sign for a historic team that looked in 2015 to be somewhat of a straggler.
That was not the only thing new about their cars.
Motorsport governing body FIA have been looking to improve safety since the tragic deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson in 2015, both from head injuries. Bianchi was in a serious accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, leaving him with a diffuse axonal injury and comatose until his death in July the following year.
Formula One had not seen a death as a result of on-track injuries since the tragic passing of 3-time World Champion Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. With a spate of deaths in a relatively short period of time, the FIA accelerated its efforts to improve driver safety.
At winter testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Kimi Raikkonen was the first to debut the halo, which features a three-dimensional T-shaped bracket that envelops the area in front of the driver’s head and around it, hence the name.
The halo attracted ire and derision from several fans, but among its biggest detractors were a minority of F1 drivers themselves. Force India driver and World Endurance Championship winner Nico Hulkenberg was the most vocal, describing the halo as “horrible,” imploring to bosses to “…..(don’t) do it.”
He vouched for the safety of the current Formula One system, saying the halo “...sends the wrong message, F1 is very safe at the moment.”
The German also said he believed it would “sanitize” the sport, removing the element of danger that he feels contributes to the excitement.
Felipe Massa agreed with Hulkenberg in that the halo was not aesthetically pleasing, but was necessary for safety. "Safety is the most important thing and I totally agree with the halo or the closed cockpits or whatever - I agree with this change. But it does't look very nice. We'll see how it's going to be. If it's good for the safety, it's fine,” he told assembled press following the first testing session.
Valtteri Bottas speaks to Sportskeeda
Massa’s teammate Valtteri Bottas echoed his teammate’s sentiments, telling us that while he thought it was “not very nice” to look at, it was essential. “It’s necessary for safety,” he said, and was among a host of other drivers who supported the concept.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo also called it a good move, while Raikkonen, in typical fashion, said it was “okay.”
His Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel was another supporter of the halo, saying he felt the aesthetics did not matter given the significant improvements to driver safety it brought. The German 4-time champion agreed with his colleagues in that the halo was not pleasing to look at, “...but if it helps increase the safety and helps save lives, there would be at least two drivers who would still be around - Henry Surtees and Justin Wilson - if we had this type of system.”
"It can be ugly but nothing justifies not having these two guys around any more.”
Former Red Bull executive Mark Gallagher speaks
Former executive with Jordan Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing and Cosworth, Gallagher has worked with some of the best teams in the business, and also expressed faith in the system. He did not believe closed cockpits were the answer, and unlike several critics of the halo system, he believed it would not present any serious issues to visibility.
Gallagher said while he did not necessarily agree entirely with Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton, both of whom did not want the halo to be introduced, he saw where they were coming from and why they were against it.
Describing the safety improvements as ‘necessary,’ he spoke in further detail on the issue in an exclusive interview to be published shortly.
The year-opening Australian Grand Prix weekend flags off on the 18th of March in Albert Park, Melbourne.