Sebastian Vettel cited the death of British driver Justin Wilson as reason why the halo, Formula One’s controversial cockpit safety device which will become mandatory next year, must be introduced.
Following a meeting of the sport’s major players in Geneva earlier this month, the FIA revealed it has given the go-ahead to introduce the device.
The halo, with its three prongs which runs at approximately head height around the cockpit, is designed to protect the driver from flying debris.
The FIA’s bid to improve head protection accelerated after the deaths of Henry Surtees – the son of Britain’s 1964 world champion John Surtees – during a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch in 2009, and Wilson, who was competing in an IndyCar event in the summer of 2015. Both drivers were killed after they were struck on the head by car parts from other accidents.
Jules Bianchi also became the first F1 driver to die following injuries sustained at a grand prix weekend since Ayrton Senna in 1994 after he crashed into a tractor at Suzuka nearly three years ago. The halo, however, would not have saved his life.
The halo has courted criticism for its aesthetics, and the paddock was split here in Budapest. Britain’s Jolyon Palmer blasted its impending introduction as the “end of Formula One as we know it”, while Kevin Magnussen, the Danish driver who raced alongside Jenson Button at McLaren, said “if it looks s***, it is s***”. Red Bull teenager Max Verstappen and Frenchman Romain Grosjean also voiced their concerns.
But Vettel, a staunch advocate of improved safety and the director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said: “I can understand why people say it does not belong on a Formula One car, but on the other hand times are changing and we are moving forward. It should be very clear for everyone and it shouldn’t be a doubt in your mind to use it or not.
“Offer the halo to Justin Wilson, and he would take it and we would all be happy to take it to help save his life. You can’t turn back the clock but in knowing that something is there which helps us to save others would be ignorant and stupid to ignore it.”
Lewis Hamilton described the halo, which was first trialled in pre-season testing last year, as the “worst-looking modification’’ in the sport’s history.
But Hamilton, who trails Vettel by one point following his fantastic victory at Silverstone a fortnight ago, has since changed his stance.
“They told us that in using the halo there was a 17 per cent improvement in our safety, and it is difficult to ignore that,” he said.
“It definitely does not look good. We already know that, but when you think about the things that have happened with drivers getting hit on the head, it is crazy that we are still vulnerable. Our head is the most precious part on the body and it is exposed. I don’t argue against the halo.”
The device, which weighs nine kilograms and will be made by one company, was tested by all ten teams at different stages last year.