In October of 2014, Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi collided with a recovery vehicle during the Japanese Grand Prix and suffered a severed head injury. This left the driver in a coma until is passed away in July 2015. Despite the FIA finding that Bianchi’s driving prior to the incident was partly to blame, Formula 1 drivers demand better head protection and the idea of closed cockpits was once again raised.
One month after Bianchi’s death, IndyCar driver Justin Wilson was struck on the head by debris at Pocono Raceway and passed away the following day.
Grand Prix Drivers’ Association chairman Alexander Wurz told the BBC today that F1 drivers have unanimously agreed on the “swift implementation” of head protection. “The research the FIA experts have done is very thorough and the process has brought forward a clear solution” Wurz is quoted as saying. “Now the drivers feel it’s time to implement the extra protection at the latest in 2017.”
One of the options discussed was a ‘halo” type system which would be fitted to the chassis above the drivers head in a bit to help prevent serious head injury in the event of an accident. The exact details of how this system would operate are sketchy but it is understood than many Formula 1 drivers demand better head protection to be ready for the 2017 season.
A mixed reaction from Formula 1 fans
While it’s safe to say that no one wants to see drivers injured there are many Formula 1 fans who consider the move into covered or closed cockpits as a move away from single-seater motor racing.
“Single seater motor racing is dangerous and this is the risk the drivers take. If they cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. As much of a tragedy the recent fatalities were, Formula One will only ever be Formula One with open cockpits“ said one fan.
Another said: “Drivers that want a roof over their heads can drive sports cars, DTM, BTCC, NASCAR – there are plenty of tin top series. Give your F1 seat to someone who accepts the very slim risk.”
However, some fans were more open to the idea of introducing a halo system, such as this gentleman:
“A lot of the comments I’ve read on here are quite frankly disgusting! When the hell did my favourite sport develop as it’s main selling point ‘people can die’? If you don’t want to watch a sport that has been focused on safety for decades, don’t watch F1.”
“F1 has been responsible for, and has had a major input into, so many modern safety innovations; ABS, traction control, improved helmet design, understanding of crash structures and crumple zones, fireproof clothing, I could go on for a while… “
It seems the subject of closed or enclosed Formula 1 cockpits is set to continue to divide fans of the sport for a long time yet.
Lewis Hamilton was greatly overshadowed by his teammate Nico Rosberg by the end of the season 2015 despite being crown 2015 World Champion. Rosberg would win the final 3 races of the 2015 season but more importantly would out-qualify Hamilton for the last six races. In fact, Hamilton wouldn’t start a race from Pole Position after the Italian Grand Prix a race in weekend in which both Hamilton and Rosberg would be out-qualified by four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Despite starting the 2015 season extremely well, Hamilton didn’t qualify in Pole Position for the last 7 races. Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg made huge strides. He understood he was losing from poor qualifying performances and he did something about it.
Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes was more luck than judgement
When Hamilton announced he was moving from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to Mercedes GP many fans of the sport were surprised. At the time, Mercedes GP were struggling to gain the points and drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were less than impressive in terms of point scoring. However, Lewis Hamilton had been dogged with reliability issues at McLaren (and sheer bad luck) and felt that a change was needed. There were few options available to him (Vettel had already moved to the beleaguered Scuderria Ferrari the year before) and Red Bull had no space due to their Toro Rosso driver development project. This meant that Mercedes was Hamilton’s only real option.
Hamilton, like Vettel before him, understood that engine manufacturer teams would have an upper hand on development due to the change in regulations – a move which would prove to be prudent by both drivers – but this was only skeptical. At the time, Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate Jenson Button said “it is his decision, although I personally don’t think it is the right decision”. As it turned out Button was wrong and McLaren would face some of it’s darkest times in Formula 1.
It’s also fair to say the Hamilton was equally surprised by the performance of the 2014 Mercedes F1 Car. His change of attitude – from sulky McLaren driver to enthusiastic Mercedes driver – was clear for all to see.
Why 2016 will be tough for Hamilton
We know from his final performances in the 2015 season that Nico Rosberg is at the top of his game. We also know that changes made by Mercedes to the 2015 car didn’t suit Hamilton. Unless the Mercedes GP team have been able to make changes to the car to suit Hamilton over winter testing, he may return to the 2016 with a lack of confidence in his car. Rosberg, however, will enter the season knowing that he was able to gain on Hamilton very quickly and that he also has faith in the chassis. Rosberg’s demonstration of power will doubtlessly play on the mind of Lewis Hamilton and Hamilton has demonstrated on numerous occasions that he can’t focus when his mind isn’t on the track.
Sebastian Vettel is waiting to strike
Despite winning four World Driver Championships with Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel is desperate to prove to the world that he can become the champion again. Most importantly for Vettel that win must come with another team; and there’s no team he hold closer to his heart than Scuderia Ferrari.
Vettel has shown that he is a determined to push as hard has it’s required to score points and to move ever closer in history to his idol Michael Schumacher. Vettel’s win at the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix was the first for Ferrari in a very long time and the emotion was very clear from both driver and team.
Ferrari have made huge strides since employing Vettel. Vettel is not only a naturally gifted driver but technical, also. He will study every corner, every braking point and every gear change. Since becoming a father he has also matured into more of a team player than perhaps he was at Red Bull. In addition, he has gained may new fans since his days with Red Bull. Overall he looks relaxed and very focused.
Vettel is definitely the man to watch in 2016 and if Ferrari have managed to improve their chassis and power unit over winter testing he may be a real thorn in the side of Hamilton. Coupled with a very focused and determined Nico Rosberg and the 2016 season is likely to be the most difficult season of Lewis Hamilton’s career.
Rosberg is at the top of his game
As the 2015 season drew to an end, Nico Rosberg left the season feeling confident. He appears to have sorted his qualifying pace and his race pace is also impressive. He is as eager as ever to win a WDC and if he fails to do so know this could be his last season with Mercedes.
Watch out for Williams
Given that Williams have been provided power-plants from Mercedes, and also considering the technical expertise and experience they have, the team should be gaining more podiums than they are. Expect to see more podium finishes from Williams in 2016, failing which expect to see two new seats available for the 2017 season. Both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are going to be under pressure to save their seats this year.
Sad times for Alonso and Button
As a life-long Mclaren fan I was very disappointed to see Alonso and Jenson unable to fit the top teams for points. My real pity with Alonso who is arguably one of the most talented drivers on the current Formula One grid but who was unable to get the title he so badly wanted with Ferrari. Despite Mclaren claiming they had made a “huge horsepower boost” over the Winter break, the team was quick to cool the story down. It’s looking like another sad year for Mclaren fans which could become even worse if Honda decide to pull their investment in the sport.