F1 frontline with Mark Hughes

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Why has the recently postponed cockpit halo proven to be so much more emotive for fans than pretty much all previous safety advances in Formula 1? There’s probably a ‘last straw’ element to it, but it actually runs deeper than that. For a very long time there has been a disconnect between what the sport sells and what the reality is. For many, F1 is an escape from the humdrum; gladiators wheel-to-wheel in a high adrenaline, dangerous game, walking the tightrope between glory and devastation. It’s not that people want to see death and injury. But they like to think they are watching a competition where the drivers are aware of that level of peril hanging over them – but choosing to do it anyway. It’s an appealing, romantic rejection of the safety and blandness of everyday modern life. 

Now think about the sport’s major safety advances of the past few decades – car construction and materials, track design, self-sealing fuel valves etc – and they have not radically altered the look of the sport to the casual fan. He can still kid himself he’s watching that romantic narrative in his mind play out. 

But the halo cannot be ignored. It’s right there, a hideous-looking thing, a visual suggestion that the element of danger that has always been implicit is no longer there, a visible trigger that’s made it impossible to ignore the creeping safety-led homogenisation. It’s a stark reminder that the driver is now performing on a tightrope that’s only a few feet above the ground. He may be every bit as on the limit (in qualifying at least) as drivers have ever been, and actually probably even more. But with relatively little jeopardy. That has been the case for some time – but the halo visually insists the spectator acknowledges this, wakes him from his beautiful dream.  

Yet from the inside it’s not like this. From inside the cockpit it can still feel plenty real and dangerous. Jules Bianchi, Justin Wilson, Henry Surtees were all racing in the so-called ‘safety’ era, but are gone regardless. Like all F1 drivers from any time in history, they are not doing it from the perspective of how it was for their predecessors. Just like them, they are trying to minimise the inherent dangers with the best available knowledge and technology. That used to be cork helmets. Now it isn’t. It isn’t the fault of current drivers that the knowledge and technology have moved on to the point where it’s presenting the sport with a stark choice. “This would be the first time in the sport’s history it has chosen to ignore a safety advance,” says the GPDA chairman Alex Wurz.

Right there is the choice facing the sport. Technology is forcing it to acknowledge a disconnect that it has not previously even been aware of. The drivers, living in the very vivid reality of the cockpit, can’t relate to much of the fanbase’s perception of what the sport is – and even if they were aware would consider it a fantasy. The fans in turn cannot relate to how it really is for the drivers. Left in the middle is the guy trying to sell the show. So although it was presented as ‘The halo has been postponed for a year while it’s more thoroughly tested’, the suspicion is that the strong fan backlash is what was behind Bernie Ecclestone swaying things away from the halo’s 2017 introduction at the recent strategy group meeting. Only days before, the FIA had made a presentation to the drivers saying the halo was up and running, ready to go.      

That same disconnect between how the sport transmits its image and what fans wants to believe they are watching is also behind why radio transmissions became such an emotive subject. The fans, understandably, did not want to hear drivers being instructed by engineers on how to drive. Hence the radio restrictions. But the fans didn’t like the resultant loss of ‘colour’ on the radio, the emotive, adrenaline-soaked stuff direct from the heat of battle. Furthermore, it was plainly ridiculous that a team could not tell its driver how to get around a safety issue. So – again driven by the fan backlash – radio restrictions have been removed. Driver coaching has returned through the back door in a classic case of ‘be careful what you ask for’. The difference this time is that you won’t hear it – because controller FOM will not be putting it out, as the broadcasters get only the messages deemed suitable by ‘the management’. 

It’s too easy to stand back and rubbish such developments. They have arisen organically as technology and commerce have arrived at a point where choices need to be made. For the moment, F1 has deferred asking itself the fundamental questions and has merely attended to appearances. But now the disconnect is finally apparent to everyone, the sport can be better informed in its future choices.

Related articles

Related products