The huge accident suffered by Fernando Alonso at the Australian Grand Prix has been used by some as an illustration of why increased cockpit head protection in Formula 1 is a bad idea.

It was the exact opposite.

The issue raised was the potential problems that a driver might have in getting out of an upturned car if it was fitted with a device such as the “halo” that is planned for introduction in 2017.

To my mind, the accident was very strong evidence as to why it is vital for F1 to keep working on cockpit safety.

First of all, it is important to say that a driver can get out of the car with the halo fitted – it has been specifically designed that way.

In fact, the scariest aspect of Alonso’s accident was how close the car was to the wall when it came to rest upside down – and by extension how close his head came to hitting it.

So any structure that further protects the driver’s head in that scenario, or any other in which an object could hit it, has got to be a good thing.

This is not a dissimilar situation to the accident that killed Brazilian Marco Campos in a Formula 3000 race at Magny-Cours in 1994. His car flipped and landed upside down on the concrete wall beside the track.

Even if a driver was stuck in an upturned car as a result of having extra protection, it is much better to wait and be extracted correctly by the appropriate medically trained people than to have a serious head injury.

In many ways, the halo is the logical extension of all the development on head and neck safety in recent years.

The Head and Neck Safety (Hans) device that protects the driver’s neck from extreme movements did not make getting out of the car any easier. Nor do high cockpit sides.

And yet the drivers found ways of getting out anyway in the time required by regulations.

We find solutions to problems, but ultimately the focus has to be on the safety advantage over the potential negatives.

Gaston Wabomba
Extreme Outdoors Africa


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