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Show Me A Hero...


Not content with being earthly superstars Formula One drivers are about to experience the bestowing of mass Sainthoods as they are all to receive their Halos next season.

While Vettel will be clear of competition as the Patron Saint of Potty-Mouths, I can see a season long battle between Lewis and Kimi over whom should become the Patron Saint of Ice Cool.

What we need to see is a unified step forward by all our superstars so we can see they are still heroes. Let us cast a longing eye back a year or two.

The Motorcar was the centre of chic, design, style, and adventure for the first half of its life. It was only once governments made the genius connection of protecting revenue raising on safety grounds that the motorcar became robustly hated in some social circles, and less of a celebrated cause in others. Ralf Nader was the US politician we have to thank for forcing the manufacturers to build safe cars, and at the time rightly so. Tens of millions of us owe our safe daily drives to his remarkable work. Yet this drive for safety was a double edged sword. Fun, excitement, and flare were swiftly replaced by stern messages that slower was safer, the car is a curse on our cities, and evil is the one who dares enjoy driving. All rather forgetting just how many people were killed in horse transport accidents just prior to the ascendancy of the motor vehicle. And please don't forget the curse of manure on our city streets.

Look at this picture (top right) from the early days of racing... that was cutting edge. Oh, and note how we can see the driver. Pretty much all of the driver.

We can directly observe the human drama of the driver taming the beast of a motor vehicle just as surely as one can see a show jumper on the back of a horse. The human is visually a key part of this synthesis animating the machine, giving life to its soul, and drama to the action. No need for Tweets and press releases assuring us the driver is a hero. We can plainly see that is the case. Especially so should we ever stare in awe as this beast flies down the road as a vision of furious, barely contained power and speed.

Now we jump forward to our second image (right). An exceptional picture of a 1930's Mercedes at speed. Once more the motion, the art, the sport, the hero, is captured in raw, simple beauty that demands no press release to underline the awesome feat captured on film. The heroics of this age could simply all be covered by mighty black and white photos and the phrase "No Caption Required". The spirit of heroes would seep effortlessly from the photograph and infect us all with excitement and awe.

Let's roll forward a few more years. The mighty Jack Brabham pitches his car into a brisk right hander. Somewhat more enclosed than the heroes of the past, yet the focus in Jack's face, the effort, the artistry of the gifted driver at work is there for all to see. It is a fascinating delight of human and machine working in union, but the focus is the heroic effort being expended by the driver to tame the best machinery the mind of engineers had yet developed to challenge the immutable laws of physics.

Now let our questioning eye rove over this image of Lewis similarly pitching into a brisk right hander.

Ah. Now we need the press release, the Tweet, the post qualifying interview. We need them all to paint the picture. Is Lewis dancing on the edge of the possible his entire body and mind consumed by the mighty battle with the Laws of Physics? Or is he a spring-powered Bobblehead glued into a child's remote-controlled car? Impossible to say from the picture. We have car. We have Bobblehead, sorry, helmet. And I think we have a couple of fingers cosseted within a custom racing glove.

Who stole our hero!?

Wrapped in the soothing shawl of carbon fibre. Software whispering calming words in his ear. Electronic sensors making sure no unsafe perturbation bruises his manicured hands, or feet.

Without the assurance of all those PR words it's hard to understand there is any effort captured in this photograph at all. The spirit of Black Jack, and all those other early heroes, has left the building.

But we have the noise! Oh no, that's been tamed.

We have the corners that only the fearless dare face down! Oh, no, those have been re-profiled, removed, or wrapped in the soothing influence of twined chicanes.

We have beasts roaring on the very edge of the impossible, bending but not breaking the laws of physics! Ah no, the FIA has those wild ideas all caged and under sedation thanks to an ever growing corral of rules.

We do have the Bieber generation addicted to Instagram, and able to read to the end of an entire Tweet (that's 140 characters, excluding pictures folks!). Opinion is all and fact is not worth the hunt for the truth. And the plan is to entice them with Super Bowl like wonder to an event that takes days to unfold! Would cricket be any harder to sell?

So now more than ever we need to see our heroes! We cannot connect with them if we cannot see them wrestle these beasts. We cannot see them dance on the edge of physics. We cannot hear the roar of engines our road cars can only dream about. We cannot see them risk it all to earn the title of Hero with sweat on their brow, fear in their minds, pain in their muscles, and the soul-feeding knowledge that they risked it all for the win.

So now, to further keep them safe from any danger, real, imagined, possible, or highly improbable, we will in the name of avoiding future court action, crown them with a Halo, and increase the frequency of press releases reminding Formula One fans that this is what a hero now looks like.

The pictures used to say it all. Once Halo is in place an unrelenting stream of romantic words will be required to explain all you can no longer see. Not one square centimetre of flesh will be visible. And now barely a hint of glove or glimmer of helmet. Remote-controlled Bobbleheads could fill the entire grid and no one would know. Naturally we'd use very stiff FIA approved springs to attach them, so as to avoid any nasty contact with the inside of the Halo.

Given their love of bringing the party to Formula One, how about a retro 'Blast from the Past' for the fans? Liberty could wheel Bonnie Tyler on stage to revive that Footloose wonder "Holding out for a Hero". In the song Ms. Tyler delightfully asks "Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods?", before moving on to state that she was, "...holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night."

To give context; Holding out for a Hero was written by Dean Pitchford, and Jim Steinman. Jim is best known for his songwriting with Meatloaf, with Bat out of Hell giving a poetic view of Jim's views on road safety. The lyrics of Holding out for a Hero were created in the more relaxed environment of 1980's rock, and heroes back then were allowed to be far more Jack Brabham and a lot less Ralf Nader with public blessing.

No one should be placed at serious risk for the entertainment of others, but calculated risk taking needs to be intelligently undertaken when pushing the bounds of the possible. We as a society only have ourselves to blame if what we consider an intelligent calculated risk becomes less and less of an adventure with each trip around the Sun.

Thanks to social mores and the FIA it's set to be a very long night waiting for a hero. Unless you worship Bobbleheads.

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

Picture credit: Many thanks to Brian Watson for the picture of Jack Brabham at Oulton Park in 1967. This and many others, can be perused - and bought - here.



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1. Posted by Chris Balfe (editor), 08/08/2017 12:06

"@ Steve W

The Halo wouldn't have made a blind bit of difference in the case of Cevert's crash."

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2. Posted by Steve W, 08/08/2017 11:50

"Two ways of looking at it, I suppose. I have a picture of what's left of Francois Cevert lying dead in what's left of his Tyrrell at Watkins Glen. This photo was published in the Sunday, October 7 1973 sports section of the Indianapolis Star. Hey kids, did you see that picture of that dead racing driver? OK, get dressed, we have to go to church..."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 01/08/2017 0:59

"@cricketpo - you bring a sharp focus to precisely what is driving the FIA in this instance, driver safety. And yes, beyond question safety needs to be 1, 2, and 3 on the list of priorities.

...but as you then note, is the Halo logically part of the safety answer? I'm not convinced.


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4. Posted by cricketpo, 30/07/2017 15:18

"Whilst I respect the final paragraph or two for adding the safety aspect the whole of the article is as a previous poster noted a hiding to nothing. All the drivers and pictures were from eras where death wadcan almost everyday occurence. Listen to interviews with sir Jackie Stewart on the loss of Jim Clark. After that say safety isn't first. I remember watching men burn to death after my Sunday lunch on free to air TV as a kid. For "Hero" read "daft as a brush" A good modern day Hero would be Felipe Massa remember 2009 anyone?
The point is that we can now number deaths on the fingers of one hand. And I still enjoy F1. THAT is the real story.
Is the halo the right device is a fair question ?. Is open cockpit still defensible? Another fair question. "

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 30/07/2017 3:15

"@oldbiker100 - well put. I agree that it appears to be solving a problem we might not have, and potentially leading to unexpected results in some instances. Time will tell..."

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6. Posted by oldbiker100, 29/07/2017 17:35

"Hi Max,

I don't like the halo as a supposed enhancement to the safety of F1 drivers and as a follower of motorsports for over 60 years, I find the very idea of linking the words "F1 and "safety" an anathema.

Monocoque chassis, bag tanks, flameproof suits, wheel tethers and seat belts are all safety features, but share one thing in common; they are integrated into the overall design of the car and are basically invisible to the onlooker.

The halo is a camel; ie. a horse designed by a committee and given that the FIA is run by the same breed, is entirely in keeping with their depressingly knee jerk reaction to a problem that doesn't exist.

Jules Bianchi, Henry Surtees, Dan Wheldon, Justin Wilson; All names recently trotted out as drivers who died due to an outside influence and therefore justify the addition of this allegedly "cure-all" device.

OK, let's run with this completely absurd claim for a moment.

F1 cars are the quickest circuit racing cars in the world.

GP2, GP3, Indy-cars etc., who have not been saddled with this ludicrous device, are then absolutely immune from any type of foreign body, or trackside feature, intruding into the drivers' cockpit?

Are F1 cars designed with components that are inherently more likely to fall off than other cars?

Are the F1 circuits (sadly designed and I use the word advisedly, given that Hermann Tilke is the one man responsible for more boring F1 races than even the clowns in the FIA,) inherently more dangerous?

Would the halo have saved any of the aforementioned lives? Even with the case of Henry Surtees, videos of the accident suggest that the wheel entered his cockpit at such an angle that the halo would have been of little or no protection.

So what's going to happen when a driver is hit by a foreign object or gets badly injured despite the addition of the halo?

Alonso has said he is in favour of the halo, despite surviving uninjured from one of the most dramatic accidents in recent memory, only being protected by the existing safety features. Given that he ended up in an overturned car, the halo would have probably, if fitted, hindered his extraction, not enhanced it.

The only current alternative, the larger screen, seems to have been rejected by one driver doing one lap and complaining of dizziness. That's the FIA's idea of an objective test is it? Give me strength.

What is puzzling and suggests some hidden agenda, is why the F1 teams seem to have accepted this ugly and probably ineffective device? Why did the FIA not simply say to them, design an additional cockpit safety device that integrates into the overall design unobtrusively but offers enhanced driver safety?

When you consider the tens of thousands of laps completed safely by thousands of racing drivers on all manner of tracks all over the world why do I think that this is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist?


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7. Posted by Max Noble, 29/07/2017 3:57

"...and my thanks to all for a lively and engaging discussion - thank you!"

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 29/07/2017 3:56

"* "....Vettel neatly put it...""

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9. Posted by Max Noble, 29/07/2017 3:55

"@spindoctor - nicely stated! Yes safety is always vital, as we want drivers, and all those at the track, to return home safely.

Rather like people burn more fuel attending a race than the teams do contesting it, people are far more likely to be injured driving to and from the venue than the drivers are while racing.

...and yet as Vettel so nearly put it, if this device had been there and saved a single life in the past it's worth it. Quite whom it saves from what we will have to wait and see.

...and what other unforeseen accidents happen we shall also see...

Enjoy the race weekend!"

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10. Posted by Uffen, 28/07/2017 18:52

"Spindoctor, the tickets still say motor racing is dangerous. At least that what my tickets said last year. I can't imagine that the halo will make it ok to say otherwise. "

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11. Posted by Spindoctor, 28/07/2017 11:28

"@Max Noble
I couldn't agree more, but you're on something of a hiding to nowhere here.
The problem is that nobody, especially FIA, wants to be seen as running a "dangerous" activity (notwithstanding what it used to say on the back of the tickets).
As you so rightly emphasise its not about abandoning "safety", but about achieving a reasonable balance between safety and the other components which constitute the sport.

The "halo" is a largely untested device which is aesthetically unpleasant, and might, as you say actually redirect debris onto drivers in some circumstances.
As Lewis Hamilton is reported to have said:
"We are moving towards a closed cockpit," said ..., Lewis Hamilton. "That would look better."

There is no "solution" there are only opinions and individual judgments about where the balance lies between acceptable & unacceptable risk.
Personally I think FIA's imposition of the halo is an ill-considered and "political" response to deflect growing criticism of their supine inaction in the face of the crisis facing F1. They might better serve Drivers, Teams & Spectators by considering some of the many other problems facing F1 today. "

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 28/07/2017 5:11

"@mds167' and @copit...

- tragic accidents that happened outside F1, so would have the Halo until their organising bodies elect to use such a device. You need look no further than your local Formula Vee or Formula Ford racing to see ordinary folk screaming around tracks in items barely more substantive than a Coke can...

Further, and this is my point about "Have we solved the wrong problem, and created new problems" - Poor Justin Wilson might still be tragically dead because the odd shape of the debris that hit him, and the vectors leading to impact, might well have been made worse as it rotated around the bar of the Halo and impacted not just his head but his chest as well. There is a chance it would make the accident worse.

I can imagine scenarios where an object that would have flown by a driver's head with only a mm to spare will now hit the Halo and be deflected *into* the driver's head.

Geometric incompatibility has already been addressed by the design alterations to nose sections. The need for a Halo to save Alonso either in his alarming barrel roll or the car that slid over him, can be historically proven as not required as in each instance Alonso was fine without the device.

Clearly there are many scenarios in which the Halo can be proven to be a life saver. Similarly there are instances in which I'm sure we can model the tragic circumstances that mean the Halo has caused a death that otherwise would have been avoided (as being noted by @Uffen).

Finally as @mittagongcalling concisely notes, unlike many aspects of life, motor racing is 100% a personal choice. Don't like the odds? Don't do it. Conversely all competitors in any sport deserve all the protection that can be reasonably provided.

Our entire discussion here revolves around "what is reasonable?"

I elect not to smoke, not to ride a motor bike, and not to sky dive because I personally think they are all too risky. Yet millions each day perfectly legally do all these activities.

Enclose the cockpit, enclose the wheels, and you have something very much like either a DTM car or a LMP1 car. That's great if that's what you are after.


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13. Posted by mittagongcalling, 28/07/2017 1:21

"1 Motor racing is not compulsory
2 If you think it's too dangerous don't do it
3 Want to make it completely safe?
4 Put in a speed limit!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

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14. Posted by Uffen, 27/07/2017 23:07

"The halo can also deflect noses or suspension bits downwards toward the driver. The angle is critical. "

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15. Posted by mds167, 27/07/2017 21:35

"@Max Noble, I'll happily stand corrected but weren't Surtees and Wilson hit on the head by a wheel and a nosecone?
Would the Halo not deflect such objects?
And provide a good distance between the driver and any car that slides over the top of his, as I think happened to Fernando?

Is the suddenly swift action by the FIA also a reaction to the fear of potential litigation if they do nothing? Previous F1 driver deaths have seen the threat enacted.
And in the US, we have seen recent legal action regarding concussion in NFL players.
It wouldn't be F1 without a lawyer in the shadows..."

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