Column: Fergal Walsh: My epiphany on head protection

Published on 18 May 2017 17:09

For a few years now, cockpit protection has been a rising issue in Formula 1. In the last year or so it really has gained a lot of speed, from going to talking about potential concepts to the realisation that 2018 will more than likely see the introduction of some sort of system.

The 'halo' caused a schism in the F1 community, with some feeling the need to introduce it, while others felt the sport didn't need it. It even translated over to the drivers, the people who are actually in the firing line if something does go wrong. Some were also spectacle about how it would deal with smaller objects, something tech expert Craig Scarborough discussed last year.  

Myself, I was on the fence. In one sense, I wanted Formula 1 to keep that slight element of danger, the element that wraps its arms around you and pulls you in. Of course, Formula 1 would still be exciting to me if the danger was eliminated, but it's the fact that it is still a possibility that makes many fans intrigued about the sport. It makes these racers so much more respectable in some eyes.

In another sense, I never, ever want to experience again what I felt on July 17th, 2015. The day I woke up to the news that Jules Bianchi had passed away from head injuries suffered at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The moment we were all reminded that despite the massive improvements Formula 1 has made since the passing of Ayrton Senna 21 years beforehand, Formula 1 will never be safe.

Of course it will never be safe, even if cockpit protection is brought in. Motorsport will never be safe until we have robot drivers, marshalls and spectators. If you have an F1 ticket, peek at the back of it where it will remind you of that motorsport is dangerous. And let's not forget, it's not just F1. IndyCar's Justin Wilson died one month after Bianchi due to head injuries suffered during a race.

But everyone will look to F1 to pioneer this movement. If head protection drops its way into our beloved sport, it will trickle down to other series. Which is why just a couple of days ago, I had my eyes suddenly opened in my verdict on whether or not to introduce head protection into F1.

I was watching a season review of the 2010 F1 season, and there was a segment where two former F1 Medical Delegates, Sid Watkins and Gary Hartstein, were discussing Mark Webber's monstrous crash at the European Grand Prix. They were speaking about how impressed they were with the safety standards of Formula 1, and how much they've improved since that terrible day at Imola in 1994.

At one point in which they are talking about how much safer these cars have become, who should walk by behind them? Jules Bianchi. 

At that moment, at that exact moment I made my mind up over head protection. Coincidences happen but that one is a little too eccentric for me. It's incredible how these things come about, and I know that I never want to read the headline that another racer has been killed in an accident, leaving behind loved ones who grieve for their lost father, their lost mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt etc. Let's get cockpit protection into Formula 1 in 2018 and lower the already sparse chance of death while racing even further.


Fergal Walsh

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